Cisco Live! 2020 Goes Digital To Address COVID-19 And Inclusivity

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins at the Cisco Live! 2020 virtual event.
 WILL TOWNSEND

I attended the first ever virtual Cisco Live! event this week from the comfort of my home, as did many of the Cisco executives that presented. Before COVID-19 hit in full force, I traveled the world to attend enterprise networking and mobility conferences. It has definitely been a dramatic change—I miss the personal interactions with attendees as well as the opportunity to reconnect with my firm’s colleagues and analyst peers. However, I was impressed with Cisco’s execution of the virtual event, which featured a blend of pre-recorded content, live keynotes and panels, a digital newsroom and video library. The company delivered a slew of networking-related announcements. Today, I’ll provide my insights into the news items I found to be most compelling.      

Fighting the good fight against COVID-19

CEO Chuck Robbins kicked off the first day of the conference, touting the company’s proactive delivery of security and collaboration tools to ensure business continuity amid the pandemic, for businesses, healthcare and educational institutions. I believe Cisco is one of the leaders in this regard, and if interested you can find that article here. Proof can be found in the investment of hard dollars, and Mr. Robbins pointed to the company’s astounding $500M earmark for its fight against COVID-19. The results of a Cisco survey of its customers are equally impressive. In response to the pandemic, over 3/4 of them plan to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives and modernize their networking infrastructure. I believe that midmarket companies were the most exposed and unprepared for the logistics of supporting a remote workforce in a secure manner. Cisco played a key role in filling that gap, enabling companies to make needed infrastructure investments with short-term, no-cost licenses and millions of dollars in credit facilities through Cisco Capital. 

As we all try to put the coronavirus in the rearview mirror, the monumental task at hand is how to safely return to the office. I believe location-based services will be instrumental in facilitating the process, and Cisco is well positioned with its DNA Spaces platform. Liz Centoni, who leads emerging technology for Cisco, spoke of the need for a secure contact tracing application that also balances personal privacy. It is the first time I have heard an executive acknowledge the need for both, and if Cisco can deliver, it will make a significant impact in the effort to bring people back to work safely. Cisco also launched a host of new organizational continuity solutions. Those details can be found in an announcement here

Connectivity and its societal impact  

Mr. Robbins and Todd Nightingale both spoke of Cisco’s vision “to power an inclusive future for all.” Mr. Nightingale, Cisco Meraki’s former General Manager, now leads the overall business strategy and development effort for Cisco’s core portfolio. Mr. Nightingale kicked off the second day of the event from his rooftop in downtown San Francisco talking about the company’s focus on inclusivity, in light of recent events and protests for equality. I know first-hand that this is not lip service. Led by another passionate Cisco executive, Guy Diedrich, Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration Program invests in initiatives across the globe that have the potential to create jobs and promote equality and inclusivity by bringing connectivity to underserved areas. 

Cisco gets SASE and expands its small business capabilities

The SASE, or Secure Access Service Edge, category is relatively new but has received quite a lot of attention as of late. Cisco’s SASE announcement this week integrates the cloud native security of its Umbrella platform into the Viptela SD-WAN portfolio, to protect against Internet and SaaS based attacks. The benefits of integrating security into the networking stack range from management simplicity to better business outcomes. I believe this announcement positions Cisco well to compete with the likes of VMware, Versa Networks, and others. To learn more about the Cisco SASE announcement and enhancements to Cisco’s IoT endpoint management and automated policy capabilities, see the announcement details here.  

Cisco also brought new capabilities to bear for small business customers, including improved self-management with Meraki Go, cloud management with Meraki SD-WAN and HyperFlex Edge, collaboration with affordable WebEx Work end points and licenses, and an extension of its Duo identity management and VPN solutions to facilitate safe and secure work from home. The Iaunch also included a number of new switches designed for simplicity, all of which feature an intuitive dashboard. Don’t let their affordability fool you—they still deliver enterprise-class features.

Wrapping up

During the event, Mr. Nightingale called agility “the new Cisco superpower.” The company’s product development efforts emphasize simplicity and cloud-native architecture—DNA that Mr. Nightingale carried forward from his Meraki tenure. However, the company’s customer experience (CX) lead, Maria Martinez, might be the Wonder Woman to Mr. Nightingale’s Batman (yes, I am a DC Comics fan!). CX knits product roadmaps with a lifecycle approach, to help customers choose the right blend of hardware, software and services. CX also has the power to improve the interaction between users and the technology itself. Cisco’s investment here should also help accelerate the adoption of location-based services such as COVID-19 contact tracing within its DNA Spaces platform. This year’s Cisco Live! digital event did much to highlight the company’s investment in both roadmap and CX. Looking towards the future, both of these investments should position the company well.