We see all of these market transitions going on at the same time; so, instead of doing 1 or 2 [priority initiatives] a year, like we did during each of the economic slowdowns—the four that we’d seen before—we’re going to do 30. And it sounds impossible.
– John Chambers to McKinsey Quarterly, July 2009
That said, today we face a simple truth: we have disappointed our investors and we have confused our employees. Bottom line, we have lost some of the credibility that is foundational to Cisco’s success – and we must earn it back. Our market is in transition, and our company is in transition. And the time is right to define this transition for ourselves and our industry. I understand this. It’s time for focus.
– John Chambers memo to Cisco employees, April 2011
It was a wholly ambitious plan, and one that, if executed, would not just have grown Cisco’s position as the networking infrastructure provider, but would have grown it to be a dominant communications provider in both the enterprise and consumer space. Cisco was moving from being an enterprise darling with limited mass visibility to a company that would touch every bit and byte of communications at almost every point: From taking video and voice on its broad line of professional phones and pricey TelePresence to the budget and beloved Flip camera, to the wireless and wired switches that carry that video and voice, to the telecom infrastructure that carries them worldwide, to new, interactive viewing experiences.
But Chambers realized, two years later, that Cisco wasn’t cut out to be a consumer company, at least not now. And so at this Cisco Live!, the company is chastened but not humbled and cutting back from 30 priorities to just 5 fundamentals:
- Switching and routing, coupled with security and mobility.
- Data center
- Business Architecture
Marie Hattar, vice president of borderless networks at Cisco, explained that the “business architecture” focus boiled down to a focus on products that transformed business practices: You’re not building a high-end switch or an HD television with a fancy camera on top, you’re building a way to cut travel costs while boosting remote collaboration.
Cisco has a receptive audience for this narrowed focus: A record 15,000 attendees are at Mandalay Bay this year to see what Cisco has in store, according to Rob Lloyd, Cisco’s executive vice president of worldwide operations, many of them Cisco loyalists from when the prime event was still called Networkers. “We’re going to reward that loyalty,” Lloyd said.
That 15,000 number isn’t counting those who tune in online or attend one of the other global events, spanning Mexico, London and Australia. But the one thing almost all of this international audience has in common is that they’re the IT professionals, business bean counters and other ordinary folk who have helped put Cisco in the Fortune 100 year in and year out, and Cisco executives said they were determined to put them squarely in their sights when determining where to take the company.
“We’re realizing we have to bring together all these,” Hattar said, stating that Cisco’s internal teams have become more cross-departmental and collaborative. “It causes some discomfort, but at the end of the day it’s best for our customer.”
Lloyd put it directly: “Cisco is a very focused company right now.”
Michael Morisy is the editorial director for ITKnowledgeExchange. He can be followed on Twitter or you can reach him at Michael@ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Check out our complete Cisco Live! Coverage guide for more breaking news.