To succeed in the rapidly evolving technology world, Cisco Systems president and CEO John Chambers said you need to place your bets on where the market is going five years ahead of time, and change your company to be there when that future arrives.

Over five years ago Cisco bet the network would become the platform, and Chambers used his keynote address at the company’s 2006 Partner Summit in San Diego this week to tell the over 2,200 partners on hand that future is here today.

In the last four to six months, Chambers said Cisco has seen customers beginning to buy into the idea of the network moving from a transport system to the platform that can run applications.

The convergence trend is bringing data, voice and video, plus mobile and fixed security, together on the IP network, said Chambers, adding Cisco is positioned to lead the market and the company’s competitors will have no choice but to get onboard.

Chambers is predicting a round of “probably brutal” consolidation over the next two years as competitors look to expand their offerings to fit the “network as the platform” vision.

The challenge for Cisco’s partners, said Chambers, will be to make the technology relevant to their customers. He recommends partners use the technology themselves to prove the benefits, adding that merely installing the technology won’t lead to productivity improvements. Helping Cisco partners go after the services market has been a focus of the conference.

“If you don’t change the underlying processes you don’t get the productivity improvements,” said Chambers.

However, an analyst cautions the “network as the platform” future may not be here yet, and Cisco’s sales job on that front is not complete. Brian Sharwood, a principal with the SeaBoard Group in Toronto, said there are a lot of strong vendors that believe intelligence lies at the edge of the network, and are making some heavy bets of their own that they’re right.

“We’ve got desktops that are very intelligent and there’s a lot of processing power in these edge pieces. They don’t need the network to power that,” said Sharwood. “(Cisco is) going to face a little bit of a battle with end users’ edge devices. Edge devices are getting better, faster; you can build a lot of that stuff into decent edge platforms.”

While a large enterprise with its own network infrastructure might have the confidence today to rely on its network as its primary application delivery platform, Sharwood said businesses that rely on service providers may not be ready to cede that level of control to external factors.

“Enterprises have not always bought into that idea because they don’t really trust their service provider to be there always,” said Sharwood.

The sandwich artists at a group of 26 Subway sandwich shop franchises in Southern Arizona are already onboard with Cisco’s vision for unified communications. Franchisee Les White is deploying Cisco’s 970G IP phone in each of his stores, as a way of keeping his staff on task and bringing his own unique brand of motivation and wisdom to his quickly expanding group of restaurants.

White admits he doesn’t know much about technology, but he said he does know what helps his business grow.

“I thought RAM was a big sheep,” jokes White. “(But) this device … allows me to communicate on the front lines.” Working with White to understand his business needs, Cisco partners IPcelerate of Dallas and Calence of Phoenix implemented Cisco’s Unified Communications System for White’s Subway shops and designed a series of custom applications that run through the touch screen phones.

Employees use the phones to clock in and out as they start and end their shifts. Before they do, the phone plays a daily inspirational message that White records and stores on the system. Another application can make the phone play instructions at certain times of the day, such as to put bread in the oven.

If an employee doesn’t clock in for work on the phone or acknowledge that they have put the bread in the oven, the system automatically calls their manager with an alert. If the manager doesn’t respond in a timely manner, the system can automatically escalate the matter right up to White himself.

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