Apr 02 2021

Cisco Live 2021: Why Digital Transformation Is Only Just Beginning

Companies learned what’s possible with technology while reshaping their businesses with under pressure. They won’t stop now.

As the second digital Cisco Live wraps up, two key themes have emerged: First, Cisco is convinced that the business world will not return to its pre-pandemic state. It’s developing technologies aimed at helping organizations prepare for what several speakers referred to as the “next normal,” which is likely to include hybrid workplaces, more challenging security environments and digitally revamped business models.

Second, 2020 proved that business resiliency means being ready for anything.

“The one thing I would take away from the past year is that no matter how confident you are in what you think’s going to happen, this world will enforce its will on you,” said Patrick Milligan, CISO for Ford Motor Company. “Nothing’s off the table.”

MORE FROM BIZTECHSecuring the New Remote Workforce.

The Workplace Is Changing — Again

Businesses scrambled last year to deploy all-remote work environments for staffers who could no longer come into the office. Businesses for the most part succeeded in that effort.

That’s the good news. The more challenging news is that as more people are vaccinated and social distancing becomes a thing of the past, workplaces will morph again — not back into what they were before but rather to some midpoint between all-remote and all-onsite. The second half of 2021 will be dominated by so-called hybrid workplaces.

“It’s going to be hybrid, and you’re going to have to deal with employees who are both in the office and at home,” explained Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins. “Businesses are asking, ‘How do we create an experience that makes that home user feel as just as productive, just as effective and just as much of a contributor to meetings as their onsite colleagues?’”

Cisco is working on that, mainly through upgrades to its Webex collaboration platform, with more than 400 new features either live now or soon. Among these are a real-time transcription feature, translation into more than 100 languages and Focus Framing, in which Webex cameras automatically focus on whoever is speaking, making it easier for remote participants to follow the conversation. “When some meeting participants are remote and others are together in the office, the remote participants can feel disconnected,” said Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s senior vice president and general manager of security and collaboration.

In December, Cisco also announced its intent to purchase Slido, an audience engagement platform for live and virtual meetings that will be embedded into Webex. Patel called Slido’s solution “a breakthrough technology that can make even the largest meetings more interactive by getting real-time participation from attendees.”

Zero-Trust Security Can No Longer Wait

The rise of remote and hybrid workplaces underscores the urgency of the move away from perimeter-based security and toward zero trust, which emphasizes strict access control and requires repeated user authentication.

“We’ve come to the natural progression of what ‘shifting perimeter’ means, and it’s literally gone. There is no perimeter anymore,” said Jeff Fanelli, a Cisco security architect. “Not just because almost all of us are working from home but because of where applications live, the heavy use of internet services and Software as a Service for applications, and so on.”

Cisco is marketing a grouping of security solutions as part of a zero-trust package: multifactor authentication with Cisco Duo, workload protections with Cisco Secure Workload and Cisco SD-Access network segmentation.

“Just when you think security can’t become more important, we have more breaches, our environments have become more distributed and complicated, and because of how the traffic patterns are changing, you’re transforming your architecture,” Robbins said.

Businesses Are in a Better Place Post-Pandemic

The pandemic forced businesses to accelerate many of their digital transformation plans — and as difficult as it was, most are in a better position now as restrictions start to ease, according to IT leaders who spoke at Cisco Live.

For example, AutoNation, one of the largest dealership chains for preowned cars in the country with 360 retail locations, had been working steadily toward digitizing its entire sales process when the pandemic hit.

“COVID-19 turned that from a nice-to-have and something we were working on to the very highest thing on our list,” Adam Rasner, the company’s vice president of technology operations, said. “Customers didn’t want to go into dealerships, but they still wanted to buy cars, and we needed to transact as much of the deal digitally as possible. We moved into hyperspeed to make those things happen faster.”

The story was much the same around the world with businesses of all types. Now that those transformations are far along, businesses have gotten a taste of what’s possible with technology and are likely to keep pushing forward.

“You helped your organizations remain resilient, and technology was and will be at the heart of business strategy,” Robbins declared. “We definitely learned last year that the world is truly ours to shape. We’ve proved that tech can help us achieve virtually anything.”

To keep up with our coverage of Cisco Live 2021, bookmark this page, follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine or the official conference Twitter account, @CiscoLive, and join the conversation using hashtag #CLUS.

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