It’s hard to believe that 2 ½ years ago, in my role as Head of Network Services at Cigna, I was in NYC presenting a concept to an emerging community called the Open Network Users Group.  Prior to the event, I vividly recall Nick Lippis (ONUG chair) asking me if this was a concept that I would bet my career on.  The theme of the presentation was focused on transport independence, which later become our software defined WAN strategy, driving significant value in terms of cost optimization, security and agility.

Making decisions often requires us to look at problems from multiple angles. In our industry, decisions are rarely clear cut and often times are informed by our unique experiences and perspective. Today, as the VP of Strategic Planning and Chief Experience Officer here in the Enterprise Networking Group at Cisco, I am fortunate to be able to draw on my past experiences to make a real difference as the voice of Cisco’s enterprise customers, and forge a new path ahead for Cisco and its relationship with the Open Networking User Group (ONUG) – ultimately putting our customers at the center of everything we do.  It’s all about solving real IT problems that unlock value creation for the customer.

Having served on the ONUG board from 2014-2016, I am a true believer in the mission of the organization: enable greater choice and options for IT business leaders by advocating for open interoperable hardware and software-defined infrastructure solutions that span across the entire IT stack, all in an effort to create business value. Software-defined infrastructure is the future of the industry, and I believe taking an open, interoperable approach to solving customer challenges is most beneficial for both vendor and customer. In fact, customers are demanding this, and ONUG’s goal is just that – help make the customer voice heard.

My previous role at Cigna introduced me to Software-defined WANs, and the OPEX and service quality improvement opportunities that this new technology promised. We recognized the opportunity and became champions for change. At Cigna, we were effective in convincing the vendor community there was a market for SD-WANs, and were innovative in deploying a solution that solved a true customer problem statement. From completely revamping the security program at Cigna to demonstrating the reality of SD-WANs, my experience at Cigna taught me that innovation is a two-way street. Vendors can bring innovative solutions to the table, but they need to solve a customer problem. Customers can have innovative ideas, but without communicating their needs to the vendor community and collaborating in an iterative fashion on execution, they can face a long and arduous road to solving those problems.

While serving on the board and driving multiple working groups, ONUG truly helped shape the SD-WAN market. We made SD-WANs real and implementable. We helped organizations realize the value of a WAN transformation. In my own experience, my previous organization was able to realize the in-direct and direct benefits of these new initiatives, ultimately driving value to our shareholders and consumer. I couldn’t be prouder of what we accomplished. ONUG is becoming a powerful voice in the industry, but I do foresee a coming shift. Whereas ONUG helped push for new technologies and solutions over the last couple years, I see vendors again starting to lead the innovation cycle, but in a new way. Cisco is leading the way as companies start to think ‘outside-in’ when it comes to product development – using customer problem statements to create solutions. In this, ONUG has achieved their goal in giving voice to the customer.

Now, I have made the jump and am sitting on the other side of the table. I am excited about the future and working for the company that has the broadest and deepest portfolio, and the greatest opportunity to truly transform the industry. Most importantly, I’m ready to continue working with ONUG – though in a different capacity – to ensure we are providing customers with solutions that solve their problems. We are just getting started.


Michael (Mike) Elmore

Vice President

Enterprise Infrastructure and Solutions Group