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“We do well in Economic Downturn” - Padmasree Warrior

“We do well in Economic Downturn” - Padmasree Warrior
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First Published: Sat, Feb 07 2009. 05 30 PM IST

Updated: Thu, Mar 05 2009. 11 05 AM IST
This is Kamla Bhatt; today my guest is Padmasree Warrior who is the Chief Technology Officer at Cisco Systems. Padma, as she is known, joined Motorola in 1984 and worked there until she left the company to join CISCO in December of 2007. While at Motorola, she was the CTO and at one point had a budget of over $3 billion for her R&D efforts. Padma sits on the boards of various organizations and serves as a mentor in the State Department’s International Women’s Mentoring Partnership. Welcome to the show Padma.
Padmasree: Thank you Kamla. It is my pleasure to be here.
Kamla: What does technology mean to you?
Padmasree: Technology means a lot of things for me. Firstly, it is a passion for me and I’ve been interested in the science and technology since I was a little child. But fundamentally if you look at the role of technology and society, it is all about providing us as human beings with a way to do things that will improve our lifestyle. Whether it’s how we work, how we live, or how we even play, or entertain ourselves. So it has a foundational role in almost every aspect of life.
Kamla: What has been the first year for you like at CISCO?
Padmasree: It has been great year actually, it’s gone by so quickly; it has actually only been 10 months since I got here. I actually joined Cisco in March, I left Motorola in November. I think culturally the transition has gone so well. It has exceeded all of my expectations. Cisco is a great place to work. People here have a “can do” attitude, there’s a lot of expertise and it’s truly a global company, which are the things that I enjoy being a part of.
Kamla: This is a question that many people have in their mind. What does a Chief Technology Officer do in a big company like Cisco?
Padmasree: Yes the role of a Chief Technology Officer is very different from any of the other CXO roles. If you think of a COO or a CMO or a CFO, those kinds of roles tend to be very uniform across the industry and across different companies. Whereas the role of a Chief Technology Officer I would say is very dynamic. It changes depending on the company’s needs; it changes depending on the individual themselves and the skills that they bring to the role and it is a lot influenced by the time and the period of evolution of the technology. So in my own career I have been in a CTO kind of a role for the last probably 15 years or so, and I would say everyone in those roles is very different. Sometimes you are a chief engineer, sometimes you are an evangelist preaching the new disruption and fostering new ideas in the company, and sometimes you are working on improving R&D efficiency and it is all of the above. My role at Cisco is very much focused, I would say, on technology strategy and understanding our customer needs, and what the future needs are going to be for our customers. So I spend a lot of my time talking to customers, figuring out what some of the problems are, that they feel they are going to face as an entity, and trying to influence our product roadmaps to address those concerns. I also spend a lot of my time looking at our growth opportunities and helping my peers within the company, and move those priorities to where they are operationalized. So it is very much focused around future, growth, looking at new opportunities and building the right products to serve our customers.
Kamla: So strategy- it seems when like when you are working on the strategy for Cisco you seem to be outbound focused.
Padmasree:Yes my role I would say is very much externally-focused. I serve as a key spokesperson for the company with respect to technology and areas of disruption. I also spend a lot of time with industry analysts and customers as I said ,trying to figure out their future needs. I do spend quite a lot of my time internally though trying to bring together our technical communities to address the roadmap needs. But I would say a large part of it is externally focused.
Kamla: I just have to ask you, you have mentioned the word disruptive technologies more than once. So it looks like that’s a major focus of what you are doing.
Padmasree: Yes absolutely. I think probably the common thread that any CTO for any company, if you look across the different segments, would have, is to look at what is changing and what will change the industry as we know it today. So obviously a clear focus of my role is to understand what some new opportunities are going to be ,for us to move in to market adjacencies and catch market transitions as they occur, but also look at what could change the IT landscaping in the future and how might Cisco catch that transition.
Kamla: That naturally leads us to the next question. You know the economic downturn. How is Cisco going to come out of the downturn in terms of the market place and the opportunities that you have and in terms of disruptive technologies. What is it that Cisco is focused on now and for the next 24 months?
