“Even when we’re about three years old working with Lego blocks, we want to do something different, we want to build something unique with our own hands.”

It’s clear that from a young age Cisco Customer Experience’s Chief Architect, Dave Malik, had a knack for innovation, the process of deconstructing problems and reimagining new solutions.

In his early career, Dave was drawn to the world of finance due to its position at the forefront of enterprise innovation. It was here that he discovered the value of technology to drive companies to find a ‘wedge’ in the market – vital for survival in the highly competitive world of stock trading.

He may have moved on from Lego blocks, but today Dave is still focused on finding and implementing the innovations that set businesses apart from their competitors.

“Every customer has a vision of their own masterpiece and we want to help them build it.”

In our discussion with Dave, we uncovered 11 guiding principles he uses to drive innovation and digital transformation for some of the world’s largest companies.

Rule 1

Find the 10%


As Chief Architect for Cisco CX, Dave is charged with helping customers find the crucial, differentiating factor he calls the 10%.

“When you look at the journey of a customer it's typical that 80-90 percent is fairly commoditized, meaning everyone's doing the same thing. It's the last 10 percent that really differentiates people. It's about, how do you become the first in your industry, or the second, to really gain a competitive edge in the market. And those are usually extremely challenging maneuvers. Otherwise everyone would be doing it.”

To unearth this, he works alongside companies in a process of ‘co-innovation’, helping them discover what their customers need, and guiding them to implement the technologies to bring their outcomes to life.

Rule 2

Innovate from the outside-in

One of the most common mistakes Dave encounters in these early stages is innovation from the inside-out. Instead, companies should place themselves in the shoes of their end-customers, innovating from the outside-in.

“That’s how most companies fail. They build something they hope customers will embrace. Instead you should look at, ‘what are the toughest problems in the industry that can make an impact if resolved?’ and then you go tackle them.”

Rule 3

Focus on interactions, not transactions

“When you go to a store in a checkout line and get your groceries, that’s a transaction. That’s not what we’re here for.”

Just as important as winning new customers is achieving what Dave calls, ‘customer stickiness’.

But how do you make your customers stick?

The key is to focus on ‘interactions’ – building relationships by leveraging insight-driven experiences that engage customers as individuals, rather than delivering on one-time ‘transactions’.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (ML/AI) are enabling us to unearth these insights by predicting how and when customers require expertise for a solution. When people feel valued, as the result of an outstanding or highly personalized experience, they’re far more likely to come back for more.

Rule 4

Innovate at speed, with safety

In recent years, many industries have been flooded with nimble new players, each vying to innovate faster than the rest and achieve ‘customer stickiness’. This has prompted many established companies to change the way they operate to stay above the high-water mark.

“As an example, we have executed programs with financial institutions with over 200,000 employees, but they know they can no longer operate like a battleship.

So we’re seeing a lot of larger customers that are building smaller agile teams. They’re working in sprints and now we’re getting code out to drive cloud applications much faster with micro-releases.”

At the same time, these companies should ensure they’re working with trusted, credible vendors to minimize risk.

“You can go fast but you have to have a seat belt on. You can't go fast blindly. Security is paramount every step of the way. ”

Rule 5

Secure your network with Automation and ML/AI

Properly managing security is essential to ensuring safety when innovating. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear of a cybersecurity breach, often due to the complexity of maintaining compliance across environments and the sheer scale of the networks that human operators have to protect.

The answer? Automation and ML/AI.

“Humans cannot correlate millions of data points and drive insights from them to take action with low latency. It's impossible. So, we want to get to the point where you can make an educated decision in a very short amount of time. We take threat and network intelligence very seriously, and we marry them through automation frameworks to protect not only their applications but also their employees and devices.”

Rule 6

Unlock creativity by removing repetition

Beyond the pivotal issue of security, automation can also accelerate deployments and increase efficiency by batch processing repetitive tasks. Companies improve their bottom line, customers get access to reliable new services more quickly, and employees have more time to focus on innovation.

“A common misnomer in many markets is, ‘automation is going to dramatically reduce my workforce.’  The truth is, it will make your workforce more intelligent if you use it in a strategic manner.”

