Employees Power Up Cisco’s Innovation Engine
It is now safe to say that Cisco’s innovation engine is powering ahead on all six cylinders.
To our five long-time cylinders, called our “strategic innovation pillars” of build, buy, partner, invest, and co-develop, we have empowered a sixth – our employees. Not just product developers and engineers–all our employees.
We’ve experimented, learned, and rolled out an array of novel approaches to tap into each person’s own passion and bring it to life. New events, spaces, and programs the past few years have converged to help employees find their “inner innovator.” Today, we’re wittnessing unique solutions unleashed from a diverse pool of talent in all functions, geographies and grades.
It’s been thrilling to spearhead such innovation and see it thrive. I imagine it’s a little like those early 19th-century wildcatters at Spindletop. They took calculated risks to discover and drill into a rich vein, and then watched awestruck while geysers of opportunity gushed skyward and all around them. Of course, our relentless pursuit of innovation—21st century tech style–never rests.
New Cisco Innovator Award Program
One of Cisco’s latest programs adds yet another dimension to our overall innovation strategy. Set in motion at the start of this year, the Cisco Innovator Award program recognizes teams going above and beyond to turn an innovative idea into a reality that has made a tangible difference. These ideas are innovations that help to shape Cisco’s business or enhance customer results. Just like our multi-skilled workforce, these innovations can vary widely too, encompassing anything from improving internal processes and team building to creating incremental or leapfrog solutions for our customers.
The goal here is to recognize existing innovation journeys and their adventurers, as well as to promote learnings and attitudes leading to innovation. We ask all employees to submit stories that are transformational and inspirational, showing a team’s journey of novelty, ingenuity, and collaboration. The program is already a key contributor—a new cylinder–in our accelerated innovation engine.
Each quarter now, we recognize a Cisco Innovator Award team companywide and give them a $5,000 prize; our first two winners exemplify what we call our, “Attitudes of Innovation.” We spent a lot of time identifying these attitudes because we think these qualities are core to our company’s legacy of success. They distinguish who we are: Be Urgently Curious, Seek Context, Don’t Go it Alone, Empower and Support, Explore Diverse Perspectives, Celebrate Effective Failures, Iterate and Persist, Reward Action, Stay Ambitious, Create a Legacy of Value, and Discover and Engage.
Our first-year winners are:
• TraceLogger, last quarter’s prize winner, germinated their idea after engaging in another innovation catalyst—a Startup//Cisco workshop–more than a year ago on Lean Startup methodology. “While the idea I came to the workshop with didn’t pan out, I realized I could take the TraceLogger kernel and turn it into something real” leveraging collaboration technology, said Raees Shaikh, a founder of the eight-person TraceLogger team and technical leader in the Technical Assistance Center (TAC).
Raess and his team members from TAC incubated a new way to simplify and speed up troubleshooting responses to customers whose calls were inadvertently dropped for technical or other reasons. Today, customers often say that the TraceLogger log collection and management prototype “nailed the problem,” said Raees, with troubleshooting sometimes cut from days to minutes.
“When you feel motivated and passionate about your idea, it’s humbling to see how much people are willing to sacrifice,” added Ryan Ratliff, also a founder and technical leader with TAC, who emphasizes that people are the heart of any great idea. “We had people giving up their own resources to work on our project.”
• Smart Agriculture, the first-ever Cisco Innovator Award winner two quarters ago, found a new way to bridge the connectivity gap that exists on farms—especially in rural Australia where Wi-Fi is limited and digitized assets rarely exist. By brainstorming with experts and farmers, the five-person team based in Australia designed a platform using a low power wide area network, sensors, Meraki cameras and more to view a farm’s health.
The Smart Agriculture dashboard, which can be viewed on mobile devices, reports on such items as how much feed livestock need, crop yield predictions, gates that have been opened or closed, and adjustments needed to combat weather events. This helps farmers be more productive in less time—and make real-time decisions based on digitized, aggregated data. They hope to scale their prototype to other industries and geographies.
“We didn’t wait for process or a lot of approval,” said Shwetha Srinivasan, a team founder. “If a certain product line wasn’t available at Cisco, we used an open source alternative or looked to third parties. We aligned with the attitude of being urgently curious, which also meant to us keeping things moving.”
The Cisco Innovator Award is so much more than another recognition and reward program. We firmly believe that Attitude + Innovation = Success, and our award criteria help to reinforce and reflect our core values throughout the workforce. Now, after just six months, this program has emerged as a critical component of an overall innovation strategy to disrupt our entire culture and cultivate those next big game-changers. We know innovation can come from anyone, anywhere. That’s why we ignite it from different angles.
But it all starts with our company’s foundational People Deal, which is a manifesto of 11 “Moments that Matter” between employer and employee. One of those critical elements, “My Innovation,” empowers “all of us to look for better ways to get things done or create new solutions at the speed of a start-up.”
On top of that we have built The Hub, an “always-on” online gateway for each employee to engage in our expanding universe of innovation events, spaces and programs. The Cisco Innovation Award program is just one of many examples I will highlight from time to time.
There’s never been a better time to innovate. That’s because there’s never been a better time to embrace new approaches that help to drill, discover and co-develop innovation all around us.
Meanwhile, if you have questions, get stuck, or need an innovation therapist, don’t hesitate to contact me: