Mobile will drive IT transformation over the next decade, feels Padmasree Warrior, chief technology and strategy officer at Cisco. In a freewheeling interview with Beryl Menezes, she speaks about Cisco’s growth strategy, being in contention for the next CEO and her journey from a small town in Vijayawada to Silicon Valley. Excerpts:
What are the major growth drivers for the IT industry?
The industry today is already undergoing transitions, which will become increasingly more prominent, going forward. Key drivers will be the growing importance of the mobile, which in the next five years is expected to drive the shift in IT – be it through ‘bring-your-own-device’ or a more mobile lifestyle. Cloud is another driver that is expected to change the nature of IT, as we know it. Lastly, the challenge for businesses going forward, will be to adopt these changes, while simultaneously doing more with less, forcing them to become more productive and innovative in a big way.
Has being an early adopter of the new cloud, mobile and big data technology wave meant bigger projects for Cisco?
Yes, we have definitely seen an increase in projects for Cisco following the Internet revolution, and we strongly believe that the next 10 years will be all about machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the Internet of everything – which means all devices and communications will be linked to each other via the Internet through cloud. We estimate that in the next 10 years (from 2013-2022), this technology change presents a $14 trillion opportunity for IT companies, Cisco included.
Cisco’s India revenues grew 50% in the second quarter and CEO John Chambers said recently that 30% of Cisco’s overall workforce will be from India. How important is India for Cisco?
While I would not like to add more to what John has said, I can second that India is a very strategic market for us and we see a lot of innovation potential from that market.
You are in the running to become the next CEO of Cisco…
I am flattered to be mentioned in the run-up to the new CEO and I am humbled by John’s confidence in me. But right now I am concentrating on my role as chief technology and strategy officer and when the Board decides on the next CEO in 2-4 years, I will fully support their decision.
But what do you think would be the key focus areas as CEO of Cisco?
I feel there is a big opportunity to transform key verticals like education, retail and manufacturing through automation – and I believe Cisco is uniquely positioned to become the No.1 IT company by leveraging this opportunity.
What has the journey been like, from Andhra Pradesh to Silicon Valley, to being one of the most followed people on Twitter?
The journey has been very rewarding and I owe a lot to my humble upbringing in India. I feel this journey has helped me grow on both professional and personal levels. After graduating from IIT Delhi, I came to the US with $100 in my pocket and a one-way ticket, on a scholarship from Cornell University where I did semiconductor engineering.
After that, I joined as a junior engineer in Motorola’s semi-conductor division and gradually worked my way to the top. After that, I moved to Cisco. I enjoy being on Twitter, as it helps me connect with people I don’t meet and share and discuss ideas without any pressure – so, in essence, it is a pull model, rather than a push model, which I really like.
In July last year, you were given an additional role as CSO of Cisco...
While Cisco has abundant engineering strength, with 26,000 engineers globally who focus on customer delivery and value, M&A is a much larger portfolio covering all sectors, where one has to fill gaps by means of acquisitions – which is more externally focused. This presents a new learning opportunity for me. So far, we have completed 15 M&As in the last two years at Cisco.
In the next 10 years, what do you think will be the device of choice – tablet, phablet, smartphone or laptop?
Smartphones will become more sophisticated, going forward, and control the way we do things, with mobiles talking to other machines, so on. I think a combination of smartphones and tablets will be the trend, going forward, with some changes to screen size. However, tablets should be the device of choice in the next 10 years, according to me.