How Cisco Got Its Groove Back


When Cisco's global channel community descends on San Diego for next week's annual Partner Summit, they'll be greeting a networking giant more energized about its prospects -- more prepared to play offense in the name of Cisco momentum, it seems -- than at any other time in the past three years.

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While Cisco Partner Summit is by nature a rah-rah occasion, recent gatherings have felt less like reasons to celebrate Cisco triumphs and more about analyzing distractions. In Boston in 2009 came a foaming-at-the-mouth call to compete more closely with Hewlett-Packard following the launch of Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) a few months earlier.

At the 2010 event in San Francisco, the wounds from Cisco's supply chain and product shortage disaster were still raw. And at 2011's Partner Summit in New Orleans, Cisco was just beginning a yearlong transformation, with Chairman and CEO John Chambers' now-infamous memo about Cisco's loss of market credibility soon to arrive, and a brutal restructuring process about to begin.

But a year later, while no one within Cisco or within its channel is quite ready to declare total victory, there is an overwhelming sense that the networking titan has righted its $43 billion ship.

[Related: Partner Summit Awaits: 10 Big Questions For Cisco]

Cisco's second fiscal quarter results were solidly upbeat after a string of quarterly earnings disappointments, its appetite for acquisitions has been restored, its goal of trimming $1 billion in operating expenses in its fiscal 2012 was reached one quarter earlier than expected, and its market share in many key networking segments is once again stable -- and gaining -- by most analyst estimates.

And while Cisco still has a host of challenges -- and has lost more than its fair share of major executives in the past year -- the Cisco partner community sees a company that is more nimble than it was even six months ago.

"I don't think they're ready to say 'mission accomplished,' but it is a less-congested network to get through and a more streamlined organization now," said Kent MacDonald, vice president of business development at Long View Systems, a Calgary-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner. "I think there is more accountability at each level and, at the field engagement level, the responsiveness of the people running the systems -- deal registration, order processing -- is improved."

"The Cisco of today is enhanced from the Cisco of two years ago," said Darren Adams, general manager and vice president, Cisco Solutions Group, at Phoenix-based distributor Avnet. "The path to decision-making has shortened, and there seems to be a renewed vigor on partnering and collaborative selling. Cisco has always listened attentively to constantly improve. Today, there seems to be an increased bias toward action and momentum and, to me, Cisco seems re-energized and less encumbered by structures when making decisions."

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