The network is fuelling innovation: Amit Phadnis, President, Engineering & India site Leader, Cisco Systems

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Published: January 5, 2015 12:23:31 AM

Cisco, the global networking technology giant has steadily evolved its engineering operations in India into a powerhouse of innovation...

Cisco, the global networking technology giant has steadily evolved its engineering operations in India into a powerhouse of innovation gaining complete ownership for a significant number of their global products. From building the required technical talent pool with deep expertise to interacting with global customers, Cisco India has brought in measurable business returns to its operations. Amit Phadnis, president—Engineering and India Site Leader, Cisco Systems, said it is firmly on a path to come out with disruptive technology ideas which can have a much larger impact, in an interaction with PP Thimmaya.


How has been the evolution of Cisco in India?

We were probably one of the early investors in the country. We started in about 1996 time-frame, initially with partners like Wipro, Infosys and HCL. One of the early realisations that the company had was that there is English speaking population as well as lot of technical talent in India. In 1999, we actually set up the development centre but we were very clear right up front that we want to do world class product development design and development. We did not want cost play alone.

This was very fundamental decision made right early in the investment cycle. If you want to do product development and conceptualisation, you have to invest a little differently. Over time, we have built expertise in what is called product mindset that is the fundamental difference. A lot of investments were done on the softer aspect, that is, creating a product mindset. One of the challenges we initially had was that when we started
recruiting, we got people from the IT services mindset. There was a lot of investment done to make sure that they think differently.

From 1999 till around 2004, we were creating the skill-sets. From 2004 onwards, we moved a lot of responsibility to the teams here for them to get a complete product view and exposure to the customers. From 2008-09 onwards, we have been on a journey where we have truly innovated and contributed to future product development in terms of conceptualisation and design, which has fuelled the growth for Cisco worldwide.

Over the last couple of years, we have tightened our interlock with the sales and customer community.

Today we have about 8,000 engineers and another 5,000 from partners.

We have more or less replicated now almost every large engineering function that is there in the US.

We have done significant investment in routing, switching and wireless which is core of Cisco product portfolio, which is also the heaviest investment in the country.

Is Cisco India now taking full responsibility of the products?

Between from 2005 and 2010, we took some mature product which was already at a billion dollar run rate and moved almost all the engineering
responsibility to India. It actually helped us in a lot of ways. We had built the technical skill-set and were able to create a leadership structure which could interface with the global customers along with supporting them.

Secondly, we started seeding a lot of product management responsibility, many of which have an active roadmap. It made a lot of sense to
co-locate engineering talent and product management responsibility. Today, we are actively defining on what happens to many of our products because of the proximity to sales team and customers.

We are now able to view what is really required in the markets space much more proactively which has resulted in a lot product innovation. We are also exposing this talent to global field teams across Cisco which is vital to innovation.

We have set up forums where the engineering team can prototype and showcase to customers what we are working on as well get a feel and trend on the technology landscape and competitive scenario.

What is the charter now for Cisco’s engineering team?

We have built a very strong technical base. The teams now are so confident that that they are focused on what is the problem to be solved. We are getting the organisation to evolve from outcome required to innovation and finally business success, this is where we are focused on. We have tasted some success.

The next step would be the level of influence that could fundamentally disrupt the entire process in a different way. I do not think we are there as a centre right now as we are at a stage where we can take a look at the outcomes required, and translate it into product ideas and business success. The question is, can we  influence the entire product process and create a disruption that will have a higher level of business impact. It will take us three to four years to get there.

Is Cisco India building solutions for specific markets or globally?

We have set up a forum called Engage where we get the top enterprise customers in the country and put the engineering team to host the event. We have teams enacting the entire scenario in terms of technology requirement and business cases. We invest in products that will have strong relevance in a region, but also very strong global appeal. Every product creation we have done in this centre has been globally successful.

We should look at market requirement that is coming from the region, but a true product development and success is when you can translate
that into global requirements.

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