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Wednesday, 01 February 2017 09:42

Hey Cisco, is that really you?


We all know of Cisco as the world’s largest networking company that has dominated, often by sheer force of will, the networking and UC markets for so long.

If yesterday’s media inspection of its new Sydney office at 177 Pacific Highway, North Sydney, is any indication of the company’s future direction, we have a completely new, client- and staff-driven, sensitive new-age company that is more likely to offer tailor-made solutions than sell you what it wants to.

Seriously, the Cisco I knew was a totally sales-focused, hardware-oriented, always right, competitor-crushing company that made networking “lock-in” an art form – Cisco certified was as much a badge of honour as speaking Klingon!

Part of the need to change was attributed to its poor financial performance in 2013-14. Cisco was under siege from new software-defined networking (SDN) companies like Big Switch, and Facebook offering its in-house developed, Broadcom-based, switching hardware and SDN as open source. It had to lay off 8% of its global workforce. But it is back on all fronts, according to its vice-president, Australia and New Zealand, Ken Boal.

Boal quipped that, “Even two years ago, we all looked the same,” referring to the image of Cisco suit-wearing executives. “Today the company could not be more diverse. In Sydney, we have about 470 staff, and the new offices have only 150 hot-desks – about 55% of the workforce telecommute and don’t need to come into the office.”

He also quipped that “I suppose you are wondering why an HR person is part of our panel today.” (along with Kevin Bloch, chief technology officer and Tiffany Wright, director of mid-market Sales). “There is a war on for talent and Cisco has to be the best place to work,” he said introducing Adrian West, head of HR Australia and New Zealand.

West was chuffed that Cisco had recently won an Aon Hewitt “Best Employer of 2016 Award”. He said, “In a fast-changing environment, developing a culture of trust and transparency, along with workplace flexibility, gender equality, recognition of achievement and philanthropic programs, has enabled strong business performance.”

I spent some time talking to West and it is clear that Cisco globally has changed. “It is about the people deal. How can a company have expectations if it does not meet staff expectations too? Cisco is using analytics to mould its HR policies to suit its 70,000 workforce and the results are increasingly showing in innovation and enthusiasm – we have created a place like no other so all of my Cisco colleagues can fulfill their professional ambitions and change the world.”

Bloch, a Cisco Australia veteran (1999), is always fascinating to listen to. He gave an overview of the top 10 trends in 2017 and rather than repeat it you can read his blog here.

Cisco Kevin Bloch trends 

My takeaway from his presentation was that AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning are driving everything. “Any company that is not thinking about AI now will be going out of business sooner rather than later,” he said. “Cyber crime is the single largest economic crime category and Cisco is working on a network scale to help combat this”.

Wright has been with Cisco since 2003, starting as a channel account manager, and knows networking better than most. Her team caters to the small to medium enterprise – 97% of Australia’s business. “The top issue at present is how to digitalise operations – digital transformation. Business is looking to Cisco to provide a roadmap as we work across so may verticals and industries. We can give broad advice but of course, it is invariably about hybrid cloud and providing a network infrastructure that suits SMEs." She was bullish about Cisco’s Meraki SME solutions.

As for the offices – they are beautiful, functional, and have some of the best views in North Sydney. The Australian's technology reporter Chris Griffiths has a great photo overview here.

The offices feature:

  • An on-site Genius Bar where employees can take their devices for the best in technology expertise as and when they need it;
  • Spark collaboration tools that allow you to swipe up on your iPhone to connect to a room and conference, allowing employees to collaborate and connect with other Cisco offices around the world by the touch a screen;
  • Barista-style coffee machines on every floor;
  • Cafe style meeting area and luxury kitchen to encourage employees to have internal meetings in the office rather than leaving to go to a cafe;
  • Communal seating/chill out areas;
  • Parenting room complete with changing facilities for parents who bring their children into the office;
  • Fully stocked drinks fridges; and
  • Digital lockers.

Cisco also demonstrated its new Spark Board – a collaborative whiteboard solution iTWire has an article on this here.

Cisco may just be trendy again.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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