New Cisco CEO: Focus on Speed and Simplification

When Cisco employees headed into work the last week of July, they encountered something they haven’t seen in two decades: a new boss. Chuck Robbins – formerly senior vice president of worldwide operations – took over from former CEO John Chambers. I spoke with Robbins on his first day on the job about his priorities for Cisco and the opportunities and challenges facing the network giant.


Strategy Shifts under New Leadership

Robbins came up through the ranks at Cisco and that differentiating factor, he says, will allow him to bring a “clear understanding of how things work and, sometimes, how things don’t work around [Cisco].” But the biggest difference he sees going forward is around speed and simplification. “We have to shift to creating a very diverse leadership team that has very different perspectives. Then we have to take advantage of those perspectives to drive our strategy going forward – and that does not mean slow,” says Robbins. Part of achieving that speed is moving the organization to a flatter structure, which means being more nimble in responding to the needs of their customers. Former CEO Chambers charge for Cisco was to work cohesively to elevate the company as the “most important IT company,” and Robbins acknowledges that is still the priority by defining that charge from a culture and customer perspective. Creating value in customer relationships starts with internal culture, in Robbins perspective, and so “where it manifests itself is in [Cisco’s] relationship with our partners because the way we treat…each other internally is how we end up treating our partners.” And with companies focusing on using technology to differentiate their strategy, he wants “customers believing that [Cisco is] the partner that helps them build their digital strategy.” Robbins acknowledges that, “with the speed we want to move at, we have to drive a greater degree of clarity and simplification in our internal communication, our external communication and how we’re going to help our customers achieve [business digitization].”

Helping Customers Achieve Digital Transformation

Listening deeply to customers is an area Robbins impresses upon, but on another end, getting those customers to understand the larger message around digital transformation is part of where Cisco is headed. Robbins predicts that the evolution of the network market is headed towards “distributed capability all the way through the network out to the edge where the data exists” and that the network will evolve to support a “combination of automation, software, hardware, programmability, security, (and) analytics.” Being able to reach the data is only part of the equation. It’s also about being able to glean data insights quickly, which is where Robbins sees the value derived by organizations and an area that he feels Cisco is uniquely positioned to deliver on. That’s why, in conveying what they see happening with next-generation technology architecture, Robbins says, “over the next two or three years [Cisco is] going to build these hyper-distributed architectures because the data is going to be pervasive everywhere,” and he considers this intelligent infrastructure as required in order to “see the benefit of all the Internet-of-everything and digitization.”

Looking Ahead

Accelerating in all areas and taking as much complexity out of the process is what Robbins reiterates for the company moving forward. Robbins notes that Cisco has always been really successful when they’ve delivered more value through connectivity and convergence. As he puts it, “amazing things happen when you connect the unconnected.” As they look ahead, the biggest risk Robbins sees for Cisco is “not paying attention to [market transitions] and, where they make sense for our customers, embracing them quickly and moving forward with them.”

Read the complete interview with Chuck Robbins here.


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