I ran into a blog post from Cisco that I found fascinating. It is by David Goeckeler, the EVP of the Networking and Security business at Cisco, and it is about Cisco’s Multi-Domain Strategy for Enterprise Expansion to the Cloud. Unlike most of the tech segment, this piece actually seems to learn from the past and Goeckeler clearly recognizes that this mass move to the cloud is more about expansion and diversity than absolute displacement. With this realization came the conclusion that customers need a way to deal with the resulting complexity of mixed environments as well as migration tools for the cloud. So while others seem to be trying to massively pivot for a frightening future where everyone is in the cloud and most existing companies are obsolete, Cisco is adjusting for a more realistic future where there will be a variety of domains, some yet to be invented, in which the need will be tied to how to effectively manage the result and tools that efficiently connect these domains.
Rather than anticipating going out of business, Cisco is talking about why it will become even more critical to the future because “connect” is what the company does.
Let’s talk about the mistake that Cisco is avoiding and this initiative.
The Mistake of Absolute Change
One of the things that annoys an analyst is that firms don’t seem to learn from the past. Often, it seems like we should just publish a book, number recurring mistakes, and then, to save time rather than calling out and describing the mistake, just call out the number. One of the worst mistakes is the tendency for the industry to constantly think pivots are absolute.
For instance, the first time I ran into this was with the IBM mainframe, back in the 1980s as it ran against PCs (from IBM and others) and Client Server Computing, largely championed by Sun. Everyone agreed the mainframe was obsolete and everyone but IBM exited the segment. IBM almost failed. But today, decades later, the mainframe is arguably IBM’s most profitable hardware offering. It was never obsolete, it just needed to evolve. And the cloud, for the most part (with centralized processing and web browsers as terminals), is much like the mainframe, just executed differently.
PCs went the same route. They were going to be killed by the wave of iPads, but iPads never rose to this potential, and those who stuck with and invested in PCs are seeing revenue and unit growth. Printers were dead until HP reinvested and embraced 3D printing. Now it is seeing not only growth in its supplies business but in its printer business, as well.
Each of these firms learned that markets seldom completely pivot away from a technology, but they do evolve. If you defund rather than invest during this time, the market moves without you. Cisco isn’t falling into the latest trap of thinking that the future will be exclusively web services. It recognizes that companies get excited about change but are restricted to the speed at which they can change. As a result, absolute pivots to the cloud will be rare and the likely steady state will be mixed environments which, rather than making Cisco obsolete, instead puts the firm at the core of solutions that will continue to predominate: those that connect the various domains.
Cisco’s Multi-Domain Future
Basically, what the Cisco piece rightly points out is that the future will not be a consolidation into the cloud but more likely a proliferation of domains, each increasingly optimized for the services they will provide. One of the most interesting new domains is certainly the cloud, particularly as it applies to the proliferation of IoT devices, but this will likely evolve based on the needs of that segment and the limitations of devices themselves (both of which are in flux).
This is just one example of the increasing diversity that CIOs are dealing with, which includes things like application containers, microservices, cools and on-premises data centers, all facing increasing security threats and ever more demanding users. Therefore, Cisco is uniquely focusing on a multi-domain architecture because it is the future and the company is naturally the best at it.
Wrapping Up: Plan for a Future That Includes You
It is easy to think tactically and attempt to pivot to every fad or trend the firm sees in the market. However, pivoting at this speed is almost impossible and the attempt can weaken the firm and open it up to competitive displacement. The more intelligent approach is to stay closely connected to actual customer needs, defend the markets that the firm depends on, and make sure that the firm drives a future vision that has the firm in it.
I recall a meeting with Sun Microsystems a few years back. The CTO, with some relish (they hated Microsoft), predicted a future of commodity hardware and software that would have no Microsoft in it. It was a likely future but, in that future, there was no Sun Microsystems, either. Sun failed, and Microsoft is stronger than ever. Sun’s forecast was relatively accurate; it is ironic that Microsoft adjusted for it, and Sun largely did not.
Cisco is moving aggressively to not only avoid this mistake but to make sure it remains relevant and dominant in a future defined, not by the cloud exclusively, but by an increasing variety of focused domains that need to be connected, managed and secured.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+