Cisco Systems is on a roll. The San Jose, California-based conglomerate with $51 billion in revenue far outpaced expectations for growth in the fourth quarter of 2022, with predictions of even more growth lifting shares 3% on Wednesday.
Among the company’s many focuses driving customer experience are security, net zero and industrial IoT, including cloud services in its Operations Dashboard, which lets operational technology teams manage assets remotely. It also recently introduced technology around OpenTelemetry, connecting cloud intelligence for monitoring and IT platforms, as well as new integration technology for Cisco SD-WAN.
Thimaya Subaiya, chief customer experience officer at Cisco, who previously worked at Salesforce and Oracle, speaks with TechRepublic about how these and other digital transformation initiatives transform customer outcomes.
Digital transformation: Customers first
Karl Greenberg: How do you explain customer experience within the context of efficiency and security?
Thimaya Subaiya: Customer experience is more about delivering the outcomes customers require by breaking down a customer’s needs, whether they are trying to achieve operational efficiency or transformation. What gets more exciting is when you start to talk more deeply to your customer about what transformation means to them.
Karl Greenberg: Where are you seeing momentum in digital transformation?
Thimaya Subaiya: Digital transformation is not about using just one set of technologies — it’s about how the set of technologies one is using come together. Obviously, security is a must do for everyone, but I’m excited to see a lot of momentum around enabling technologies, 5G for example.
We are at a pivotal time because this new generation of wireless is poised to give a big boost to connectivity around devices and coverage.
5G and low-power chips empowering IoT; security needs to keep pace
Karl Greenberg: When I think of 5G, I think of massive data throughput with near-zero latency, which empowers a lot of things.
Thimaya Subaiya: It lets us blanket every single device out there, not only from an industrial perspective but also very soon we’ll see an explosion in the commercial sector with connected IoT.
From a consumer perspective, for example, the shoes you are wearing today don’t have IoT. What if they did, and you could analyze how you were running? What if it had sensors that can tell you where your children are? We are on the cusp of 5G, because we are seeing everything come together, but most critically, from an IoT perspective, we need to get security right first.
Karl Greenberg: Is this empowerment of IoT a hardware or software issue?
Thimaya Subaiya: If you look at low-power chip tech, we have gone from a world of x86 to ARM to RISC-V open architecture for chips. The issue is that x86 — what computers were built with — would run everything from machine learning programs to Excel because it’s a high-power consumption chip.
Then came ARM, a proprietary chip used in mobile phones. Apple has done a great job of moving to laptops with M1 chips, which is why you get 18-24 hours of battery life with computers today. Now RISC-V is gaining momentum because it’s an open, extremely low-power architecture that can enable very particular tasks requiring very little power. Because it’s open architecture, it can be based on what you define it to do.
Karl Greenberg: And that means you aren’t throwing a lot of power at every task anymore?
Thimaya Subaiya: It means you’re not dependent on the kinds of energy sources you’re used to to drive any kind of IoT device. For example, you could now use a tiny solar panel to drive a device.
With RISC-V, 5G and other technologies, a lot of things are coming together on open platforms for human-level applications: Your car will be able to talk to the road, and shoes will be able to tell you about how you are walking or running. The next time you go to a store, the experience could be completely different based on the technology used there.
SEE: Cisco announces new innovations to accelerate hybrid cloud adoption (TechRepublic)
Customer experience means implementing for outcomes
Karl Greenberg: What are the key elements of customer experience at Cisco? What matters most? Is it principally about making sure technologies play well together?
Thimaya Subaiya: We focus on customer outcomes. You bought a certain set of equipment and want to get to your endpoint. The CX organization’s role — its only mission, really — is to make sure you get that outcome. It is about defining, implementing but also making sure that you’re around and available to customers at any given moment, whether it’s to come back in and reconfigure policies, or figure out what is going on with customer networks and move on from there. Your roadmap may change, but the outcome still stays the same.
Karl Greenberg: What role does security play in this?
Thimaya Subaiya: We are not just going to go in and build something for the use case — we also build security into the tools into implementation layers. That is something of a secret sauce that will come with one of our advisory offerings including incident response.
Karl Greenberg: But in terms of security, does Cisco have unique problems because it is implementing both hardware and software? Doesn’t it require a more expansive sense of what incorporating security means?
