Cisco's John Chambers On How IoT Will Change The Channel

Chambers On IoT's Potential

John Chambers, executive chairman of the board at Cisco Systems, spoke to CRN about how the Internet of Things will significantly increase the amount of channel partners Cisco will on-board over the next few years.

The former longtime CEO handed over the reins in July to Chuck Robbins after 20 years leading the networking giant. Although no longer the leader, Chambers remains very active with Cisco and has been its global spokesperson. He said just within the past few weeks, he's talked to political leaders in the U.S., China and Germany about IoT and digitization.

During Cisco's Global Editors Conference this week held at its San Jose, Calif., headquarters, Chambers told CRN that he expects Cisco's channel ecosystem to increase rapidly in the coming years due to the vast amount of opportunities the company has to offer inside its portfolio that are tailor-made for the IoT market.

How will IoT impact the amount of channel partners Cisco has? Will you need more partners?

IoT will proliferate dramatically the number of partners you need. If you believe that the IoT concepts -- and really they're carrying through to the Internet of Everything so it really means digitization -- if you believe it will be five to 10 times the impact to the Internet to date, you get idea of both the breadth and depth of the partnerships we need.

How many more do you need compared to the 70,000 partners you have now? Are we talking 100,000 partners?

I think it will be a lot more than 70,000 partners. There's 14 billion devices connected and it will increase to 500 billion in 15 years -- that’s probably going to be conservative. If you believe that every industry becomes a technology company, if you believe the transitions are going to occur at a faster and faster pace, the number of partners that we will have and the financial opportunities for our partners and Cisco go up pretty dramatically.

Is the channel ready to transform to focus on IoT and digitization?

The partners are like Cisco, where when we bring in the biggest companies in the world -- we had the top ones from China here a week ago, top ones from Ohio this week, before that Germany – when they come in here and you say, 'If you don’t reinvent yourself you'll get left behind' the top CIOs and CEOs of the world now get that. Same thing is true for all of us in our channel distribution. We're a channel partner company first, second and third, but we must reinvent ourselves in the process and so must our channel partners.

Some partners might be a bit nervous, such as some of your more smaller, traditional partners. What advice do you have for them?

Well, let's be candid, every company in the world and even every country in the world is a little bit scared about this. They know they have to change, but they haven't got a clear road map. The number I use is about 85 [percent] to 90 percent of the CEOs know they have to transform their company to become a digital company, yet the CEOs will tell you only about 5 percent have a strategy to get there. The CIOs will tell you it's more around 15 [percent] to 20 percent, but the CEOs don’t buy that.

So there's the opportunity for us and our channel partners because it's going to be every industry.

Any chance you'll run as a candidate for the U.S. Republican Presidential seat?

You know, it's funny, you're probably the 300th person to ask me that question this week … but no.