A big railroad company is putting sensors on the rails to measure vibration: If it measures over a certain limit, the company sends a repair crew. A retailer implemented digital shelf labeling to be more agile and competitive. If a competitor changes a price for apples or bananas, it takes just minutes to match or beat the price.

Connected vehicles, predictive maintenance, adjustable banana margins: It’s incredible what can happen when the virtual world meets the real world.

But let me talk now about one of my favorite things: Why it really is better to leave the gun and take the cannoli. OK, maybe not that one. This one: How digitization changes how we work and collaborate.

At work, it really comes down to something simple. We’re all just trying to get stuff done! What that “stuff” is for each of us may be very different. But at the end of the day, we’re all trying to outsmart and outperform the competition. So, if we can use digital technologies to help our teams to do their stuff faster, we win!

Digital transformation at the workplace is happening all around us. Sometimes so fast we don’t even notice it. The companies that are quicker to embrace digitization will leave everyone else behind.

Digitization & Meetings

Companies run a lot of meetings. Cisco has its fair share. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Meetings are when we make decisions and produce outcomes. There are more meetings than ever before. And more and more they happen in the digital, virtual world.

webex statsJust have a look at our cloud meeting product WebEx. That is where we see the numbers. Over the past three years, we have seen growth, significant growth:

  • 2x monthly meeting attendees
  • 2x monthly meetings
  • 3x meeting minutes

All of this amounts to over 1 million meetings per day – on WebEx alone.

And in one quarter – just three months – we’ve seen a record number of meeting minutes. Over 13 billion. That’s 25,000 years. (OK fine, it’s 24,733.6 years. But that didn’t sound as good and I know someone’s going to call me on my “rounding error” if I don’t cop to it now.) Back to the subject: That’s a lot of meetings. And there is more demand for cloud-based meeting tools than ever before.

It’s not that everyone suddenly falls in love with using WebEx. (They do that too, but it is not my point.) Your business is driving the need for meetings. Innovation comes from creative people sharing incredible ideas. Sometimes they agree, sometimes there’s creative tension. In any case, speed is of the essence. Great ideas stagnate while you sit in an airport terminal waiting for an update on your latest flight delay. You want to move faster, meet everywhere. You don’t want to worry about all the locations where the people you need to collaborate with are.

Digitization & Location

global meetingsIn the year 1996, I was working for a German company at their offices in Silicon Valley. There were about 30 of us all co-located in the same space. And we were from all over the world. Some of the development was done in Munich and some in the SF Bay Area. In those days, we had to schedule regular working sessions in one location or the other. Big groups of people moving en-masse and living remotely for a month in order to work together. We easily lost 6 to 12 months on our time to market just waiting for everyone to come together.

Sounds like the Dark Ages right? Just one step above sending carrier pigeons (or ravens) back and forth. Obviously, in today’s world, people working in a modern startup are rarely based in a single location. Their talent is more important than where they live. Teams use digital tools to overcome distance.

And the same already applies to larger companies. Our engineering teams have hundreds of people – and they’re in at least ten locations around the world. In the past we always tried to consolidate, close remote offices, create bigger and better centers, invest in more carrier pigeons. Not anymore.

Instead, we use technology to connect the brightest minds and coolest people around the world. That is how we stay competitive.

Digitization, Agility & Speed

Here’s the big one: The way we work has changed. Everything is agile. We do more with less. We work in small teams of six to ten people but on hundreds of parallel work tracks. We stretch our tools to the limits!

Take email as an example: In the “old” days, it was normal to expect a response to an email within 24 hours. Today, people expect a response in minutes. How many of you have gotten the “Did you get my email?” call when you didn’t respond to someone within an hour? We are basically using email as a chat tool. It was designed for the work in the 90s, not for today’s pace.

So speed is a big deal, everybody wants to move faster! And they need the tools to do it.

Digitization & Integration (with everything!)

