Chambers: Older workers, don't despair

Cisco's John Chambers pushed collaboration for better business, home life and Cisco revenue on Tuesday.

Social networking is coming to enterprises, but that doesn't mean the twentysomethings are taking over, Cisco Systems Chairman and CEO John Chambers said Tuesday.

Kicking off the company's annual C-Scape analyst conference in San Jose, California, Chambers continued the theme of collaboration and Web 2.0 that Cisco started pushing here a year ago. This time he demonstrated a set of social-networking tools being used for business. But while these technologies are more familiar to the young, the more established employees still know better how business works, he said.

"The 40-year-olds will out-execute the 20-year-olds. You bring process to this," Chambers said.

Cisco's collaboration push, including Telepresence high-definition conferencing and the company's recent WebEx acquisition, forms the core of not only what Cisco is advocating for enterprises, but what's powering its own operations and, increasingly, its revenue.

After holding a panel via Telepresence, with two enterprise IT executives and an economist joining in on large video screens, Chambers demonstrated WebEx Connect, a product in beta testing that is scheduled to ship in the first half of next year. It lets organizations create online spaces for collaboration: Employees can engage in text chats that stay up for future reference, describe problems and ask for ideas to fix them, create Facebook-style profile pages that others can search to find people with the expertise they need, and then check a contact's presence and engage them in a Telepresence session by clicking on their names.

"The fundamental nature of work will change" with collaboration technology and Telepresence, Chambers said. It has already made an impact at Cisco, which has already deployed hundreds of Telepresence systems internally. Technology has allowed Cisco to move from a top-down organization to a structure where task groups can be formed among all parts of the company, he said.

The new structure helped Cisco quickly decide to move aggressively into China, as it did last month when it announced US$16 billion of investments there. That decision was made in just 12 months among 30 people at Cisco, whereas the same process might have taken three years in a traditional organization, he said.

Chambers also hinted at future developments in Telepresence, which the company unveiled about a year ago and has now sold for broad deployment in 100 large enterprises. He highlighted a "holographic" capability Cisco showed off in November at a meeting in Bangalore, India, and said he envisioned such a system for homes some day.

The company has prototypes of this technology, which allowed Cisco executives in California to appear to be on stage with Chambers in India, said Marthin De Beer, senior vice president of Cisco's Emerging Markets Technology Group, at a press lunch later on Tuesday. "It's not far-fetched," he said. Ultimately, there could be meetings in which people in different places virtually gather together in a room and see each other from all angles, he said.

Cisco is also aggressively pushing its high-tech stadium concept, which it is mapping out for a proposed Cisco Field for the Oakland Athletics in Fremont, California. It would use digital signage, digital ticketing and other systems to improve the fan experience. Cisco is in discussions with 15 to 20 sports teams in the major baseball, football, basketball and hockey leagues in the US, Chambers said.

An offering such as home Telepresence doesn't just make life easier for geographically separated families, of course. It also drives network usage and related router purchases by the carriers, Chambers added.

"It will chew up bandwidth and sell a ton of racks," he said with a smile.

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Stephen Lawson

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