New Delhi: Cisco Systems Inc. recently announced a slew of online services to enable businesses to communicate and collaborate. Earlier this week Mint spoke exclusively to Padmasree Warrior, chief technology officer (CTO) of Cisco Systems, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit 2009. Warrior spoke about WEF, Cisco’s strategic shift, the next phase of the Internet and some key drivers of future technology. Edited excerpts:
When you attend an event like the India Economic Summit, what excites the technologist in you?
To me what I find most interesting in these sessions are the difference of opinions and diverse viewpoints. I think they get a good collection of people to talk about various topics. What I find most useful is the data driven approach. Some of the data lights up a bulb: How big is an issue? What impact can it have?
For instance, Cisco is working on innovations in education; how to use TelePresence in schools. When you sit through a session on education, I am immediately thinking of using this data for that research.
Cisco seems to have had a dramatic swing in strategy over the last few years. It is no longer the company it was, for instance, in 2001 when it was all about networking equipment. Now you have the Flip video recorder and PostPath acquisitions, and now talk of acquiring Tandberg.
Web of networks: Cisco’s chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior says collaboration will drive the next wave of increase in productivity. Rajkumar / Mint
Cisco has a track record of constantly reinventing itself. We’ve done this before. For example, we did this when we moved in VoIP (voice over internet protocol) technology a few years ago.
Where we see ourselves right now is preparing for the next five years, for what we call the next phase of the Internet. Where video, collaboration and virtualization will be big application and revenue drivers, and the network will continue to play an enabling role. So all of the acquisitions we have announced, and the companies we are looking to acquire, are to help us fill gaps in this plan we have. So that we are positioned for this transition.
But is there a strategic shift away from products to services? Or is this a broadening of portfolio?
It is a broadening of portfolio. And we are not moving away from products. Instead, we see us extending our existing leadership in products into systems, solutions, architectures and platforms. More and more customers want us to provide both a technology architecture and a business architecture. So we are looking at our current portfolio and how we can deliver on this broader expectation.
Cisco seems to be focusing strongly on this concept of enterprise collaboration. It is a term that comes up often on your website…
We feel that collaboration will drive the next wave of increase in productivity. The Web was first used for a lot of transactions and interactions. You had messaging and other text-based communication. In Web 2.0, there were social networks and consumer-level interaction and collaboration.
We are thinking of how we can bring these things into the enterprise world. Especially video as a foundation for collaboration. Through this, we think we can increase the productivity in companies and countries by 5-10%. In fact, we just announced a whole series of enterprise collaboration products yesterday.
The products you have announced go beyond video. It also includes email and voice. Email is a new area for Cisco.
We want to build a platform that brings together video, voice, data and then bring in Web 2.0 concepts. But with policy and security measures so that companies can use them. And then set a platform for the future where I think the focus will be on inter-company collaboration.
Now look at Twitter, for instance. It allows anyone from anywhere to connect with other people who share the same interests. This is a very good thing to have within a company. We need to build a system that enables this.
During your tenure at Motorola and Freescale Semiconductor, you coined the term “seamless mobility”. Do you see that idea coming to fruition at Cisco?
In fact, many companies are making this vision a reality; including Apple for consumers with the iPhone. When I was thinking of the term, I meant it as users having the ability to access applications, video, music and data on any device, anywhere.
Take the case of the Flip, which is made by Pure Digital, a company we acquired a few months ago. Now with the Flip, you can shoot HD (high definition) video, plug it into a USB port and share it with anyone immediately. That is what I call seamless mobility. So yes, I see Cisco being one of the companies central to making seamless mobility a reality.
You were one of two ethnic Indians short-listed by the Obama administration for the position of chief technology officer for the US. Vivek Kundra went on to become CTO. When do you think the government of India will begin to take technology and information that seriously?
Governments all over the world are beginning to take this seriously. I recently read in a report, don’t recall which one, that a 10% increase in broadband penetration can increase GDP (gross domestic product) growth by 1.3%. So I think IT, especially broadband, are key economic growth drivers. And so they need leadership positions in the government, whatever is the title or designation of these leaders, to lead this.
And during the summit, we’ve heard many people talk about the importance of IT in health, education and other areas.
Governments are taking this very seriously now, including the India government.
As a technologist, you stand on the cutting edge. So what is next? What are the next big technology ideas?
In the next phase of the internet, like music before, we think video will be the next killer app. We are looking at what this means for all our products? How can we make online video a great experience?
Second area is collaboration. The Internet must help companies to interact with people inside and outside its boundaries.
The third pillar is virtualization leading to cloud computing. This is the notion that we can separate applications and services from the underlying hardware and deliver them on demand.
And lastly, sustainability. In Cisco we are working on an initiative called Smart Connected Communities where we use networks to make buildings smarter and energy efficiently. So not just hardware and data centres that operate cleanly, but also using ICT to make homes and offices efficient.
With all these innovations, do you see events such as WEF becoming redundant? With live video and TelePresence, people don’t have to assemble at all. Soon will we be able sit at home or in office and attend a WEF?
Actually that is not that far away. I use TelePresence a lot. Recently we used it to connect 19,000 people across Cisco for a sales conference.
The key thing is it saves a lot of money. It is also good for the environment and prevents fatigue for participants. We are also extending the technology into healthcare where doctors can use the system to deliver virtual consultation.
So how many years away are we from a virtual World Economic Forum?
If we had our way, an year or so! But in some cases you really do need to meet and talk.