There is a huge growing economy of connecting things. I see that things are connecting more and more with each other. I mean, not just things with things, also people with things, and people with people.

Every industry, every business, and every process is different. One size doesn’t fit all, so people see a need to integrate.

One of our VPs has integrated his Tesla with his Amazon Echo. He can tell Alexa to start up his car and back out of the garage on its own. If only I could get my car to tell me when the parking space opens up near the Cuban coffee place when the hipsters have all finally left.

With our collaboration tools, people want to see major integrations to connect with what they want. That’s why companies like IFTTT, Zapier, and Built.io are taking off. They’re connecting everything, whether through APIs or integrations. Without writing even a single line of code, you can connect totally different ecosystems. For example:

  • Get a text message when a new calendar entry shows up.
  • Start a meeting when certain people enter a room.
  • Start a meeting on your phone and automatically switch it to the video system when you walk into a room.
  • Prompt you to stop eating Doritos (or at least put yourself on mute) when you’re in a meeting.
  • Remind you to leave the gun and take the cannoli when you open the car door.

And it all happens in the cloud! Recent cloud technologies are really a breakthrough in these integrations. The cloud connects everything! Stuff that has never worked together suddenly does. It’s like Marmite and cheese, coming together on toast for the first time.

Experiences Matter

Now you say “OK, this sounds complicated! New tools, tons of Cisco technology to make all this work.” Fear not.

As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

And that’s our goal for cloud collaboration technology. We strive to create tools and technology that are magical. Tools that hide the technology and the complexity. Tools that get out of your way and allow you to focus on getting stuff done.

If we ignore people, or how they want to work, or what tools they want to use – we fail. People are at the heart of digital transformation and their experience is just as critical.

To get this right, we really had to change how we work at Cisco. We had to start with defining the experience. We had to define the “magical moments” of using a product. And then, only then, we worked back to design and implement the technology stack.

If we ignore people, or how they want to work, or what tools they want to use – we fail. People are at the heart of digital transformation and their experience is just as critical.

Now, this is really hard. But it is the key to getting everything right. The experience, the software, the hardware, the infrastructure, and the networks.

I saw this pyramid about three years ago. I really thought it was a marketing slide.

dev pyramid

But frankly, it is not. The network matters when building the foundation for a magical collaboration experience. And it’s critical for digital transformation.

I’ll explain it in the context of one of our larger customers. When we started looking at the challenges they were facing, we used the pyramid for context:

  • First, we looked at the network. We found and fixed issues with the firewalls and proxy servers. Check, one problem solved.
  • Next, we looked at the infrastructure and realized that the customer was missing some of the basic infrastructure to support video and VoIP. Check, the second problem solved.
  • Then, we looked at the hardware. We discovered that many of the conference-room microphones were due to be replaced. Check, the third problem solved.
  • Finally, we looked at the software. The customer had handed out hundreds of thousands of USB headsets to employees to use with their new soft client. Unfortunately, they didn’t work. Can you imagine? It turns out, it was a simple fix we could deploy to the application. Check, the fourth problem solved.

In totality, all these problems affected the experience of each and every user, not to mention IT. Technology has to serve the user experience. By working through the technology stack, and by having unbeatable knowledge of every layer, we could fix everything and delight the users.

Where to Next?

More and more of your companies have the need to work independently of location, space, and time zones. Agile, digital businesses are moving faster than ever before. There is tremendous pressure to move faster. But now, you can integrate everything and connect through the cloud. And when you do, unbelievable new opportunities open up!

In the end, experiences matter. Whatever any of us create, we need to work back from experiences to the technology that supports them. And you’ll see Cisco deliver the next-generation collaboration tools that do exactly that.

  • Enabling teams to work from everywhere, any time zone, using any tools.
  • Supercharging agile teams with new messaging and video technologies.
  • Building from an open and highly secure platform that integrates with any business and any process.

All of it based on a strong, rock-solid technology stack with Cisco networking.

arthur clarke quote



Richard Townhill

No Longer with Cisco