Chambers Clarifies Cisco's Vision

When John Chambers works the room, he literally works the room. At an invitation-only session for press and analysts on Wednesday, the Cisco president and CEO burst into the small conference room and began introducing himself and presenting business cards to each of the 30 or so attendees.

Chambers has long been known for his habit of walking among the crowd when he delivers speeches to large audiences, earnestly making his points as if he were in a pressing one-on-one conversation. He took this approach at his keynote address earlier in the day at the Cisco Partner Summit in San Diego. Having suitably disarmed his media and analyst audience later that afternoon, he settled in for an hour-long QandA session that clarified Cisco's vision for the future of unified communications.

One of the notable qualities about Cisco's announcements this week is how forward-ooking they are; the company unveiled almost no new technology, and many of the channel-program announcements centered around tools or initiatives that will roll out later. But Chambers said this was mostly by design.

"We've still seen more changes to our program than most of our competitors ever do, and we also give more advanced notice on those changes," he said. "When you make announcements of this magnitude, you have to give people time to adjust to them and prepare themselves. Some of the programs should be easy to adjust to and others will take more time."

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He added that the partner-program changes extend to who's running them, saying that he expects to rotate his channel executives every three or four years. The most recent example of this happened last year, when Paul Mountford's move to run Cisco's international emerging markets business started a domino effect that shuffled numerous other executives into new roles.

As for this week's announcements, Chambers said the channel should look no further than Cisco itself for a model of how to adapt to the changing marketplace.

"What's most important for the channel is to do just what Cisco is doing and realize how convergence is going to occur," he said. "They should either specialize or broaden out their businesses, and in doing so we're asking our partners to make the same transition as we do."

Chambers disagreed with the suggestion that new unified communication concepts, such as "telepresence"--a high-level collaborative application that he demonstrated during his keynote speech--are best-suited to the enterprise.

"The SMB market actually can get more benefit from convergence because they don't have the time and distribution issues that a lot of enterprise customers have," he said. "We'll see that market consume a lot more of this technology at a faster pace, because the people at the high end of the SMB space tend to see more clearly how this can benefit their business, and they're more likely to spend money on it."