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Global CIO: An Open Letter To Cisco CEO John Chambers

Cisco's aggressive moves outside its traditional networking markets hold a lot of potential for it and its customers. But with so much going on, CIOs want and need to know: What business is Cisco in today?

Dear John:

What interesting times we live in! Global markets in upheaval, strong companies transforming and weak ones disappearing, customers interlacing their operations with those of key suppliers/partners, and new competitors -- big and small -- pushing in to new markets as opportunities arise. In the technology business in particular, we're watching one of the most wrenching industry-wide transformations any marketplace has gone through in a long, long time. And so in the midst of all this upheaval -– at the customer level, at the IT-vendor level, at the industry-wide level -- I was wondering what image you want CIOs –- your biggest customers -– to have in mind when they think of your company. Network infrastructure? Data center consolidator? Security expert? Telepresence innovator?

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That question was on my mind for three key reasons:

1) As you well know, your customers –- those global CIOs at midsize and large corporations –- are themselves undergoing huge changes in priorities, operating responsibilities, and expectations they set for vendors. In that context, CIOs are being expected to help drive growth, not just mind the store and grind the budget, and so they're looking for top-tier IT vendors to provide them with not just products but mostly knowledge and ideas and insights. Do you feel that's what CIOs expect from you and your company?

2) The relatively predictable IT-industry landscape of just a couple of years ago is now remarkably different –- how are these changes affecting the way CIOs think about strategic partnerships overall and with Cisco in particular? A story about you the other day in The Wall Street Journal said that since the 2001 crash, Cisco has made 130 acquisitions -- an extraordinary accomplishment. Has that integration achievement been matched by an equally impressive uptake in customer expectations for Cisco and clarity about what Cisco's core promise should be and is?

3) In the context of the first two points above, I'll bet a lot of your top customers would like to know the answer to this question: What business is Cisco in today? I know what Cisco's lines of business are, but I don't mean that -- rather, is Cisco in the Human Network business? Search on "Cisco" and the blurb that comes up for your company's official Web site says, "Cisco is the leading supplier of networking equipment and network management for the Internet." That's accurate -- but it hardly seems complete here in the second half of 2009. That sentence defines Cisco's skeleton, but how would you describe Cisco's heart and mind?

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