Robbins: Future Of Cisco, Its Channel Lies Within IoT

Making one of his first major public statements as CEO of Cisco Systems, Chuck Robbins said his company is plunging deeper into the Internet of Things, which will be the networking giant's focal point in the future.

Robbins said Cisco is investing heavily in the areas of data analytics, software and security based around IoT, as well as forming new technology partnerships in order to capitalize on the 50 billion devices expected to be connected in the coming years.

"This is bigger than the first wave of the Internet. It has to be. You cannot connect 50 billion things that have never been connected before and not achieve tremendous new value that wasn't created before," Robbins said Monday during Cisco's Global Editors Conference at its San Jose, Calif.-based headquarters.

[Related: Cisco Consolidates IoT, Cloud Organizations]

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Cisco plans to win the IoT space by creating intelligent and secure IoT data platforms with "machine learning" capabilities while building an ecosystem of partners for next-generation IoT apps and solutions.

The networking giant launched several new IoT digital solutions along with an IoT System Security platform for partners to sell during the conference. Cisco also revealed several new technology partnerships in IoT along with IoT use cases in the areas of transportation, utilities, manufacturing and oil and gas.

Cisco is planning big investments in analytics tools to automate large data centers and the billions of devices connected. One partnership unveiled on Monday was with Fanuc America, which has 300,000 industrial robots in factories based on Cisco products.

Robbins is also restructuring and consolidating his company to create a faster and more agile Cisco with a mission to solve customer problems in a timely matter -- a critical aspect to IoT in the digital age, he said.

"We have to move faster, faster, faster, faster. Our teams may be getting tired of me saying this already, but if someone says 'we'll have it ready in 30 days' – I say 'three weeks,'" said Robbins. "How fast can we get our customers to benefit from our technology is going to be based on the simplicity that we drive … and that's going to allow us to move in greater speed."

Robbins said Cisco is starting to build smaller engineering teams made up of around 20 people who work months on a project aimed at solving a specific customer issue.

"It's all about how the technology benefits their business with speed – that's all what they care about … This will help us define our innovation priorities and what we are going to do as a company," said Robbins. "You're going to see some interesting things coming out in the security space, in the platform space, moving into DevOps and agile models allowing us to innovate at greater scale."

Partners say Robbins' IoT push and goal to create a faster Cisco will drive profitability for certain types of channel partners.

"Chuck's view of breaking up his teams into smaller groups to be more agile, I think it's good for everyone – good for business, good for partners, especially for partners who are more agile," said Ethan Simmons, vice president, East, for Lumenate, a Cisco Gold partner based in Dallas.. "Some of the bigger partners have issues adopting, but some of the quicker partners who are more cloud-focused, more IoT-focused are going to be more at home working with a faster Cisco that's built more like they are."

For Cisco to become the No. 1 IT company in the world, it needs to leverage its strong networking position into the emerging IoT market, according to Robbins.

Cisco said 40 percent of today's leading companies will be displaced from their market positions by digital disruption in the next five year, yet 75 percent haven't addressed the risk and don’t have a plan moving forward. Robbins said this provides Cisco with a "very clear invitation" to solve business confusion by leveraging its network foothold in the market to give value to customers through data analytics, services and security.

On the security front, Robbins said customers aren't seeking to have 50 security vendors anymore in their portfolios. Cisco is striving to implement security across the entire network in order to have a holistic architecture to address the hottest topic on businesses' minds.

"The number one priority to our customers [is security] and they're increasingly coming to the conclusion that having 45 or 50 security vendors is no longer an option because they can't correlate all the information in a timely fashion to actually stop the threat," said Robbins.

Regarding the channel, Robbins said partners have been successful alongside Cisco through every market transition, and he doesn't see IoT as being any different.

"Every transition we've gone through with our partners, (there have) been partners who've been ahead of us at some stages, partners who were moving right with us, and there were some partners who were lagging and some that didn’t make the transition and this will be no different," said Robbins. "We're absolutely committed to making this journey together with our partners."

Simmons said Lumenate isn't going to be selling sensors or devices, but rather developing solutions to help customers protect their connections and digital assets.

"We're taking an approach to connecting those devices and also protecting the communications and data that’s created," he said. "From a Cisco partner standpoint, if we can take advantage of the network connectivity piece (while) being able to secure those connections, there's definitely an opportunity there for us."

John Rohde, director of corporate business development, enterprise vertical markets and IoT for World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner, said he's in favor of Robbins bullish plans for IoT and believes Cisco is on the front end of the current IoT transformation.

"Companies have begun embracing IoT and the often uncomfortable integration between business units is taking place today, which is forcing the kind of disruption required to bring significant changes to enterprises," said Rohde, whose company is ranked No. 11 on CRNs Solution Provider 500 list.

He said channel partners need to be willing to disrupt their own organizations and sales approaches to start focusing on IoT and become faster businesses.

"If partners aren't embracing the rapid pace of technology innovation and the constantly evolving needs of their IT and non-IT customers, they'll struggle to meet the raised bar being set by others in the industry," he said.

Simmons said Cisco has all the pieces in place to become the IoT market leader.

"That's the challenge Chuck has in front of him. They have all the pieces – they have the data center, the network, security, collaboration, they have all the pieces to pull it together, but they have to move fast and figure out how to take all these pieces to put a real integrated solution together that is able to digitize companies going forward," said Simmons. "If anyone is going to do it, I think they have the best chance. I'm hoping there going to leverage the partner community to do that."