Padmasree: You know it’s interesting you should ask that. If you look at Cisco’s history as a company, Cisco has typically demonstrated that we actually do really well during a downturn and I think it’s because this company, we see when there is an economic downturn, when theres industry consolidation happening, we see that as an opportunity for us to invest in new areas; rather than stay the course or maintain the status quo. So it’s a perfect opportunity for us, the way we look at it, to think about what we can do with the technology that we have, that allows us to invest in new opportunities, acquire perhaps some companies that we would want to build up our portfolio etc. So we are very much focused on catching those market transitions and investing in growth opportunities to set us up for the future. With respect to that as a company, we have identified 26 growth opportunities or priorities. Some of them are large market transitions, some of them are new product categories. And one of the things that we are focused on during this downturn is to try to prioritize our resource allocation across these 26 priorities, so that we are prepared to drive the economy when it does come back out of this cycle we are currently in.
Kamla: Could you list some of those top priorities?
Padmasree: Sure, the large ones, perhaps the most critical ones, that we are focused on currently, are video or visual networking, one of the areas that we see as an exciting opportunity both in the enterprise space and in the consumer space. The second is virtualization, leading up to cloud computing, and the role of the data centre in that space and the role that network plays as compute and networking come together. And the third area is collaboration, this is involving unified communications along with Web 2.0 technologies, and the role that can play in becoming the “e-business” of the next decade. There are other opportunities like new markets. Emerging markets is one of the priorities, Globalization; the Globalization Centre East that we have in India serves as yet another priority, and they go all the way to putting routers into space, which is very much a technical challenge. So the priorities we have span the whole range from technology- focused to very much market- driven.
Kamla: So would the top three technology bets be the ones that you listed as priorities?
Padmasree: Yes absolutely. The three areas that I would say we are very focused on are visual networking or video, collaboration and virtualization.
Kamla: You talked about Cisco East. So emerging markets is a strong focus for Cisco. Could you talk a bit about what you are doing in places like India, China and Dubai and what are the differences in terms of strategy because the opportunities in each market is different.
Padmasree: Yes, you know Cisco, we actually are very innovative in how we approach the emerging markets. Most companies when they look at emerging markets, especially India, start off their strategy with “let’s use that as an R&D outsourcing centre”. Cisco took a very different approach with emerging markets especially with India ,where we said, let’s actually move our second headquarters to India. Our Globalization East Center in India is not really just an R&D outsource centre, but it is actually creating new solutions for all of the emerging markets. Those include the countries that you mentioned: India, China, the Middle East, some of the countries like Dubai in the Middle East, as well as Mexico, Brazil, you know there is a lot of opportunity we see in many of these countries. The focus we have is to develop new verticals as I call them in these countries. For example, connected real estate is an area we are focused on in Dubai. There is a lot of construction that is going to happen there. Why not use the urbanization focus and combine that with the digital focus, meaning bring IT technologies and an IT backed backbone into the new buildings, and make them smart buildings that can be more energy -efficient and be very technology-driven buildings. So those are the kinds of things we are doing, so our centre in India not only develops products and solutions to meet the needs of the India market, but it actually is focused on developing solutions for many of the emerging markets.
Kamla: My eyes are drawn to that Dubai book that you have there. I was thinking because the economic downturn has impacted Dubai. You talk about the connected real estate and there have been talks that, you know, the real estate market in Dubai is probably going to slow down. How are you factoring in the changed landscape in Dubai?
