Cisco re-invented as lean startup focused on customer outcomes

I had inadvertently missed John Chamber’s keynote a couple weeks back at the 2014 Cisco Collaboration Summit in Los Angeles.  It wasn’t my doing.  There was a maintenance issue with the plane and it was the first (early) snowfall in Toronto so instead of leaving at 8:00am we left at 11:30am.  You see I was attending the summit in my role as Executive Advisor in ICT and Management with FOX GROUP Technology Consulting – Roberta Fox was unable to attend.

Rushing to the hotel, I joined the keynote audience just as Aaron Levie, Cofounder and CEO of Box, took the stage.  He was talking about how Box was going to deeply integrate their content collaboration technology into Cisco’s newly announced business collaboration and communication app/platform called Project Squared.  The tools were to be designed and built with the end user in mind to simplify collaboration (read: reduce “friction”) while “virtualizing the conference room”.   Users could work together in a comfortable way across all spaces and platforms – from pocket device to telepresence suite.  How was this to be accomplished?  Software.  Interesting first 30 minutes.  I am at a Cisco conference and they are talking about software enabling collaboration?  I expect this from Box having used their multi-platform service but not from Cisco, they usually lead with hardware.

Up next was Rowan Trollope, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Cisco Collaboration Technology Group.  Long title but it didn’t impact his delivery, he went straight to the point.  Cisco was changing the way they were doing things.  They were committed to focus on collaborating with customers to improve their products and services in an iterative fashion – in the direction customers were asking for.  Wow, this guy was talking my language  (was he from Cisco,  he was wearing jeans?).  Making use of shorter development cycles Cisco would improve existing products and services using a “build – measure – learn – improve – start again” cycle where partners and end users would contribute feedback, ideas and needs.  “We can’t deliver great experiences when we only upgrade software every 2 years,” he conceded.  This included cloud services too.  “Building modern cloud software that iterates with speed is essential.  You can only do this by having software that is upgradeable and has built-in metrics”.  I couldn’t take notes fast enough at this point. 

Andreas Gal, CTO of Firefox, joined the stage to talk about collaboration interoperability between Firefox and Cisco Collaboration solutions using the high-quality H.264 video compression standard – Cisco had published the source to OpenH264 in December last year (see  The live demo was simple but got the point across.  Then Jonathan Rosenberg, VP and CTO of Collaboration at Cisco, took the stage.  He touted his mission of enabling future products and services, as well as backwards compatibility, using Cisco Powered Hosted Cloud Solutions (“HCS”) to enable interoperability, compatibility and two other things I saw when he demoed multi-tenant and single tenant administration tools – visibility and shared control between customer and cloud partner.  Embedded in the software were tools that the customer, cloud partner and Cisco could use to measure, learn, improve and provide support.  “Tools need to be borderless and seamless,” he announced, “technology at work needs to be cool again.”   He shared five key principles products and services should meet to be successful: exciting, secured, integrated, supported and creates an experience.  What type of experience?  One that blends consumer sensibility with enterprise practicality. 

Astounding. It really sounded good – iteratively improving current products and services with customers and partners, allowing backwards and forward compatibility through software and the cloud (minimizing product and platform upgrades) and sensible and practical user experiences as a requirement.   I wanted to stand up and scream “Cisco has been re-invented as a leanstartup focused on customer outcomes!”  Instead I was quiet and looked around to see if anyone else had realized the same thing.  Everyone was quiet.  Crazy idea, but what if?  Time will tell. We should know sooner rather though due to their iterative improvement approach.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Chris Henry
Chris Henry
Chris is a global digital, operations and IT security expert (and Former CIO) who provides leaders, teams and organizations with innovative strategies, services and solutions. In the first 22 years of his professional career he gained experience in hospitality & tourism, complex omni-channel retail, mixed-use real estate, not-for-profit and professional services organizations including Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Grant Thornton and The Terry Fox Foundation. In 2013 he leveraged his global technology, operations and IT security experience to become a consultant and speaker.

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