While sitting at the kitchen table one evening in early March of 2020, my wife and I discussed what was happening in the world and how my team at Cisco — like many of yours — was about to face an immediate mandate to enable remote work for our organizations. Our teams brainstormed, drafted contingency plans, and coordinated with other teams across Cisco’s IT organization. We had a collective understanding of how to respond.

You could say that the industry was prepared. Technologies, including cloud and collaboration services, had matured, and were already having a positive impact on business practices. By the time we realized that the pandemic would impact how our teams worked, much of the technology was already in place. At least in theory.

Each organization is different, and the adoption of remote work and cloud capabilities varies. Cisco, for example, has long had a large remote or remote-ready workforce. So, our leap to full remote and work from home may have been easier than it was for others. But the industry’s preparedness didn’t shed light on how the pandemic would impact the speed of adoption. The scale and speed of change was staggering.

The time frame for deploying cloud and collaboration technologies collapsed considerably, demonstrating how IT organizations moved with astonishing agility. According to research conducted by McKinsey in late 2020, organizations adopted collaboration on an average of 11 days versus the traditional 454 days before the pandemic, and they migrated assets to the cloud 24 times faster.


Disruptive transformation: two forces at play

Over the span of my career, I’ve witnessed the impact that new technologies can have in upsetting the status quo and reinventing industries. Disruptive Innovation and Digital Transformation have brought about many benefits. For example, the introduction of 3D printing has dramatically impacted medical devices — think orthopedic implants, surgical instruments, and external prosthetics. Meanwhile, entire industries have digitized processes across the board — from supply chain to manufacturing to finance and distribution to overall customer experience.

What we experienced in 2020 was a Disruptive Transformation. Travel ground to a halt, and businesses went all virtual overnight. The crisis disrupted every industry and transformed how business was conducted for everyone. And its impact is, in large part, here to stay.

In my session at Cisco Live in March, I shared my thoughts on two forces that have been at play for a number of years but were exacerbated by the pandemic’s Disruptive Transformation: the Decentralization of the Workforce and the Decentralization of IT Services. The workers we support in IT moved from our offices to work from home, and IT had to quickly transform to consume services outside our data centers from public cloud and SaaS providers.


What’s happened in Cisco’s IT organization

I was joined in my Cisco Live session by my colleagues Tom Deckers and Jon Woolwine. During our talk, we discussed how our teams continue to work in two parallel trajectories: responding to the pandemic and the needs that arise from it and continuing the innovation of our services and ongoing initiatives. We were happy to discover that much of our ongoing innovation initiatives positioned us well for responding to the needs created by the pandemic.

Cloud deployments and security

Tom Deckers, who serves as Principal Engineer and leads the technical strategy for multi-cloud management and automation across infrastructure services here at Cisco, discussed how we have advanced our cloud provisioning capabilities to be programmable, standardized, and self-service. This ability — enabling on-premises and cloud deployments — dramatically improved our ability to respond to the changes brought about by the pandemic and to continue to support business as usual for our internal application clients. Tom also highlighted the tools used to continually manage the security of those cloud deployments.

The network: traffic flows and visibility

For the last eight to ten years, our team has recognized a significant change in the flow of data across our networks. With the adoption of cloud and multi-cloud services, a substantial amount of traffic has moved away from traversing within our network — between end users or between end-users and on-premises data centers. Now, that traffic traverses across the edge of our network and out to the internet or public clouds. In our Cisco Live session, Jon Woolwine, our Senior Director for our Enterprise and Data Center Networking Services, shared how we’ve utilized CloudPorts to manage our network edge in response to this acceleration of traffic.

Jon also shared how Cisco is utilizing ThousandEyes to help us monitor and manage the health of our networks and the connectivity out to our remote users. ThousandEyes is a critical tool in managing our new normal with workers working remote and out of the home.

Looking ahead

Like many of you, we now look to the next phase, where the full remote work will transition into a hybrid work model. According to a report published by Cisco, 58 percent of workers expect to work from home, and 98 percent anticipate that meetings in the future will include remote participants. This is the next wave of Disruptive Transformation that IT will support, including the introduction of intelligent workplace technologies that help organizations manage safe work environments.

In the coming months, IT teams will need to continue building and sustaining an elastic and adjustable environment across their infrastructures and ensuring continuity. In partnership with our business stakeholders, we as IT leaders will need to continue focusing on individual human concerns as well as institutional ones.

This past weekend, while sitting at the same kitchen table, my wife and I found ourselves having the continuation of the conversation we started over a year ago. The situation in the world is very different, but again we find ourselves on the cusp of another significant change. Are we, as IT professionals, prepared? In theory, yes. But the environments will remain fluid — changing from month to month and week to week. We need to be flexible and ready for the unexpected.

You can find our session on the Cisco Live website. It’s part of a larger collection of over 150 Any Time sessions, keynotes, and innovation talks available through a single registration.