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Cisco ASR 901: Pioneering Innovation and Product Development from Emerging Countries

- March 14, 2012 - 1 Comment

Guest post from Dr. Ishwar Parulkar

Dr. Ishwar Parulkar is the CTO of Provider Access Business Unit of Cisco Systems in Bangalore.

The Indian Information Technology sector is coming of age as it focuses on innovation and product development after a couple of decades of success based on service based engineering models. The Asian software and services engineering giant is also trailblazing for the emerging world by bringing in specific technology needs of this part of the world – which often leapfrog the needs in the developed world – into global products.

One such success in this direction is ASR 901, Cisco’s next generation mobile backhaul platform that recently won the New Technology Advancement Innovation Award at the NASSCOM 2012 India Leadership Forum. This product is also a unique case of reverse innovation, where even though initially driven by critical emerging countries’ requirements, it is now a competitive product in developed countries as well.

The product definition, its design tradeoffs, execution and development of ecosystem partnerships are a pioneering model for IT MNCs in the emerging world to innovate and drive end-to-end products development from their remote sites in emerging countries.

ASR 901 addresses the needs of Access, Carrier Ethernet, TDM backhaul and Cell Site Gateway. The features and price point of this product makes it very versatile and fit a range of applications from 2G/3G/4G/LTE cell sites, CE/ME/Business Access, NID to Optical Satellites, resulting in new revenue streams for the company. It is also the first Cisco product to be completely developed from the India site – from conception, architecture, hardware/software implementation, testing and qualification to marketing.

Some of the lessons learned in the development of ASR 901 that can be generalized for other similar efforts from emerging countries are:

1) It is important to define the right product – the product needs to be relevant to the business, the remote site needs to have an advantage in that space either because of proximity to the market or domain expertise and the product has to have the right level of complexity to succeed.

2) The right type and level of talent needs to be groomed or seeded from mature technology markets. Senior technologists/architects and product marketing experts, which are typically not easily available in emerging countries are particularly critical.

3) A work culture of innovation and product development, which is different than a service engineering culture needs to be consciously created through mentoring and work practices.

4) Product development requires a mature ecosystem of partners locally. The local ecosystem in emerging countries needs to be developed via co-development, transfer of knowledge as well building long term relationships.

ASR 901 is one key milestone in the evolution of Cisco’s focus on developing its engineering capability in its second headquarters, referred to as Globalisation Centre East- starting with sustaining work, taking on increasingly complex engineering tasks over time and culminating in an original product being developed from the site. A full-fledged mainstream business unit, the Provider Access Business Unit is now located in India.

Some of Cisco’s key innovative technologies, applicable across company’s product lines, are originating out of this site. The Cisco journey of evolution of engineering capability in emerging countries is well into the next phase of innovation and thought leadership.

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  1. Thanks for the nice brief article and highlighting the lessons learnt. My comments on lesson learnt section especially the 4th lesson on the ecosystem. There is a need to promote better infrastructure in the emerging countries especially on the hardware design & manufacture and testing front. Small players in these key areas play a significant role, but may not be able to invest the kind of money required to buy expensive equipment and setting it up. I feel this is an area where the big players such as Cisco can lead the way to develop such ecosystem which can be used not only by Cisco, but other companies as well. This could be a collaborative effort with pooled funding. My two cents. Thanks -Rammohan