Comdex Fall: The Net's the new industrial revolution

The Internet will have as dramatic an impact on the landscape of world commerce as the industrial revolution, said Cisco president and CEO John Chamber, yesterday in his Comdex keynote speech.

Using the growth of his own company as an example, Chambers said "two years ago no one would have thought that the CEO of a company like Cisco would be giving a keynote at Comdex...Now the majority of the products on the show floor have connectivity and the Internet built in...in two years time they all will, whether they are low tech or high tech products."

Chambers attributes a good deal of the firm's success to using their own products. "39 per cent of Cisco's orders are taken over the Internet, and these products are delivered two to three days earlier." Training of staff, service and technical support have also been largely switched to the Internet. The saving on call centre staff "enabled us to switch 1,000 engineers from tech support to R&D".

The message for businesses that have not yet embraced the networking technology was that they should do so quickly, or risk having their competitive advantages eroded. The other key message for business was that suitable business partners were essential for all sizes of organisation. Cisco itself has business partnerships with Microsoft, KPMG, Intel and many more.

Chambers gave over a good deal of the keynote to talking about education, and Cisco's plans to build a networking academy in every state. "Although America has some of the best university's in the world, K12 education is broken, and it is the responsibility of those of us in business and in the community to fix it." At the Q&A session Chambers said that less than five per cent per cent of new employee's were hired straight out of the education system "because they are unequipped to be successful in this business". The networking academy will aim to improve networking skills and will also be introduced in Europe in 1998, though the country that will get the first academy is yet to be decided.

Chambers said we were going to see an explosion of commerce on the Internet and that all of the estimates he had seen underestimate the size of this market. Later, in a press briefing after the keynote, he said he believed Internet commerce would be worth one and half trillion dollars by 2000.

Cisco has a position of strength in this explosion of Internet usage, as they are the market leader in manufacturing and selling the routers and hubs that connect networks to the Internet, said Chambers. One reporter asked him if the firm's success would start people talking about 'WinCiscoTel', rather than just Wintel, an observation that he seemed quite happy with.

The comparison of the Internet explosion with the industrial revolution was repeated by Chambers in the Q&A where he said "not all companies, and not all countries will get it...there are going to be winners and losers, in this shift in the way people work and live."

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