Todd Pruzan, senior editor for research and special projects at the Harvard Business Review, recently sat down with Venkat Krishnamurthy, vice president of engineering at Cisco, to discuss how Cisco’s journey is changing the customer experience. Digital business transformation has different meanings to different organizations. Cisco defines digital as the development of platforms and business models to build customer relationships and find new niches for subscription services with added value. This sense of digital has recently led Innosight to recognize Cisco as one of the 20 companies with the highest impact on business changes in the last decade.
Todd: Venkat, thank you so much for joining us today.
Venkat: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
TP: Venkat, how is Cisco using strategic change to transform itself?
VK: OK, that’s a good question. I will answer this in two ways. Number one, Cisco is always looking at inflection points. These are the areas where market shifts occur, and we know what these changes are and how to react to them. I’ll give you two or three chances. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, voice, video, and data converged on one network instead of multiple networks. As our CEO said it at the time, there was no such belief, but it was a turning point. Another point of change that started in the 2000s and 2010s is the internet of things, which is not only about routers, switches, and servers. These are sensors. Those were cars. They were machines.
Another point of inflection in the construction of the internet of things, which we have seen during the pandemic, is about hybrid work digitalization, smart cars and smart cities, connected cars, and others. So we took advantage of these turning points, made the right move, and positioned ourselves to serve our customers.
Companies that don’t do these things are being neglected. My favorite example is Blockbuster; that’s where you went when you wanted to rent a video 15 years ago. But they didn’t capitalize on the streaming service idea, and it ended up disrupting their business model.
One thing we’ve always understood from the beginning is how collaboration is transformative. Cisco’s mission is to transform the way our customers live, work, play, and learn. Collaboration tools play a big part in all of this. During the pandemic, we saw that collaboration not only ensured business continuity, but governments were run using collaboration tools.
Another thing we understand is the culture of innovation and change through spin-in, acquisitions, and internal R&D that we see in market transitions. We evolve towards the direction of these market trends and constantly listen to our customers through a number of advisory boards, engagements, and events.
TP: It’s nice to have that historical context. So how are Cisco partners and the entire Cisco ecosystem contributing to its transformation in ways that transform the customer experience?
VK: In one word, overwhelming. That’s why we always recognize that our partners are an important part of how our products and solutions solve customer problems. We see our partners as people with specific skills that enable us to complete or innovate our solutions, and not as people who provide resources to do our business
I will give you an example related to this. We work with partners who are excellent at training people to ensure that they train our customers to use our products and solutions effectively. We also work with partners who can ensure our customers use our critical services 24/7.
We have partners who establish certifications based on our products and solutions. We even create certifications that are unique and help build a team of people who can provide networking and IT solutions to our customers.
The example I want to talk about is a product we are working on right now. So my team creates network management and automation solutions for service priorities in mass-scale networks. We are now developing the next generation of a planning tool that we have had for years, and we have collected a lot of data on it.
Now, we can analyze the data. But we also want to talk to Persistent—because they have a lot of data practice, good algorithms, and experience working with data, and did I say they have a lot of algorithms? They really do.
So together we started a project where we would use our data in Persistent’s planning tool and algorithms to see the kind of insights we could provide. This is just one small example of how we use the expertise of our data processing partners to create business results and improve the solutions we provide to our customers.
TP: So you can’t do it alone. You need companionship. As we mentioned, Cisco was recently recognized as one of the top 20 business innovators of the last decade. So what key elements will continue to transform Cisco over the next decade?
VK: Yes. So as I mentioned before, we are always good at reading and predicting certain inflection points and trends in the industry. We listen to our customers, and we have a very good idea of where our customers—which include companies, businesses, service providers, governments, and government agencies—are going, what the larger problem they are trying to solve, and how can we get them to that.
So through all of this, I think what we’ve done, and will continue to do, is deliver on the core principles of what our customers want. Number one, they want their solutions to be simple. The complexity of what we do is difficult to measure, but it is understandable. This same conversation goes through many Cisco products, and I’m sure of that. Our customers want convenience and simplicity, and we want to continue to give them that.
Another thing we always do is make our systems intelligent. This means that our systems provide a lot of data, and the ability to make sense of that data. It is not enough if we provide our customers with thousands of pages of logs and counters. We also need to make sure they are able to understand it.
Also, we provide our customers with scalable solutions. We have customers with small footprints. And some customers get multiple networks. They need to bring it all together, and our scalable solutions help them do that.
Another great solution we provide to our customers is security. Today’s companies are more open than ever. Every year, Amazon tells us the number of online sales we get.
And even more, we rely on automated processes. I mean, self-driving cars are just an extreme example of that.
So we must continue to provide secure systems. We currently manage 47 terabytes of traffic, 75 million web transactions, and 1.2 trillion security events in 170 countries every day. And based on our estimates, these numbers will increase. That’s why we need to continue to make these systems secure and, of course, always make these processes automatic.
One of the first automated processes that Cisco created, which is unique, is the virtual closing, where you can close a quarter on any day and then find out where we are. This is a big IT process, and we will continue to work on that. These are some of the ways we will continue to innovate and disrupt to serve our customers over the next 10 years.
TP: Well, that’s interesting. Those are some staggering numbers you mentioned there. Venkat, thank you so much for a great conversation and all your insights today.
VK: Thanks for having me, Todd. I really appreciate it.
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