Rule 7

24/7 availability is a must in today’s digital landscape

Automation is also key to reducing latency and remediating issues faster, both of which are central to availability. Today, if your experience can’t be accessed 24/7 by your clients, it can pose a serious threat to your brand.

As a concrete example, Cisco’s Customer Experience team is supporting the requirement for high availability for some of the largest mobile operators in the world. Site Reliability Engineering practices are being used to ensure system availability to meet end-user demand.

“You have people with phones and they're not patient. If they’ve had a bad shopping experience and their shopping cart empties, they're probably not going to come back and put that item in a shopping cart again. They'll go to another merchant.”

Rule 8

Drive simplification and choice in multicloud

Whether building a Lego castle or a digital masterpiece, openness and interoperability are key. With Legos we rely on the ability of every piece to fit together to create a masterpiece.

This is true for our networks too, particularly when it comes to cloud. Dave believes every business should be able to develop a cloud-agnostic policy, the ability to choose the cloud they want, to innovate in the way they need, without negative consequences.

“I may want to run my analytics for customer interaction in TensorFlow in Google, but then I may want a speech interface on an Alexa API which resides in AWS, and the only way to do that is to have choice for value-added services across any cloud.”

Multicloud is now a reality and those who exercise it will gain a competitive advantage. The challenge is ensuring these different environments are abstracted with common languages. Businesses must ensure they work with a vendor that can maintain security policies with no vendor lock-in, deliver the right experience and provide full visibility into their applications across any cloud.

Rule 9

Let your technology partner focus on the details while you focus on business outcomes

Automation, machine learning, and the ability to operate securely and efficiently across whatever environment you choose all provide the groundwork for innovation that drive a company’s competitive edge.

Despite this, Dave’s point of focus when working with customers is around providing value by achieving their specific business outcomes. At the end of the day, solving these problems is what builds a strong, trusting relationship.

“You shouldn't care how the plumbing is built, or how electricity flows and how the Internet comes to your phone, you don't care how a radio tower works. You shouldn't have to.”

Rule 10

Adopt a holistic end-to-end architecture

One of the ways Cisco sets itself apart is by moving beyond product development, realizing that for companies to get the most out of their solutions they need to be able to look at systems end-to-end.

“We’re looking at things very holistically. We’re passionate about how networking, security, applications, IoT, multicloud and emerging technologies can integrate more easily.”

With a cross-architectural approach, aided by Advisory, Architecture and Support teams, and ecosystem partners, Dave is able to help customers take a step back from their individual technologies. With architecture blueprints, key decision makers can view the entire canvas of their masterpiece and understand how it all fits together, and when and where investments need to be made. At the end of the day, IT is run as a business.

Rule 11

Innovation is a continuous process

To stay competitive today, no company can rest on their laurels. Rather, they need to continually ask themselves what new problems they can solve and how they can make their end-customers’ experiences even better across the lifecycle of their solutions. Here Dave draws the comparison to the Cisco’s Customer Experience racetrack.

“The graphic shows that it’s a continuous journey for our customers… We can always do better and improve and learn from what we’ve done.”

 It’s this same philosophy that’s driven Dave Malik since day one, from bringing to life creative new ideas with Lego blocks, to stitching together digital solutions and driving innovation at a global scale.

“That's kind of the mantra, I think, you're never done, there is no end. When people think they've arrived, they're mistaken.”


11 Rules of Innovation Infographic 1. Find the 10% 2. Innovate from the outside-in 3. Focus on interactions, not transactions 4. Innovate at speed, with safety 5. Secure your network with automation and ML/AI 6. Unlock creativity by removing repetition 7. 24/7 availability is a must in today’s digital landscape 8. Drive simplification and choice in multicloud 9. Let your plumber focus on the plumbing, while you focus on business outcomes 10. Adopt a holistic end-to-end architecture 11. Innovation is a continuous process


Read more on Dave Malik’s work with Cisco: Visit his blog

Learn more about Cisco CX: Visit our CX hub