Cisco’s skin in the game to digitize India: Dinesh Malkani
Cisco is shifting gears with its extensive portfolio to stich companies’ Dx journey, says Dinesh Malkani, India President at Cisco.

Cisco is uber aggressive as it ramps up its acquisitions spree, security focus, UCS market and more.  The networking giant as a ‘router and switches’ vendor is now a full-fledged ‘end to end’ technology provider. CIO India caught up with Dinesh Malkani, president, India and SAARCCisco for an update on Cisco’s vision to help Indian enterprise on their digital transformation journey.

Edited Excerpts.

There is so much happening in IT market from customer buying behavior, M&A, startup, digital. How is Cisco keeping up with this pace?

We at Cisco have very strong build innovate, buy, acquire and partner strategy. That imparts us with good depth into our portfolio. Security is so important to the customers today and the 4 billion dollars in an acquisition of different security companies will strengthen our play. The ‘end to end’ security portfolio will help the customers engage with us more than work with dozens of security vendors. Cybersecurity is important and hence Cisco’s SOC in India becomes very critical. And then training is important for clients and their teams.

Organizations in India are beginning the digital journey and we had initial successes in past few years. But the real explosion in terms of opportunity in the digitization is now multiplying as the clients need hand holding from partners like us that have some skin in the game. You need to ideate and co-innovate with them and hence we have built innovation centers across India.

Cisco is accumulating all the pieces over past six to nine months and build that strategy for organizations to be successful in the digital journey. Cisco gave investment of 100 million dollars a few years ago for India as they are many things to execute including work with startups. We are well covered and we have executed a good strategy so far so good. We displayed Cisco’s cyber range lab capability and we have a digital center coming up in Mumbai. The digitization engine a bit cranky is now steaming at full speed for us.

 Cisco is focusing big on security. How does it tie back with your other portfolio?

Different customers are at various stages of evolution levels in terms of their security posture. For many of Cisco’s existing customers, they realize they need to plan for security on their infra. The good news is we are big part of that market. Our security portfolio starts from device with OpenDNS in the network and into cloud. Other customers who want a complete end to end digital ready infra can get the security is embedded into Cisco’s DC strategy, networking strategy. Frankly, we are fine to work with one piece of the security business or end to end but our recommendation to the client is an end to end strategy and then take the right steps to heading that direction. With the SOC (at Pune) is ready within another quarter, we will offer right service advisory and actually manage customers’ threat defense with right set of services. Then the engagement model changes as we take the SLAs and that’s what customers are looking for our skin in the game.

How has the face of CIOs changed over the years from keeping ‘lights on’ to innovation budget to Opex model? What they actually expect from Cisco?

First expectation is education. CIOs want to learn what’s ‘best of the best’ out there. We have started organizing face to face meetings and our global teams help them too. They are very open for joint engagement with business stakeholders are now clearly defining the outcome from IT projects. Importantly, we are not jumping straight into a contract as CIOs and their end users want to be comfortable in POC phase.

Cisco looks at engagement with CIOs not as vendor-customer relationship but more as a partner.  We are open to rapid prototyping because digital transformation is a continuous long journey. It's better to be doubly sure of the working idea before you put it in the production and then scale up accordingly.

Cisco looks at engagement with CIOs not as vendor-customer relationship but more as a partner because digital transformation is a continuous long journey.

What’s the Cisco pitch to organizations - technology first or business outcome or a mix of both?

Some companies are purely going with the consulting approach wherein the framework is drawn by consulting company at the end user level and CIOs executes it. Then they look for technology vendors to fill the pieces. The others are way ahead at a much earlier stage as they work with consultants and vendors like us to stitch the whole story together. The latter approach is better as creating framework does not help much if you don’t know how to execute the technology roadmap. Both have to converge towards a common objective – for IT team to deliver the business outcome for the company. Cisco works with many consulting companies on what can be offered and how it can be delivered.

But gaps do exist between IT teams and IT security teams or IT team and DevOps team at most organizations.

