Cisco CEO Chambers' key risk: Running a company on social networking

Cisco CEO John Chambers said the company's two biggest risks are its video products and trying to run his company on social networking.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Cisco CEO John Chambers said the company's two biggest risks are its bet that video will become critical to networks and trying to run his company on social networking.

Speaking at the Gartner Symposium conference in Orlando, Chambers talked about how technology executives need to translate IT terms to productivity. The product risk to Cisco is obvious. Perhaps enterprises won't bet big on video.

But the social networking comments were notable. 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.

Chambers noted that technology executives can be moved to business functions and general managers can run IT. As long as these executives drive results, Chambers isn't going to get stuck in some role.

Now some of this is a case of Cisco selling collaboration. Everything from the network to WebEx to the Cius tablet to telepresence is hooked into collaboration. Cisco has to eat its own social networking dog food. However, Chambers noting that collaboration is damn hard indicates that there's more than just a sales pitch involved.

In fact, when Chambers was asked about what the biggest investment in a non-Cisco product should be. Chambers said that more spending needs to support the "cultural change of technology."

Simply put, collaboration technology is a lot harder than it sounds.

Other key points from Chambers:

  • Enterprises will have to move to support any device. Cisco now does that, but the challenge is finding out how to provide security and support while offloading intelligence into the network. Did Cisco want to support multiple devices? "We didn't have a choice. We support some laptops more than others, but any device to any content is a must," said Chambers.
  • Cisco bet on the consumer market on the idea that creativity will emerge from social networking, technology and the consumer. "We moved into the consumer market because we thought a lot of what we would learn would go to business," said Chambers.
  • Apple's iPad is a great business tool, said Chambers. He noted that Cisco "started the Cius before the iPad." However, Cius will find a role by packaging telepresence, video and integrated communications, he said.
  • Cisco will grow employee productivity 10 percent a year over the next decade due to cloud computing, networking and collaboration.
  • CIOs need to put technology into business terms.
  • IT budgets will grow dramatically over the next five years "if we translate technology into growing productivity and revenue streams."
  • Security and agility are the biggest challenges for cloud computing.
  • Are there two customers who care about Cisco's environmental performance? Wal-Mart and Duke Energy.
  • Cisco "will sell anyway you want to buy," quipped Chambers. He was referring to dealing with CEOs that want to invest for growth or cutting costs.
  • On making servers, Cisco said the company "would have never entered the server business as a standalone." But computing and networking are coming together "not just in the data center, but all the way to your home."
  • Chambers said the company's UCS data center architecture is the first big change in two decades. Chambers said "we approached the incumbents about doing this, but they weren't interested."
  • Security is front and center for CIOs. Chambers said security is the biggest risk to business.
  • "There's not a CEO or government leader in this world that won't invest in new concepts that meet business needs," said Chambers. "You have to put these technologies in business terms."

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