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Technology / Hardware

Failure, betting on India & onstage role-playing: Chambers delivers final Cisco keynote

John Chambers used his final keynote as Cisco CEO to warn Cisco’s partners of the impending disruption of the move from the information economy to the digital economy.

In an energetic speech, which opened and concluded with a standing ovation, Chambers argued that the "tech is the easiest part". He claimed that management changes would be most key to embracing forces that would "change the world five to ten times as much as the internet did."

"40 percent of businesses in this room unfortunately will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years. The transformation is going to be exactly like high-tech’s transformation…the ability to use fast IT to deliver on this transition becomes key to all of our futures."

"Why do companies succeed and why do they fail? It hasn’t changed…companies can miss market transitions. They can be technology transitions…they can be business model transitions or economic. They can be not understanding that IT no longer enables your business strategy, it is your business strategy."

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Another reason for failure, Chambers argued, is that "they keep doing the right thing too long. It’s so easy to say ‘this is my core business, I just have to keep doing the same thing again and again. Those companies that do that will be exactly like the mainframe companies that didn’t move to Cloud and the voice companies that didn’t move to data."

He highlighted examples from his tenure at Cisco where the company had had to change strategy, including the move from selling products such as switches to selling entire architectures.

Chambers also claimed that "strategic partnerships will determine the winners in digital transformation."

Other insights included speculations on where the next IT revolution would be led from. He claimed that the US was by no means inevitably going to lead it, praising the digital strategy of European premiers Angela Merkel and David Cameron, as well as Narendra Modi of India.

"Modi gets this," said Chambers. "If you’re going to bet on an emerging country, bet on India."

The talk was broken up by elaborate and occasionally bizarre role-playing scenarios onstage, with Chambers himself taking part, illustrating examples of Cisco technology in action in the public sector, retail and medical fields.

At the close of the speech, Chambers said his 20-year leadership at Cisco had "been an honour" and welcomed his successor, Chuck Robbins, onstage, stating that in his new role as Chairman he would be "an advisor to [Robbins] but just that." Robbins declined to define any upcoming differences in Cisco’s strategic direction but argued that the biggest challenge facing the company in the next three years is "prioritisation."
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