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Cisco Live 2020: Future of Work, Supply Chains and Cisco’s R&D spending

A virtual executive briefing during Cisco’s annual Cisco Live conference, gave a sneak peek into how the networking company views and/or will practice the Future of Work, supply chain resiliency, and R&D spending, moving forward.

About how Cisco would be working in a post-pandemic world, Cisco CEO, Chuck Robbins said, “We already have employees today, that pre-pandemic were already working from home, pretty 100-percent of the time.

But he brought attention to jobs that are office-dependent, or facilities-dependent, where workers need to be in the office at least some portion of time. These are, for example teams at laboratories, and personnel that set up hardware for remote software developers to work on, and so on.

“They actually have to be in there (physically) reconfiguring devices. And I am sure there are IT people who have to be in there occasionally.

“Our engineers in particular, want to be in a room with whiteboards, and brainstorming… those are the kind of groups that feel they are more effective in the office,” Chuck explained.

CIsco COO and EVP, Irving Tan added that only 63-percent of their workforce actually goes to a Cisco site to work, on any given week. “And it varies across a week, from 50-percent to 75-percent.”

He echoed Chuck’s explanation that the nature of work that a person needs to perform and their persona, would determine whether a person could work remotely 100-percent of the time,

“I think we are going to see a much more agile and flexible workplace going forward,” Irving said.

This new style of working in a post-pandemic world, would have to take into consideration company culture as well.

“We have to think through that we have generations coming in year after year, of new hires and interns.”

This would have implications on a company’s culture and Irving shared Cisco still might want to bring them in one day a month, or one day a quarter, to create that ‘connectivity’ (among employees).

The second consideration is something which technology can answer, and he is still working it out with his IT organisation, real-estate organisation, and Cisco’s business units.  “Whilst we make great collaboration technology, we have to find a way to make it even more seamless, such as the physical world and the virtual world comes together much more naturally.”

Another discovery from remote working the past few months, was how virtual communications technology is a great equaliser. This is something that Cisco would like to preserve, as they also try to bring in some body language detection capabilities. So there’s lots of opportunities to drive innovation, for Cisco moving forward, both from a technology and office layout perspective, Irving said.

Supply chain management

How will Cisco adjust operations to ensure resiliency in their supply chain?

“Today, we have meaningful manufacturing operations in different parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas,” Irving shared.

But the pandemic has Cisco also thinking about how to increase the level of automation that they have within their manufacturing operations.

“The higher the degree of automation, the more resiliency we build into our supply chain.”

Looking further upstream at component suppliers, Cisco has been dual-sourcing their components over the years. He admitted that now, Cisco has had to extend that dual-sourcing paradigm, by ensuring suppliers are from different geographies.

“So, you want to have geographical diversity in terms of component supplies, so you can very dynamically continue to draw upon surety of supply base.”

Cisco has invested a lot into digitisation of their supply chain as well, and this along with cloud technologies and IoT technologies, has given them ability to move production lines between their different sites around the world, within a matter of days.

“Because we have standard processes and we have digitised them, we can move lines effectively from one geography to the other, in a very, very short span of time.”

New areas of research and development

At a glance, Cisco’s campus portfolio will likely be under pressure, as the shelter-in-place mandate sees employees working differently from where and how they used to. Whether this becomes reality remains to be seen as there is still so much uncertainty about the coronavirus and its impact upon workstyles.

But some important areas still remain, and in fact may have gone up the priority list.

“Clearly, security and collaboration continue to be highlighted as areas where we could invest,” Chuck said.

The CEO also saw this (time) as opportunity to emerge new ideas and new areas Cisco should be entering into.

“We are going through that exercise right now. I do expect (new ideas) to represent a significant shift in where we spend our R&D. We look at it as a team.

“We think it’s a huge opportunity for us right now to make some transformational decisions. And that’s what we plan on doing,” Chuck concluded.