Cisco’s chief development officer keeps his eye on consumers

The proverbial 800-lb. gorilla in network communications is king of the jungle and can be a frightening and intimidating beast.

Cisco Systems Inc. is the undisputed leader in most segments of the network market and drives many of the most important innovations happening in this segment. But this is no subtle behemoth delicately tip-toeing its way along. Cisco revenue is up, its commercial business segment of customers with less than 250 employees was the fastest growing segment in the first half of the fiscal year, and its emerging markets business of newest technologies grew by 38 per cent this fiscal. The company says Customer satisfaction through its partners is also at an all-time high.

Chief Development Officer Charles Giancarlo is a leading voice at Cisco and has had a major hand in recent technological and business successes. Giancarlo guides the overall direction of innovation and perhaps has more say in where Cisco will advance into the future than anyone else. conducted an exclusive interview with Giancarlo during last week’s annual Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas. Is it logical to think that many of the new technological developments will be focused on the consumer side?

Charlie Giancarlo: Yes, I think so, although I don’t know that we’ll become another Sony. I think sometimes what we say about the consumer driving technology maybe gets taken a little too far. Because it’s hard to distinguish now between an end user as a consumer or as a business end user, we are going to be much more involved in that end-user environment.

ITB: Consumers driving technology trends. I wonder: what was the epiphany that made this apparent?

CG: The one that did it for me was instant messaging. I saw traders in New York City using AIM to send messages between each other on instant messaging as part of their trading. I realized this was a consumer technology meant for consumers that is not being hosted by that enterprise. In fact it didn’t have any security, yet they were using it and this was forcing instant messaging into the enterprise environment.

There’s another element – it’s sort of like connecting the dots. The next element is what does Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law say? It basically says that whatever drives volume, drives the technology and drives the application. Well, there’s no bigger volume than consumer volume and now that high tech is delivering very sophisticated devices such as laptops and cell phones at price points that consumers drive, it becomes clear that consumer is going to be driving technology in many ways. Pentium technology is being driven not by business needs, but by consumer demand.

If you go to a cell phone company today it’s very hard to get them to focus on developing a business phone because all of the revenue is in consumer phones. Nothing ever goes all the way, but that’s a big difference from what it was 10 years ago. So identifying a trend and trying to get an understanding of how it’s going to affect our lives and how far it can go to go is very important for a technology company to understand.

ITB: How do I impress upon employees coming into my company who want to do their own things with technology, that there are certain things – for the good of the company – they shouldn’t be doing with their personal technology within the company?

CG: I think you make them part of the conversation. You expose exactly what the concerns are. Let’s say it is a compliance concern, and you say that we as a company are held to rigorous laws around the disclosure of our customers’ confidential information. Your workers will understand that. You should explain the concerns around vulnerabilities that might exist if they use applications they might download from the Web. I think you have to both understand the reasons why your employees want it and then also express your concerns. So because they want to use a certain consumer application you might introduce something similar that is safe to use. If you make your employees part of the business consideration, it really takes care of a lot of these sorts of issues.

ITB: What direction would you give businesses regarding their future technology purchases and the value they should expect?

CG: I believe that regardless of their size, over the next several years businesses are going to get systems that are much more highly integrated, that provide much greater capability, that don’t require any more investment of capital or management than what they have today, and that will deliver a whole lot more value.

The one thing I would say to most small businesses is they should be looking at new technology as an opportunity to change business practices and improve their operations. Over the next several years they’re going to have a lot of opportunities – through the introduction of newer technologies – to do that. That might be for competitive advantage, in terms of gaining more customers, or it might be for better customer service or it might be for lowering costs. It’s not just for companies that are technology-based.


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