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CEO Visions: Networks Have To Think Smarter

Networking will drive productivity gains and improve living standards, Cisco Systems' John Chambers says.ity gains and improve living standards.

Many people ask why I'm an optimist about the future of the networking industry, and the reason is simple: Networking will drive new levels of productivity gains for businesses and governments as well as increases in the standard of living worldwide.

In 2003, we'll begin to see more and more intelligence moving into the network. The result will be an infrastructure that enables intelligent movement of data, voice, and video across a system of networks. We at Cisco refer to this as an intelligent information network, which is a systems-based approach to networking characterized by six attributes: robust, secure, global, fair, adaptable, and scalable. It's the interdependencies of these attributes that can signif-icantly impact an organization's business goals as the network helps drive more effective and timely decision making, allowing companies to be more agile in the marketplace.

Over the past decade, we've seen four major evolutions in the way our customers view their network architectures. During the first evolution, customers built their networks based on best-in-class products and often served as system integrators themselves. Customers in the second evolution moved toward an end-to-end architecture with a few or even one strategic vendor. In the third evolution, our customers and the market environment had moved toward a "network of networks," where service-provider networks, enterprise networks, the Internet, wireless, cable, and other environments were seamlessly integrated, and CIOs decided which combinations of infrastructures they would implement. Today, in this fourth evolution, our customers' networks are evolving again as intelligence moves into the network.

Information is one of the most vital assets of any organization, and companies that learn to use an intelligent network to effectively distribute information will realize not only greater productivity gains but will also increase the probability of breaking away from their competition.

For example, when a CEO thinks about productivity, he or she is focused on increasing revenue with the same or fewer resources, lowering costs, and having pricing power. An intelligent information network enables people at all levels of a company to translate these CEO goals into business-solution decisions that they can control and influence. Chief technology officers and CIOs translate the CEO's goals into their own deliverables, such as implementing key applications, lowering network costs, and integrating disparate systems. From there, network VPs determine their contribution to the productivity goals by focusing on anytime, anywhere secure access, as well as increased network efficiencies and performance.

Most of today's networks give remote workers, partners, and customers access to vital information outside traditional corporate boundaries. This allows them to do their jobs more effectively, yet it also increases the potential for network-security exposure. Security is vital to prevent such exposures, but it has to be global and scalable across a system of networks to be truly effective.

Additionally, it's not sufficient to have robust networks at your headquarters if your branch offices suffer from poor network performance. Remote employees and partners are put at a disadvantage, making them less efficient and effective. Equal access to information and technology outside company headquarters is crucial.

One of the primary objectives of leading companies is a focus on their customers' success. Cisco serves service providers and enterprises, and an intelligent information network benefits both. Perhaps most important, it lets service providers, enterprises, and their partners seamlessly link their networks. If they all build networks based on the characteristics of an intelligent information network, each customer segment could take advantage of cost-savings and revenue-generating opportunities that arise because of the synergies afforded by a common network philosophy.

John Chambers is president and CEO of Cisco Systems Inc. and vice chairman of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, which advises president Bush on information systems security issues.

Photo of John Chambers by Beth Herzhaft

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Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Hardware Company CEOs
Craig Barrett, Intel Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems
John Chambers, Cisco Systems Inc. Sam Palmisano, IBM
Michael Dell, Dell Computer Joe Tucci, EMC Corp.
Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard Dan Warmenhoven, Network Applicance Inc.

Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at

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