Cisco's Chambers: We've Transformed For The Digital Age, Have You?

John Chambers

Cisco, which is pushing enterprises to transform their digital strategies to avoid being disrupted, is using the experience from its own transformation to help clients.

John Chambers, outgoing chairman and CEO of the San Jose, Calif.-based vendor, said during his Cisco Live keynote presentation that enterprises are facing a new digital age that promises to grow 10 times faster than the Internet age has grown, and must expect that their businesses will be disrupted.

Citing the examples of companies like Uber and Airbnb, which have used IT to disrupt their taxi and hotel competitors, Chamber said businesses will find that the transition will be rough.

[Related: Cisco's Chambers: In Managing IT Disruption, IT Is The Easy Part]

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By 2020, about 75 percent of businesses will become digital, but only 30 percent will do it successfully, he said. "This is brutal," he said. "If you miss the transformation, you're history."

Chambers, who next month is slated to step down from his role as chairman and CEO of Cisco and become the company's executive chairman, used part of his final Cisco Live keynote to talk about Cisco's own digital age transformation.

Cisco's digital strategy is focused more on the architecture of the connection between traditional and mobile devices, and less on the performance, Chambers said.

The company has also moved to converge its compute, networking and storage resources, and has added policies, collaboration and the Intercloud, Cisco's term for connecting private and multiple clouds, he said.

However, the transformation was not without challenges. For instance, Chambers said, Cisco has in the past had the world's best sales organization, but over the past five years changed 41 percent of its sales leadership as it moved away from a dependence on selling routers and switches.

"We had to tie together our silos," he said. "We had to change our culture."

Chambers said the Cisco experience is one that enterprises will likely share over time.

"Is this Cisco's strategy?" Chambers said. "Or do you have to make it yours? ... This is the transition you have to make. If you don't, your company will fail."

Chambers and Chuck Robbins, who next month will take over Cisco as CEO, have been readying Cisco for the coming digital age for a year, Chambers said.

"Twelve months ago, Chuck and I asked our senior management team -- about 5,000 people -- are you ready?" he said. "We weren't. We are now."

Chambers made it clear in his keynote that the world is changing fast, said Bob Elfanbaum, co-founder and general manager at Asynchrony, a St. Louis-based solution provider specializing in application development.

"He said you either reinvent yourself, or become irrelevant," Elfanbaum told CRN.

It is a message that resonates with Elfanbaum, whose company has undergone multiple transformations, from a "change-the-world" dot-com company to a consultant, to a defense integrator, to a commercial software developer, to a subsidiary of St. Louis-based infrastructure solution provider World Wide Technologies.

"We all need to reinvent ourselves," he said. "It doesn't always have to be a complete reinvent. Sometimes it's a series of iterative reinvents. It's important to have a vision of what you want to be. Success or failure depends on how well you prepare."