Rebirth of the Network: How Cisco is leading it again
If you talk to any CIO, they are likely to say that it is the extraordinary time for technologist as everything is coming together like never before. Be it the cloud, networking, data science or security, changes are happening to all domains.
In fact, cloud has become the de facto platform for innovation and IoT is proliferating connected devices with rapid pace. Interestingly, the technology that makes it happen remains networking – it has become quite exciting again.
In an interview with Mohd Ujaley, Cisco International CIO, VC Gopalratnam who takes care of APJC, EMEAR and LATAM said, “You have situations where the proliferation of devices is happening, the IoT paradigm is happening and multi-cloud is here to stay, and the technology that connects and enables all of those is the network. Therefore, I don’t want to call it transformation but the rebirth of the network and the value that network actually delivers.”
How do you look at the concept of Digital Transformation and where does network piece fits into it?
When we talk about technology trends it’s not limited to one year. Digital transformation usually takes about two or three years. Interestingly though the world is changing faster than that and this change is forcing organisations to embrace technology as rapidly as possible, simply because external changes are also driving that. Clearly the role of the network has never been more important than right now – whether you talk about Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm, where everything is getting connected to the internet or the fact that the cloud has become a transformational delivery channel. You have situations where the proliferation of devices is happening, the IoT paradigm is happening and multi-cloud is here to stay, and the technology that connects and enables all of those is the network. Therefore, I don’t want to call it transformation but the rebirth of the network and the value that network actually delivers.
When talking about intuitive networking, everything used to be more context driven and now it is becoming intent driven. The difference between the context and intent is; context is really about where, what and the how. You know where you are and what you are using to connect. Intent based networking is really about, what is it that you want to accomplish, the business outcomes that you are trying to deliver – is it efficiency, scalability, security, among others. Secondly, with so many devices and IoT, it brings about the importance of data analytics. It’s not just the generation of data, it’s whether the data makes sense and more importantly what insights you get from the data, and how are you translating those insights into actions.
Thirdly, there is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Everybody talks about it but at the end of the day, applying principles of AI and ML to solve your business problems and applying them to your business processes is a trend that will continue for quite some time. Then Infrastructure is becoming intelligent, which means it can be programmed, it has got software embedded in it, it’s got security embedded in it and it is open.
If you bring all of these together, I would say, it’s a move towards a heterogeneous environment, where all technologies have to work with all other technologies, it cannot be just around a homogenous environment, whether it’s technology for just one company. That’s not the environment that we live in because technology has to connect and integrate with technologies from other companies as well. This notion of living in a heterogeneous environment is another key trend that we see.
Cisco has transitioned itself as a software solution provider. This move must have necessitated internal training and realignment. How did you make your sales function ready for this transition?
If you think about it, Cisco has always been a software company. For over 30 years, we sold a lot of hardware and all the hardware has software in it, it’s just that we never sold it as a software consumption model. Clearly there was recognition that the world is moving towards an on-demand, flexible type of consumption model which means that we have to essentially change the way we go to market to make it software subscription driven and license based, because that ultimately contributes to annuity based revenue model, more repeatable and more reliable.
The world was talking about Software Defined Networking three-four years ago and that has now become a bigger play which is now called SDx, (Software Defined Everything). It not only includes Software Defined Networking, it consists of Software Defined Access, Software Defined Security etc. So what has happened is, we have started to embed software to every aspect of our technology from top to bottom and therefore Software Defined Access and Software Defined Everything is really shaking the way we are working and one key enabler for SDx today is talent transmission. We had to essentially go through a re-skilling exercise, because a network engineer manages the network but they need to learn programming as well. Similarly in other areas, we want our computer science professionals to actually be in the business of learning how to program and how to code. Without that understanding, you cannot necessarily enable Software Defined Everything. The motion for re-skilling is actually the key transformation element in our migration towards SDX.
There has been significant focus on developer. In fact, Cisco DevNet dominated last year Cisco Live. What progress have you made on DevNet?
With all of the key technology trends that we are talking about, DevNet is a key delivery mechanism or a channel through which we actually develop skill sets within the company and also with our whole ecosystem of partners, where SDx is a foundation of some of that transformation. Ultimately it’s about connecting a broader ecosystem of programmers and software professionals. We have made substantial progress in DevNet.
As CIO, you meet lot of customers who are actually using your technology. What are their key ask?
Companies really like the technology capabilities that Cisco has been demonstrating in the last few years. They believe that our innovation engine is working very well. Some of the key ask that the customers have is to help them scale their business, help them better serve their customers and deliver a better customer experience. Cisco is obviously a security company so they are very interested in how our security solutions can help their businesses. They are very interested in the success stories that we’ve had internally, on Cisco’s own digital transformation. They are interested whether it is about Cisco or how we use third party technologies to actually help drive some of this digital transformation working with Cisco technologies.
What challenges did you notice in the digital transformation of Cisco and Cisco’s customers?
The challenge for digital transformation is the speed, as everything has to be done quickly. We just don’t have that luxury of time in this world. Therefore the big ask from our internal customers is how quickly can we give them the capability they are asking for. There are five dimensions to digital transformation: using the network effectively in order to drive this transformation, how to work in a multi-cloud environment, how we embed security in everything that we do, how do we use data and analytics to actually translate them to insights and actions and lastly is how can we deliver a superior employee, customer, and partner experience. Broadly they are asking for speed in all the mentioned dimensions.
Within Cisco, as CIO your role includes overseeing the transformation of different regions. How do you look at India’s tryst with digital transformation?
India as a country is digitizing faster than anybody else and a big part of that is because we are able get great leadership from the top of the pyramid in the country. Digital India is massively transforming everything that we do. India usually skips generations, we went from 2G, 3G and then we went straight to 4G. Similarly we went into the mobile phone revolution and now we are talking about 5G. The country is moving at a great net speed and I don’t think that is going to change for the next five years. It is a competitive advantage for the country, and India is the youngest nation on earth, getting younger and younger.
The younger generation is very tech savvy and they are completely transforming the way they consume technology forcing the private sector and public sectors to deliver services to them which are digital. As large or small companies we operate in that kind of environment, it also forces us to think about how to accelerate our transformation and how to deliver capabilities that the country can consume. For us, it has been a very exhilarating and uplifting experience to actually operate out of India because our customers are progressing so much that it forces us to adapt to something like that.
CIO role is gradually changing. Beyond technology implementation, there is revenue pressure. Do you see a better alignment with CHROs or CFOs can make CIOs task easier?
IT is at the foundation of the digital transformation of any organization. Therefore the expectation that organizations have of the CIO and the IT organizations, is to not only improve productivity and efficiency, but IT has to help us grow, help us to be profitable and have to help us deliver a better customer experience. That is one aspect which has completely shifted in the last few years.
IT has become a strategic enabler of the company’s activities. One of the reasons why the relationship between the IT and the CHRO is so important is because of the speed at which transformation needs to happen. That speed can only be enabled by skills, capabilities and how quickly organizations can transform the skill sets that we have available today, internally and externally, in order to make this transformation.
This is why the relationship with the CHRO is so important. Internally we have a certain level of skills in certain areas, so how do we transform those skills to the future proof technologies. You can do a whole bunch of training programs to actually get your people to a certain level of expertise or you can hire people from outside who have those kinds of skillsets. It’s neither this nor that, both must be done effectively. The CHRO plays a very critical role in working with the CIO in order to transform those skillsets. Then if you go externally, people don’t necessarily want to work with one company or one particular area, basically freelancing if you want to call it that. Therefore it’s also the role of the CHRO to identify creative sourcing models that can be used in order to get work done which is how the organization actually has to work.
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