Cisco's network gets a tune up

Summary:Cisco CEO John Chambers has been bold in his experimentation with “co-ordinate and cultivate” over “command and control” at the helm of the forty billion dollar global behemoth over the last several years, as I have previously written here.Where Chambers is taking the Cisco Network next was the subject of an internal email (now made public by Cisco) which has been widely reported in the financial press and has subsequently seen Cisco's stock climb.

Cisco CEO John Chambers has been bold in his experimentation with “co-ordinate and cultivate” over “command and control” at the helm of the forty billion dollar global behemoth over the last several years, as I have previously written here.

Where Chambers is taking the Cisco Network next was the subject of an internal email (now made public by Cisco) which has been widely reported in the financial press and has subsequently seen Cisco's stock climb.  I've heard various first hand accounts and rumors, good and bad, about the councils and boards collaborative model Chambers created in 2007 with the intent of spurring innovation and cross pollination in order to continue to grow the business at the pace the global financial markets expect.

In 2009 executives began to work within operating committees fed by 12 councils and 48 boards, which were in turn informed by project work groups.  The intent was to have the company make 70% of its decisions 'collaboratively'- a strategy conservative command and control financial types neither understood or in some cases approved of back then.

Cisco's sheer size makes continued growth hugely challenging, especially in the economic crisis we have endured since the 2008 global banking collapse.

The networked world has moved on exponentially since the last decade and the realities of the single global marketplace - and Cisco's foundational infrastructure role in it - has essentially been structured around their moves up the value chain to avoid commoditized price stripping of their products, whether core enterprise business or the more recent moves into the consumer space.

John Dvorak's recent piece on Marketwatch about buying USB wireless-connection home network gear illustrates the challenge:

Since we all (should) know that most equipment of this sort is made at the same two or three places in China with the exact same components, almost everything has become commoditized. So I bought the cheap item, which physically looks as slick as anything else being sold, and it works perfectly.

Fighting these battles to protect the Cisco brand and inform buyers on differentiating strengths against stiffening global competition at multiple levels requires focus and commitment.

On the organizational collaboration front the San Francisco Chronicle story "Cisco CEO John Chambers tries to rally the troops" by Andrew S. Ross has this revealing comment by 'd2010'

"I worked at Cisco and know exactly the problem. There are too many people in that company who really do nothing. The have fancy titles, sit in an office and delegate everything, show up for a meeting, throw around corporate jargon and then disappear and show up for the next meeting. When it comes time to roll up their sleeves (as Chambers mentioned), they throw around the MBA from Stanford and say things like "I don't do this."

I give Chambers credit - he knows exactly what's going on in his company and he is 100% correct - accountability has been lost. Nobody is accountable for anything at Cisco, especially middle management. Front line people are yelling DO SOMETHING to some people. Pick up the phone, call a contact, inquire about upgrading their technology - nothing".

To also give Chambers credit, he is dealing with something completely new at scale: organizing employees within a highly interconnected world (thanks largely to Cisco infrastructure) which has seen a colossal increase in lightweight communication and commenting. As an example this crudely annotated, poor quality rip of the first glossy Cisco 'Welcome To The Human Network' commercial uploaded to youtube by Koman92040 is symptomatic of how messaging and quality get distorted in the Web 2.0 era. It's not exactly a remix, more a mix down and dilution of originally intended messaging, something which is an increasing problem for corporate communications.

Feeding shareholders good news in quarterly doses as well as compensating the seventy three thousand Cisco employees takes some doing, but despite all the drama there has been solid eight to eleven percent growth and continuing bold moves in a down economy.

Gary Moore, a Cisco veteran thirty days into his new role as Chief Operating Officer, has come from running services and is sure to want to focus on clear decision making and accountability to make Cisco more streamlined and efficient. Clarity of communication and associated clear collaborative intents are arguably the big challenges being faced at Cisco.

A book I know was popular with senior Cisco management at the end of the last decade, and which was previously a post dot com hangover reality check for many is 'Execution: the discipline of getting things done' by Larry Bossidy (who turned Honeywell around last decade) Ram Charan and Charles Burck.

As Chambers and Moore aim for crystal clear vision and communication to solve their execution hiccups, to put it kindly, it's well worth getting back to basics to achieve organizational efficiencies with the new generation of network tools both written and audio visual.

Preparing for the surgical changes ahead at Cisco should include the reality that ideas about collaboration and innovation are as common as belly buttons, and since everyone can publish anywhere across multiple channels in our era, the focus on realizing efficient execution becomes ever more essential.

Topics: Networking, Cisco

About

With extensive senior management practical experience in international enterprise collaboration, Oliver previously managed the Sony PlayStation 'WorldWide Studios' collaboration extranet, and has worked with the American Management Association, Sun, Docent/SumTotal Systems, Harvard Business School and McKinsey & Company on major initiativ... Full Bio

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