I completely admit that lot of work has to be done. But the organizations are getting the formula right hence it is beginning of a journey for us too. Some are evolving much faster than others. A leading India bank did case study project which they had a mature structure in place. Ecom companies are in similar space. The end user needs to be extremely involved in the process and if you don’t understand the depth of end users’ requirement want, the digital strategy will be narrow. We created digital transformation organizations, bought in experts from the industry and that’s helping us as they talk the same language as the users.

Let’s talk about Cisco’s core strength around networking. Do you see SDN and SDDC become a reality across India organizations?

Hybrid is a reality world we live in. Today we are not wedded to one strategy or the other as we are clear that there are benefits across private, public and hybrid. Our core expertise is building the private cloud in short time and we would with public cloud providers to provide them the technology. Equally important is the acquisition of CliQr that helps Cisco customers simplify and companies to move workloads easily with automation to accelerate their private, public and hybrid cloud deployments. And we move those workloads and in a secure manner. That’s the game plan.

SDN will not phase out hardware networking appliances anytime soon. Hardware has a big role to play as it is very critical with millions of devices connected to the network need powerful and best hardware appliances at the backend.  

Hardware has a big role to play as it is very critical with  millions of devices connected to the network need powerful and best hardware appliances at the backend.  

What’s the new GTM of Cisco India in terms of specific teams for security, digital transformation, UCS?

We have restructured as well. We have formed a digital transformation office with good people from other teams and also hired industry veterans and they have a mandate to talk only talk digitization to the customers on a conceptual level. We are picking verticals. And also train my existing salesforce and educate the partners who will execute. We are working with partners like L&T (city digitization), Sterlite, IBM, Wipro. We are working closely with larger systems integrators because it is critical as they build out the entire platform and we are an important part of it .we are stitching those relationships.

Is Cisco stepping the medal to make foothold in SMB market?

The route to serve that market is quite different. We have established five distys and we are recruiting a lot of tier 2 partners in all the cities to cover that widespread SMB market. We have established offices and manpower across most cities. The portfolio has evolved too as Cisco Start with a minimal amount of 5000 rupees can get the small enterprise up and run on a digitized journey. Skilling is important whether SMS or large enterprise as technology is important and also people installing the solutions.

We are doing multiple things from distribution, appointing right tier 2 partners, certifying and skilling them and the portfolio evolution. As part of portfolio evolution creating right product and right price point for India market is important strategy. We developed a router only for India but the good thing is that it can go across other counties. India that way is a great test bed for Cisco.

Cisco is facing heat in HCI with new boys like Nutanix and also big vendors like HPE, Dell EMC to name a few. What happens to VCE stack?

Cisco is very committed to investing in HCI (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure) as we have identified that marketplace as an absolute priority. HPI needs partners in the ecosystem and many times your partner can be your competition which is fine. Each stack has its own benefits. But the real value of stack is not in isolation as you have to think of an end to end story in digitization world. All these components in DC earlier were looked separately so that the stack got created. We are probably the only company that can today confidently look at the end to end play that is needed by most organizations around digitization. HPI is part of it.

And we have acquired AppDynamics that helps us address the world of Apps. There is IoT and how all these devices converge data through different protocol as we acquired Jasper security. The lights on infra is now more towards an end to end play. Because speed is the key as some of our clients on digital journey want solutions in say one week. To deal with multiple different solutions in the infra then becomes an inhibitor.

Cisco’s strategy is about how we approach the market, the partners we work with and the ideation will define how we traverse the digital journey together with them.

Dinesh Malkani’s Priorities for India

1. Accelerate India’s strong business as recorded in the past nine quarters.

2. Bring to life 50 projects under 'Country Digitization Accelerationprogram.

3. Increase customer engagement with different consumption models.

4. Focus more on ‘end-to-end’ security and new domains like HPI, Cloud.

 Do’s and Don’ts for Digital Transformation

- Define the end goal of Dx journey and shrink it down like a reverse pyramid.

- Look at most critical aspects of the business that make the biggest difference.

- Pick sweet spots like process automation and build the infra to support it.

- Collaborate more with tech OEMs, channels, consultants for the right framework.

- Don’t look for short-term ‘band-aid solutions’ due to peer-pressure or otherwise.