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Cisco Live!: A/NZ boss Ken Boal lays out the company's new vision

Cisco Live!: A/NZ boss Ken Boal lays out the company's new vision

Networking giant has had to fundamentally change to stay relevant

Cisco vice president of ANZ, Ken Boal

Cisco vice president of ANZ, Ken Boal

Cisco's vice president A/NZ, Ken Boal, gave a frank assertion of his company's tough few years, and why it has bounced back so well in the last 12 months.

The company was stagnant, he said, and struggling to bust through the $50bn mark, as critics questioned the sustainability of the company's business in the face of the commodisation of network equipment.

"Two to three years ago we came to the conclusion that we had to change," he said.

"We had a very healthy paranoia about becoming the next Kodak."

This saw a fundamental rethink about the company's approach to the market, that now sees the company focused on its ACI, Intercloud fabric and the Internet of Things (IoT; but which Cisco calls Internet of Everything (IoE).

The company's rethink saw it looking at focusing on a more efficient back office, more advanced shared office solutions, and working towards world class best practice across the business.

The biggest challenge was in product development, the company had to breakdown its platform fiefdoms, and work to become more horizontal. This saw a significant reorganisation of the company's staffing: "Over 70 per cent of our engineers now have new roles within the business."

Boal says that the transition is 'basically complete' but would not be drawn on whether there would be any further staff cuts.

"We believe we've made the bulk of our transformational decisions, and will continue to evolve the workforce to meet market demands. We will look at where there's growth, and we will invest, where there isn't, we will disinvest," he said.

Boal says the company's culture is now focused on speed and innovation - a complete change to the business' model, not just its product production.

He did say that the company's internal sales confidence is now at an all time high. Consumer confidence in Cisco has rebounded, with the company boasting 5500 attendees at CiscoLive, up 20 per cent from last year, a key barometer.

"The results are in, they are absolutely highlighting that we made the right decisions," he said.

"Investors like what they're seeing, the SDN overhang on our stock has been removed and the market likes our IoE vision."

He claims the company is now boasting $150 billion valuation, and the results are looking good along the top line, as well as the bottom line - not just globally, but locally across A/NZ.

"Cisco has always been very strong in New Zealand, but we'd had a flatter time in Australia. That rebound in Australia is now looking fine," he said.

As part of the company's focus on smart cities, he has seen increased interest from local councils - a field Cisco hasn't normally played in, focusing on state and federal governments. This has also spread to the private sector and other verticals, such as higher education, where analytics are driving further opportunities to engage with customers.

The company has also been investing heavily into VCs and startups, to the tune of $2 billion, the latest being Blackbird Ventures.

"We haven't historically been mucking in with those as much as we should have," he said.

"We want to connect New Zealand and Australian companies into our global network, our ecosystem and customer base. We want to push along those small start ups and give them the support they need to succeed."

Training and education is another flashpoint Cisco is eager to address.

The company's $21m investment into its AUSTEM 2020 plan also looks to have 100,000 students trained over the next give years to deal with the country's skills shortage running across, schools, universities and TAFEs.

"The IoE, cybersecurity and Cloud will be a big part of that curriculum," he said.

Boal said he spent some six hours discussing the state of Australia's skills shortage with prime minister Tony Abbott and cabinet, who were receptive to the plans.

Cisco also invited some 400 students to CiscoLive!'s student summit, but bemoaned the lack of gender diversity.

"That still needs a lot of work," he said.

Overall, Boal said he's happy with where the company's at, and is looking at the future in a positive context.

"We want to be the Switzerland of networking - connecting everywhere and completely secure."

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