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Charting New Paths the Cisco Way


August 18, 2016 - 31 Comments

Large companies are often associated with complexity, lack of speed, and even obsolescence. Creating a start-up like ecosystem deep within the bowels of a large company calls for disruptive people practices and non-linear improvements. It also requires a trade-off between current business priorities and future opportunities that may align better to our customer’s priorities and the technology strategy we wish to drive.  This also helps us in creating avenues for co-development and innovation with our customers.

So, how do we make it happen? Falling back on my engineering roots helps me create an equation that explains it as:

Cisco f (x) = ex.

f(x) essentially represents building top talent, breaking silos, aligning behind speed and outcome, and driving joint innovation with customers focused on solving their biggest innovation problems. Linear investment in these can generate exponential results simply because all this happens in the context of a powerful, facilitating environment we call Cisco.

Sumeet Innovation BlogCisco ‘alpha projects’ are a great example of valuing and generating innovation from within. Over the last two years, there are many alpha success stories. My team’s project focused on innovating and building products for hyper-scale infrastructure. This meant combining deep customer listening, cross-company collaboration, busting silos and bottlenecks with a team that represented the best networking talent, all at a tire burning and gravity-defying speed. Thus, our internal code name for this project was xSpeed.

The xSpeed alpha project disrupts our own product portfolio and processes in a significant way. This, in turn, forces us down a path of further innovation and new frontiers; frontiers that are broader than the current technology spectrum and promise exciting times for us engineers.

 The classic Innovator’s Dilemma myth needs some busting. Large companies have the resources and the wherewithal to launch ambitious and innovative projects. Whether in the form of alphas, or acquisitions, within engineering we have been able to nourish and grow disruptive ideas with start-up-like agility while operationalizing them like a mature company.

The incumbent in every industry faces the highest level of pressure. And, in embracing disruption and often times disrupting ourselves, we ensure our relevance and leadership in an evolving ecosystem of contributors and competitors. With this approach, we create growth opportunities for our talent. This, in turn, gives us several breakthrough ideas to pursue across the spectrum of our business interests. So, really, who says innovation is only for smaller companies and start-ups?

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31 Comments

  1. Sumeet and team, great results! Our most important and valuable assets are our people. When we can unleash them on problems without saddling them with protecting the "base" you will indeed "bust" the Innovator's Dilemma. Great read and thought leading results! Cheers

  2. Congratulations team, we would be in deep trouble with many important customers but for your vision and work.

  3. Resource constraints (excess resources does not create new ideas or silo busting, though it gives an impression) and thought of taking on the incumbent with a radically new idea can generate successful and innovative ideas.

  4. Something we can apply across Cisco and not in Product's we ship to customers!

  5. Congrats Sumeet, Sunil, Pam and entire Fretta team!! Great job with Fretta.

  6. It would be interesting to see how big giants like Cisco can be nimble and agile like startups.

  7. Really intersting article. It is great to see that we are adopting this kind of approach, it is essential to the future health of the business. I don't think it is any great secret that our QA, in some areas, has been in decline over the last couple of years. With that in mind, what methodologies are we using to enable agile development, whilst at the same time ensuring product quality?

  8. I am having a brilliant Idea of an app that changes the privacy of the students and workers and helps the parental behaviour. Can you people please help me in developing the idea I don't know whom to approach but you people are doing best projects. So please any one see this please mail me Sravan.mulagala@gmail.com thank you professionals for the approach.

  9. I am the CO of Prison Logistic, Inc, and I would love to speak with Cisco about transitioning this company into a 3 Pl company and have it up and running by years end. Thank you. My email is prygonlogisticsinc@gmail.com or my cell is 719-209-8715.

  10. Loved the message and the Video. Great success story!! Congratulations to the xSpeed team.

  11. Having worked with Sumeet and his leadership team on alignment, I saw a real hunger for moving across artificial boundaries. We discussed the idea that it was in their hands to do this, not to wait for "someone from above" to tell them to go ahead. xSpeed is evidence that this team took this discussion and made it real.

  12. Great message Sumeet! Knowing that you are one of the hardest working people within the company, having a long track record of success, buying in is a no brainer.

  13. Looks like a great story of success. I envy you :-) I would really love to hear the story behind the boundryless, how did you mange to break silos between teams and organizations within CISCO?

  14. Great Video!!! and a great example of the execution done on the xSpeed platforms

  15. Congratulations Sumeet and xSpeed team!This is the New Cisco!! The xSpeed team has demonstrated how products can be accelerated with the right mix of talent, motivation and leadership!

  16. Very good execution! Congratulations to xSpeed team.

  17. This should be part of Cisco DNA. Congrats .. Sumeet, Sunil .... Pam.

  18. Very nice work! congratulations to xSpeed team. Looking forward to successful deployments and new revenue to cisco, eliminating competitors like Arista in this space.

  19. Very nicely written and communicated. Congrats folks!!

  20. Fantastic and Inspiring. Very well done !. Thanks-Narendra

  21. Excellent - very nicely communicated - Truly inspiring

  22. Fantastic!! Good story and validation points. Thanks Paddu

  23. Congrats Sumeet and Sunil. Well done!

  24. Nice blog, Sumit! Agree that its important for us to innovate and disrupt ourselves. While I see that xSpeed is very important for Cisco's SP Routing Business, one of the challenges for large companies like ours is to balance between - having the right roadmap for the existing products and create a strong roadmap for the nextGen Innovation. Today we are doing both of this with our investments on Panini, ASR9k and xSpeed. (1) Can you please expand further on this to help us understand on how are our customers embracing this change? (2) And how will this help us w.r to the competition in the market? (3) While in the interim term we may feel like cannibalizing our own selves is better than leaving a competitors footprint, what will be the long term impact of such innovations cannibalizing our own businesses? ~Siva Sivaramakrishnan

  25. Awesome Read , great video and great energy ! xSpeed is a an awesome example of what large companies can do with great leadership and channeling the amazing talent base. Looking forward to taking the market by storm !! Would love to hear your opinion on : (1) Do you see two Cisco emerging (old and new, but with same underlying talent) due to conflicting business priorities and if yes , how do we synchronize them ? (2) How do we make this model replicable ?

  26. Really a good viewpoint.

  27. I like the example to bust Christensen's Innovator’s Dilemma theory. This story also enforces Christensen's Innovator's Solution": Targeting a job that customers are trying to get done" and Being in a disruptive position relative to competitors". What is your feedback on Agile Model on the alpha projects?

  28. This is very good!! Good to see you Sumeet and Sunil!!

  29. Scale, performance and maintainability are key challenges that software presents. xspeed has introduced model driven programming for the forwarding (L1, L2, L3, QOS etc). I am outsider of xspeed program and I can attest that this will go a long way in supporting the new upcoming requirements.

  30. It would be beneficial to evaluate the lessons-learnt from the spin-in/alpha projects to see how our mainstream development cycles could be optimized to create better quality code that ships on time and delights our customers and whether our mainstream development cycle could be agile enough to deliver the same or better results. We pride ourselves for being able to create innovation through disruptive technologies but Cisco has historically relied on acquisitions for IP and market development. It would be great to see how the alpha projects compare with the innovation and value-creation from a typical acquisition.

  31. Great example ! I would like to find out what silos were busted and how were they busted within the xSpeed program. Also, was there any penalty (if any) in doing so ? Thanks !