Cisco CEO preaches networks, collaboration

Cisco's John Chambers maintains major change is needed for companies to remain globally competitive

John Chambers, the chief executive officer of networking giant Cisco Systems, was in fine evangelical mode Tuesday, laying out his company's vision of a future where intelligent networks power IT and collaboration is the key driver for businesses.

"My role is to challenge your thought process," Chambers told attendees at his keynote address at Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco. The executive disdained the stage and continually paced through the audience, occasionally posing direct questions to individuals, notably: "Am I making you uncomfortable yet?"

Chambers' take is that many IT vendors and customers have gotten overly comfortable with current systems and are nervous about change. But he maintains that major change is needed for companies, including his own, to remain globally competitive.

Such change may well feel strange as, according to Chambers, more and more intelligence, previously part of applications, middleware and operating systems, will reside instead in the network. At the same time, storage and applications will be completely virtualized. Users won't know where the application they're deploying resides. The network will be able to connect any device's screen to any application an individual is authorized to access.

The added intelligence in the network will mean that users will be able to communicate with each other in the format they each prefer with the network making the necessary translations.

At the same time, organizations will need to change their business processes and move from having a command-and-control focus on individual silos of expertise such as financials and human resources to enabling collaboration and communication across the entire company.

Cisco has been working at bringing such change to its internal operations, he said, and, at first, it was a painful process. "We lost huge productivity in our first two years," he said, but now having put collaboration at the heart of its decision-making process, the company is able to be much more nimble.

Chambers then conducted a lengthy and lively demonstration of how a baseball fan's appreciation of going to a game might change in the future, thanks to intelligent networks.

The individual would gain entry to the ballpark via an e-ticket on their smart phone. Digital signs inside the ballpark, if authorized by the smart phone, could display advertising tailored to the person's likes. Once in the game, the individual could use their wireless-enabled ultramobile PC to keep score on the device's electronic scorecard or hit its instant replay icon to view a contentious play.

Restaurants at the ballpark could use Cisco's newly announced TelePresence videoconferencing system to show the game on huge screens and allow diners to contact remote friends to watch along with them.

Cisco launched TelePresence Monday as a way to make virtual business meetings more like real life. The system uses huge screens to project life-sized high-definition video images of conference participants whose voices seem to come from their on-screen location.

Using TelePresence will save Cisco $120 million in travel costs next year, Chambers estimated, and reduce the company's carbon emissions by 10 percent.

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