Padmasree: It is not just Dubai, I think if you take any country... We are seeing an impact of the economy slowing down in many countries, so let me talk in general about that and we can use an example of the connected real estate. One of the things that we believe will be an opportunity in the economic downturn is that people are going to look for more efficient ways of doing things, and ways that we can save on energy, for example. Ways on how we can create jobs for example, what new industries can we create and I think that is something that we are very focused on. You know when I say new verticals we are looking at new areas of applying technology that will actually boost the economy and create new jobs etc. So yes, I mean in terms of actual building and the construction that was planned for Dubai, perhaps there will be a slowdown. But if you look at the principles of what we are developing, it’s applicable in any market and not just something that is only specific to Dubai. When we say combine building construction with IT technology that applies to any country that wants to urbanize and I think those urbanization needs are going to be there, whether it is China, whether it’s Mexico city or any of those opportunities. Within the US itself, you know President Obama has announced a large stimulus package and one of the areas of focus he sees for creating jobs is investing in infrastructure. So the construction of roads and buildings and so forth. So one of the things we do very well is bringing digital infrastructure to that physical infrastructure. So many of the concepts that we are developing around using the network as a platform, whether it is in a developed market looking at additional stimulus to boost the economy, or in an emerging country.
Kamla: And how does IPv6 play into this?
Padmasree:IPv6 is an area we are looking at. It is needed, and I think as an industry we have to move to where we have better addressing capability and Cisco is driving it. I mean it is something that is foundational.
Kamla: If IPv6 was factored into your digital infrastructure that you are talking about and then you think about the connected real estate, the whole picture changes. Does it not?
Padmasree: I think there are a lot of examples like that, and another area we are looking at is this area of smart grid. How can we bring IP technologies and what we know about the Internet, and how we can run the Internet efficiently into the electric grid, into the power grid. So there you are going to need things like sensors, and how to manage these sensors. So you can sort of see the beginning of the “Internet of Things” that people have talked about for a long time. So there will be lot of new concepts with an IPv6 Internet of Things where we will bring our strength from networking to create these new opportunities for the future.
Kamla: So where are the big multi billion dollar markets and opportunities?
Padmasree: I think clearly we see a big market shifting towards video on the Internet. If you think about the Internet, the first Internet as I call it. The first Internet really was all about a data transport mechanism. It was like you can say e-mail was perhaps the killer app in the first instantiation of the Internet and it was really a messaging platform. The next Internet, I think the Internet in the future, is really going to be focused more about being a collaboration platform, around being more about media transport, not just data transport. And so with video, we are just seeing the beginnings of the use of video in the enterprise. You see this big TelePresence unit sitting here in my office and I have to tell you, I use this on a regular basis. Within Cisco our own use of TelePresence is driving significant cost savings, and by the way it is energy-efficient. It’s carbon footprint is much lower.
So video is a huge opportunity for us, one of several billion dollars of opportunities, and we see this evolving from video communications to what I call visual networking. What we refer to as visual networking, which is really a combination of video communications and social networking as we know it. So it’s not too far away from where you will perhaps be watching a game, whether it is the Super Bowl or a World Series cricket test match or whatever it is that you are interested in, you can have people and your family and friends in multiple locations all watching the same game, and having a conversation virtually, without actually physically being there. And so it really has a potential to change social dynamics even in the consumer space.
In the business space clearly we see TelePresence, video communications and visual networking being the next opportunity, moving them into perhaps B2C communications where it can transform healthcare, education. All of those applications are in consumer as well. So that’s one big area. The second big growth opportunity for us is what we call collaboration.
Collaboration, really I think we are just scratching the surface with that. But if we think about collaboration and having virtual teams that can connect and work real time on a topic depending on their expertise, and then disband once that project finishes, allows a lot of flexibility in how companies can utilize resources. So we have multiple solutions in that area with unified communications and WebEx, and solutions like that, which we want to extend more as a platform and bring further Web 2.0 capabilities on to our unified communications platform. We see that as driving a lot of productivity within businesses, and across businesses; so it is a second area of huge growth potential that we see.
The third has to do with what we call Virtualization. We have seen the deployment of virtualization which kind of began with server virtualization. Our focus is more to extend that into the data centre, and virtualize the data centre and eventually lead into cloud computing. Where we can have flexibility and agility in terms of how applications get written and deployed. I think fundamentally that is going to change IT as we know it in the next five years or so.
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First Published: Sat, Feb 07 2009. 05 30 PM IST