Thimaya Subaiya: Well, it’s broader. Suppose you have an HVAC system running an entire data center. If both of those are on the same network, it’s very easy for foreign parties to get into the HVAC and in turn get into the data center. You need segmentation. Someone has to think through what this means from a policy and implementation perspective; someone needs to map it out, define it and monitor it.
In an office environment, you could enter with a company mobile in one hand and a personal mobile in the other. Now you have two devices that have entered the same building — one trusted and the other unknown. How do you make sure one has access to certain things while the other does not? It gets complicated very fast in terms of what constitutes trusted and untrusted, and that gets back to zero trust: protecting your tech, data and company assets.
Focusing on net zero with software, hardware
Karl Greenberg: Talk about how Cisco is working on data center efficiency to achieve net zero.
Thimaya Subaiya: We have been working with multiple companies, and one of the things I’m passionate about is determining ways of making sure we get more and more efficiency toward net zero emissions. We are doing this on multiple fronts, looking at how you pay for energy and ways of consuming less of it. Our CX cloud gives data center operators access both for security functions, but also for tracking down which assets are consuming way more energy than they should be.
Karl Greenberg: There’s a UX for this? A dashboard?
Thimaya Subaiya: Yes, the user interface will be a dashboard that can show you, for example, if a given switch is consuming five times more energy than any other switch toward its maximum allowed threshold.
What do you do in that situation? You can take that switch down, you can repatch the entire thing, upgrade software on it, bring it back online, monitor energy on it. If it’s normal, you’re good, but if it’s still consuming at 5x, we can set up an automated process on the backend and send you new equipment.
Karl Greenberg: What are potential causes of use toward maximum threshold?
Thimaya Subaiya: It could be software stuck in a loop that’s using multiple IO cycles, a fault in the equipment or short circuit in the power module — it could be multiple reasons, but we isolate each: Upgrading the software, bringing it back online and monitoring efficiency, all of which can be automated.
Additionally, we have about 30 years of Cisco IP data in terms of every single root cause of network outages and why customers went down. What we have done is taken this data and created insights and analytics allowing us to map that data against your environment and tell you at what points in time your network could go down because of issues like upgrading, or patches or because your overall consumption always increases to the threshold at which it can damage the entire system.
Securing products and services across the portfolio
Karl Greenberg: Cisco lives in an interesting place in the tech services ecosystem, with both hardware and cloud services. How does that affect how you deliver security along with products?
Thimaya Subaiya: Yes, we are a hardware, software and web services company with Webex. Today over 40% of our revenue comes from software.
One unique advantage is that we have security embedded between network layers. If you look at the security market today, it’s very fragmented. You could buy security for your data center in one place, for edge cloud services somewhere else, for device security in yet another place. What we have been doing is focusing on how to bring this together. We are in a unique situation of being able to come in and secure your entire network for you.
Karl Greenberg: Do customers want that, or do they want to be able to put their own suite of services together because it may be less expensive on paper?
Thimaya Subaiya: When I speak to many customers, even if they are not using Cisco technology, one of the things I’ve heard them say multiple times is they want to really simplify. They want the world to simplify technology in terms of how it’s delivered and implemented. Recently, a CIO told me his company has 1,400 vendors, and his point of view was that none of them work together. “I want integration,” he said.
Companies talk about APIs and bi-directional APIs, but my belief is that it ultimately comes down to one thing, and that’s implementation. Get implementation right. If you can do that for any customer, and it’s done right, and it’s a green checkmark, everything else is a breeze for that customer going forward.
Karl Greenberg: What do resilience and zero trust as paradigms for security mean for you?
Thimaya Subaiya: From a business perspective, it’s not only the technology but also the assets and process: How do you bring zero trust environments into infrastructure and offices? It also constitutes a mind shift in how people build products. It can’t be an afterthought; it has to be built into the foundation in terms of how you build code and apps.
What customers want at the end of the day
Karl Greenberg: How does this perspective influence how you speak to customers and offer them products and services?
Thimaya Subaiya: One of the things I always tell our sales organization is to stop focusing on multiple different products, technologies and services. Be very focused on what customers want — what they actually want implemented. Get that done first, and get it done the right way, which means making sure it’s secure and making sure it is correctly built.
From there, let’s talk to the customer about what else they need, because a lot of times we end up in a situation where we are facing twenty different requirements. We need to ask ourselves what they want and what they need done first. Let’s focus on customer priorities first and foremost.