The spin-in culture that developed some major innovations and once shaped a ton of advanced technologies at Cisco isn’t dead but it sure is unrecognizable.
That’s because the notions of innovation and developing new ways of bringing cutting-edge technology to the networking arena at least from Cisco has changed.
The spin-in model was very successful for Cisco as a way to bring new products quickly into new markets. Over time products such as Andiamo Systems for SAN switching, Nuova Systems for data center switching and Insieme Networks for software-defined networking systems that have all become multi-billion dollar products for the company and all were developed outside Cisco and “spun” back in.
The business model was a favorite of previous Cisco CEO John chambers – but not so much current CEO Chuck Robbins who has been in charge for a little over a year now.
In an recent interview with Network World Robbins cleared up his stance on the spin-in model saying it was not dead: “I’ve said that if there are situations where spin-ins make sense we will absolutely consider them and execute against them. We have multiple levers we pull on innovation. We have our own R&D capability. We clearly have our acquisition strategy. We now have deep strategic partnership capability in addition to our historical success in our classic ecosystem,” Robbins said. “We have the ability to invest from our balance sheet which we’ve connected more tightly to our overarching strategy and we’ve begun to really execute on this co-development effort with customers around this iterative design process. In the acquisition space, we’re absolutely open to spin-ins if the requirements of what we’re trying to accomplish align more directly with that as a solution.”
Indeed what Robbins has formed is a more open field for innovation within Cisco through programs such as Alpha, which encourages small teams of Cisco engineers looking at specific problems across networking, security, collaboration and other areas that are important to Cisco. Hilton Romanski, chief strategy officer with Cisco, told Network World in a February interview that Alpha projects typically last two to three years to develop a product.
“In the next couple of quarters you’re going to see us launch at least two of these Alphas into the marketplace and it’s going to be a great testament to having a traditional engineering model but, at the same time, being able to take what we’ve learned from startups outside of Cisco and bring that into the DNA of the company. That’s a good example of where we’ve worked with engineering to drive things differently,” Romanski said.
In a blog post published in August Sumeet Arora, who leads engineering development for Service Provider infrastructure products at Cisco, wrote that Cisco alpha projects are a great example of valuing and generating innovation from within. “Over the last two years, there are many alpha success stories. My team’s project focused on innovating and building products for hyper-scale infrastructure. This meant combining deep customer listening, cross-company collaboration, busting silos and bottlenecks with a team that represented the best networking talent, all at a tire burning and gravity-defying speed. Thus, our internal code name for this project was xSpeed. The xSpeed alpha project disrupts our own product portfolio and processes in a significant way. This, in turn, forces us down a path of further innovation and new frontiers; frontiers that are broader than the current technology spectrum and promise exciting times for us engineers,” he wrote.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.