Here's a very revealing clip of Cisco CEO John Chambers at the Gartner Symposium being interviewed by Gartner analysts Mark Raskino and Ken Dulaney in front of 7,000 CIOs and IT directors.
Understandably, given the audience, the focus is on IT budget spend, but note how Chambers answers the IT product question "what is the greatest technology investment that CIO's can make today that Cisco doesn't make or sell?" forty five seconds in.
"...we talk about technology and get excited about it, but changing processes is the only way to get productivity ... so I think you've got to align with people who can help you with process and cultural change because those will trip you up or prevent you from getting the technology benefits".
After more IT focused questions - Chambers considers the two greatest challenges for CIO's to be cloud security and agility - he's asked what's the riskiest product bet Cisco are making.
The first answer was Video, which Chambers defined as 'highest risk but highest return', but then immediately followed with another reference to business change.
The word 'social' immediately went round the world when Chambers continues "running the company off social networking" before noting the distinction between product (video) and business change.
As Larry Dignan noted earlier today
...We’ve heard through the grapevine that Cisco employees were struggling with Chambers’ penchant for running the company on a collaboration framework. Why is “running a company on social networking” such a risk. One big challenge is cultural. If a business leader is savvy on a social network could she become CIO? Sure, says Chambers.
“The thing that’s about to change for organization structures is that executives will serve on social networking groups and be moved based on function,” said Chambers.
This bet the former command and control general Chambers is making is a brave and a valuable experiment at global enterprise scale. Cisco's a tech company and inevitably their attempts at collaboration software have their dna and business needs woven throughout, but the above video is revealing in the honesty Chambers shows in the 'soft' world of process and cultural change, which Chambers defined as a product they don't make.
This is a challenge IT professionals wrestle with constantly: the requirements boxes may all be checked in the software they provision for understood business needs, but will it be fit for purpose and will people actually use it?
Once you get to Cisco sized company scale this can lead to some very expensive dead ends, and Chambers, probably more than most, understands the value of getting tight alignments to drive business performance with appropriate tools.
Chambers details process and cultural change as the greatest technology investment that CIO's can make today that Cisco doesn't make or sell. The Gartner guy responds 'I thought you were going to say storage' with a smirk....
The people and process component of effective business collaboration is the hard part and I'm delighted to hear Chambers articulating that.