I attended Cisco Live North America 2019 last week in San Diego, CA. The company is currently on a roll, delivering solid financial performance as CEO Chuck Robbins celebrates his fourth year at the helm. Cisco’s premier event punctuated its recent success, with an overarching theme of enabling customer and partner success. In this column, I would like to share some of my insights from the event.
Aiming for a smarter, more secure network
Artificial intelligence and machine learning seem to be at the forefront of many core networking infrastructure company strategies today, and Cisco is no exception. This week the company unveiled its AI Network Analytics and Multidomain Integration solutions. The analytics platform provides visibility and baselining capabilities, insight for analysis and root cause determination, and action through automated remediation based on machine learning. AI is only as good as the data behind it, and Cisco is certainly credible here, with its expansive 50+ million networks globally. Multidomain integration, on the other hand, is intended to connect multiple domains from campus, branch, data center, and cloud through software-defined tools, while delivering an integrated security stack. I believe networking infrastructure providers such as Cisco can provide great value through security integration relative to more expensive “bolt-on” solutions from third party providers such as RSA and FireEye. Through both acquisition and organic development, Cisco provides a comprehensive set of products that includes malware protection, cloud security, multi-factor authentication, threat response, and more.
DevNet enhancements that empower
I’m on record as a DevNet fan, and Cisco Live did not disappoint from that perspective. To borrow the most famous quote from the mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” Susie Wee and her team have taken things to 11! First, DevNet announced it is now offering a series of software developer certifications as an extension of its highly renowned engineering certification program that’s existed for over 25 years. The objective is to codify what the team has been doing for the past five years to not only skill-up new developers but also provide a reskilling mechanism for IT professionals that want to enter the world of software-defined networking.
One of the most discussed topics in networking today is automation, and on that note, Cisco announced DevNet Automation Exchange. The initiative is intended to accelerate knowledge and deployment through sharing of best practices as well as code repositories. From my perspective, automation is a no-brainer for operators and carriers that offer LTE and will eventually provide 5G services. Quality of service is huge and is linked to subscriber churn. Automation can be used to remediate issues quickly and keep mobile customers happy. From an enterprise perspective, I see a slower adoption of automation with an “easy button” approach. I believe network administrators will become more comfortable with automating mundane tasks as long as they have the ability to steer. DevNet is well-positioned to provide these stakeholders network visibility and insight, tools to facilitate policy and intent cross-domain, and blueprints/workflows that align to modern, agile methods for software development—all of which should make the enterprise more comfortable with automation long term.
A discrete focus on the customer
Many technology companies claim customers are at the center of their deployment of a new product or service. Unlike most, Cisco can demonstrate a tangible investment. Over a year ago, Maria Martinez was recruited from Salesforce.com to lead what Cisco labels its customer experience or “CX” effort. As EVP & Chief Customer Experience Officer, Ms. Martinez spent nearly her entire first year evaluating the company’s offerings before executing on any improvement initiatives. She spoke during the conference’s Day 2 keynote about Cisco’s vision of enabling active learning, delivering trusted support, insight, and analytics, and providing expert resources to customers. This culminated in a newly announced offering around Business-Critical Services (BCS) 3.0. BCS is intended to bring speed and agility to customers along their entire journey, from network education with use cases, planning, design, implementation, and ongoing management. BCS is now packaged into modules that make the content easier to access based on a specific area of focus. I applaud Cisco for looking beyond the product and assisting its customers with adoption.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Scott Harrell, SVP & GM of Cisco’s enterprise networking business at the event. In our conversation, we spoke to the company’s focus on CX, which amplifies a focus on usability and adoption versus what has historically been an absolute focus on new products and features. As Cisco shifts more into the subscription word, adoption will be key to ensure renewals. I believe the company is laying the foundation for high renewal rates with these customer-focused initiatives.
In a closed-door analyst kickoff, EVP & Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas made a key observation—while software defined was considered a threat to Cisco just a few years ago, it is now a competitive advantage. I think that speaks volumes to how far Cisco has come since its founding in 1989, the era of the Nintendo Game Boy and one of my favorite movies of all time James Cameron’s epic underwater adventure “The Abyss.” Chided in the past for its “lock-in” mentality, the networking giant has embraced a more open, API forward approach, provided exceptional development capabilities through DevNet for its core Cisco and Meraki offerings, and is also making strides in enabling future 5G services through key relationships and initiatives in its service provider business (with new tools such as Cisco Unified Domain Center).
It’s abundantly evident to me that over the past year since the last Cisco Live event, the company focused on fine-tuning its core networking business. The aforementioned customer experience initiatives factor heavily here, and disclosures at the event around improved sales coordination between its core and Meraki business with a specialist overlay should also help extend Cisco’s positive financial performance well into the future. There’s an old marketing adage that “customer is king.” It seems to me that Cisco is making the right investments in its roadmap, developer, and services organizations to make that a reality.