Chambers: How I'll make Cisco into IT's biggest player

Cisco's CEO lays out his road map for expanding the networking giant's presence across the tech industry

By almost any measure, Cisco Systems is the biggest fish in the networking pond. Thanks to more than 130 acquisitions, a brisk pace of internal development, and a much-discussed new organizational structure that the company is using to attack a slew of new markets, Cisco's reach extends from the consumer to the enterprise and deep into service provider networks. The company offers everything from personal video cameras to high-end telepresence systems to set-top video boxes to, lately, servers for the data center, in addition to more traditional network gear like routers and switches.

But Cisco's real ambition, as articulated by its high-energy CEO, John Chambers, is to become the most important IT company of all. In this installment of IDG Enterprise's CEO Interview Series, Chambers talked with IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant, Computerworld Editor in Chief Scot Finnie, and Editor in Chief Eric Knorr about the market transitions fueling Cisco's bold strategy, what it means for enterprise customers, and how the company will compete head-to-head against the industry's biggest players.

Q: Everyone knows Cisco as the leading network company, but your remarks at Cisco's recent Financial Analyst Conference made clear that your goal is for Cisco to be the No. 1 IT company. That's pretty ambitious. What's it going to take for Cisco to become the No. 1 IT company? And what will it take to convince customers?

A: I always start from a customer perspective when I look at this. It is when your customers suddenly are encouraging you to go well beyond what your current scope is. That is the most important indicator the opportunity exists. The second: when you make movements into new market areas or have dramatically different relationships with customers, you've got to catch market transitions. And the third is you've got to have an engine that does innovation, not just internal, but partnering and acquisitions.

If you think of them in sequence, it can be as simple as smart [power] grids. I wish I could tell you it was brilliance from the top. It was not. It was basically the utility companies in Europe saying, "Cisco, pay attention. This is an instant replay of the Internet -- 360 protocols and no security. You have a lot of the pieces. Put it together." Once we got it, we then used the effectiveness of our organization structures around councils, boards, working groups. The concepts of social networking, if you will, brought together with process and discipline, and interdependencies among the groups.

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