Three reasons why Cisco will transform the world

The next phase of Cisco's networking innovations will focus on making communities smarter -- maybe even smarter than the business world.

I'm decompressing after three long days of propaganda, I mean presentations, at a conference held by networking/collaboration giant/video/data center innovator Cisco.

The audience was the company's vast partner network, the resellers, network integrators, VARs, distributors and service providers that deploy its technology around the world.

(Full disclosure: I have had the opportunity to work on some projects for Cisco in the past, although I am not currently engaged in any work for the company. The point is, I am honored to have ready access to executives whenever I have questions about things they are working on.)

All kidding aside with all those slashes, as I sat absorbing their messaging and then spent time in Q&A sessions with a bunch of its top executives, I came away with the sense that Cisco is a technology company has the potential to make the same sort of mark on our society and cultural as Apple, but in very different ways.

Think about that for a second.

Cisco certainly has nowhere near the cool creds of Apple, at least not yet, although it did just get named to the most recent Greenpeace Cool IT list, which highlights companies that are making an impact in green IT. (Next version of the list is due later this year.) But here are three reasons I believe Cisco will become much more of a household name to the world over the next decade (because it WILL take that long).

  1. Cisco CEO John Chambers loves the iPad. The device showed up during demonstrations during two major keynote addresses this week at this very commercial-oriented conference, including Chambers' own closing session. "I love the Apple devices. This is the first one I'm going to start using big-time," Chambers gushed during his remarks. Are you listening Steve Ballmer? Cisco is messing with some VERY VERY cool technology that will seamless transition a call from you mobile phone to a PC or to an IP phone. Here's why this matters: Say you have been on a conference call in your car, which you initiated on your mobile phone. Cisco is working on technology that will automatically transfer that call to your PC or IP phone when you walk into your office or home (if you want it to). If the call happens to be a video call, the video will automatically be displayed. Did I mention this happens seamlessly? Hmmmm. Seems to me that Cisco might just benefit from Apple's decision to shun Flash.
  2. Cisco has consumer video delivery in its sights, and it has the platforms to make a mark. Remember, it owns set-top and broadband equipment provider Scientific Atlanta. And, it has a pretty amazing track record of becoming the market leader when it targets a "market in transition." We're not just talking TV, though. Cisco is testing a product called Cisco Home TelePresence, which could be at the center of new services. What sorts of services, you ask? Well, one of the applications showed off here this week was pretty simple: A way of renewing your driver's license via a brief videoconferencing interaction -- all from your own living room. Look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn't use this application, if it was available to you? Healthcare consultations are another service that is being developed, as well as services related to sports. I'm scared to think about the impact on reality TV! In any event, Cisco believes (and I choose that word deliberately) that video will account for 90 percent of the Internet traffic by 2013, and it absolutely plans to be at the center of that.
  3. Cisco is reaching far beyond the commercial world than it has traditionally done with some of its most transformative technologies: With its Smart+Connected Communities initiative, Cisco has become involved with some of the most revolutionary applications of its technology to date. One example is the work that Cisco is doing in Songdo, which is a new-age city being built from the ground up in Korea. Various of Cisco's next-generation technologies, such as Home TelePresence, are being built right into the buildings. When I spoke with the initiative's director of business development, Elisabeth Zornes, earlier this week, she said the first tower of the new city was sold out in a matter of weeks. The promo video believe gives you more of an idea about what they are doing.

Like IBM, Cisco has made the whole idea that technology will change not just our work lives but all elements of our communities and cultures central to its future strategy. This is one of the company's most profound corporate "causes," even though it still is technically a pilot effort.

Yes, Cisco is a huge success in the commercial world, but its future lies in the hands of consumers and communities all over the world. Watch this company carefully.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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