Cisco exec: Turnover in engineering no problem

Cisco exec: Turnover in engineering no problem

The engineering reorganization currently underway at Cisco is intended to streamline product development and delivery to customers, says EVP Pankaj Patel.

The engineering reorganization currently underway at Cisco is intended to streamline product development and delivery to customers, Cisco says.

That it is prompting some high profile departures is an expected byproduct of any realignment of this size, which affects 25,000 employees, says Cisco Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Pankaj Patel, who is conducting the transformation.

"People leave for personal business reasons," Patel said in an interview with Network World this week. "Similar transformations" among Cisco peers and customers "see personnel change of 30% to 50%."

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The recent exodus of high- and mid-level executives from Cisco is not only the result of the company's previously disclosed 8% workforce reduction, but also of frustration with the annual restructurings, realignments and resets Cisco has undergone over the past four or five years. The 6,000 layoffs announced in August come after an almost20,000reduction in headcountsince 2009 as Cisco annually "transforms" itself to streamline operations on high-growth market segments like cloud, mobility, data center, security, and the Internet of Everything.

But this most recent transformation in engineering is notable for the departure of several high-ranking or visible officials within weeks of each other. Sources say it's essentially detached engineering from product management and marketing, leading to uncertain accountability for a solution developed and delivered to a customer.

Not so, says Patel. If anything, it's eliminated silos of autonomous development within Cisco's business units and created a more efficient process for customer solution development and delivery. And it began more than 15 months ago

"This is about preparing engineering for the development environment of the future," Patel says, "with a streamlined go-to-market to create our focus on product (synergies). Our customers are demanding us to change and how they work with us."

Cisco has taken separate business units responsible for specific areas of base-level hardware and software development and combined them into two groups: core hardware, including routing and switching ASICs and optics, under Senior Vice President and General Manager Ravikrishna Cherukuri; and core software embedded operating systems and feature sets under Senior Vice President and General Manager Ravi Chandrasekaran.

On top of that is the Cloud and Virtualization Group led by Vice President and General Manager Gee Rittenhouse, the former president of Bell Labs. Rittenhouse came to Cisco in December 2013.

The top organizational layer in engineering is a software application group. All of these resources are accessible to senior vice presidents Rob Soderbery and Kelly Ahuja, who are respectively responsible and accountable for solutions developed for enterprise and service provider customers.

But sources say this separates product engineering from product management and marketing, which is under the purview of Soderbery and Ahuja. The current engineering realignment, they say, is creating a structure where Soderbery and Ahuja have no oversight over the engineering resources for that solution because it's being divorced from product management and marketing.

Instead of a handful of product managers, engineers and marketers working directly with those senior vice presidents on a customer hardware/software solution, engineers are now split off into separate business units, making product development coordination more cumbersome and perhaps elongating development cycles. In data center, for example, there are different business units responsible for Nexus 2000-7000 series switches, another for Nexus 9000, another for the Unified Computing System, and a fourth for Intercloud Fabric and the Nexus 1000V, sources say.

Patel says the current realignment means development is not tied to specific platforms anymore, that it can be leveraged and re-used across Cisco's entire product portfolio for consistent implementation.

"We are building our products the way our customers are asking us to" to improve agility and time-to-market, Patel says. "There's very clear accountability for all my leaders.

"There is absolutely no change in where people reside and how they work very tightly together."

An example of this development interaction is the Secure Ops product offering recently deployed by Shell Oil. Secure Ops is designed to help energy companies combat new and evolving cyber security threats in industrial control systems.

A turnkey solution, Secure Ops combines Cisco-owned hardware and virtualized security applications managed and hosted out of a security operations center for proactive monitoring of Service-Level-Agreement-driven security, applications and infrastructure.

Patel says a cross-architectural solution like Secure Ops can be developed for speed, simplicity and agility.

And as far as accountability goes, the buck ultimately stops with Soderbery and Ahuja even though hardware and software development is owned by the engineering leaders.

"The entire enterprise and service provider portfolio, down to the feature sets, gets prioritized solely by Rob and Kelly," Patel says. "They are guided by Rob and Kelly because they are the ones responsible for the business. Lines are clearer than they've ever been before."

Patel says Cisco is "trying to get away from" individual business units entirely.

"We really wanted to get out of the siloed mentality," he says. "They grow their own business but they are not really looking across the board. This is absolutely the right thing to do for engineering but more importantly, for the company."

Cisco Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Pankaj Patel

Nevertheless, the Insieme Networks Business Unit under high-profile engineers and marketers Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero and Soni Jiandani, will remain separate and distinct from the Switching and Wireless Business Unit for "speed and agility," Patel said.

Asked if he expected such turnover and apparent resistance to the transformation, Patel said turnover is to be expected with a realignment of this magnitude; and that there was no pushback when it was described to his charges.

"Not at all," he said. "There was a lot of input. Some were pushing me that we should have started this earlier.

"This was done with a customer focus in mind," Patel said.

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