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Cisco must prevent its blip from becoming a full-blown crisis

Supply chain woes have hampered the networking giant’s recent fortunes, but Cisco Live 2022 gives it the opportunity to prove doubters wrong

Cisco has some convincing to do to show it isn’t on the slide. Poor financial performance in recent months has dealt a hammer blow to its share price, forcing analysts and reporters to question whether it’s doing enough to adapt in the face of fundamental market shifts. 

These include the accelerated shift towards cloud computing, the effects of both COVID-19 and Russia’s war in Ukraine on the supply chain, and the rise of hybrid work – all of which have contributed to more than just a dip in form. 

Cisco Live 2022, which starts next week, will be a chance for the networking giant to prove its doubters wrong, and carve out a path towards recovery in the face of growing turbulence.

Cisco Live 2022: From San Diego to Las Vegas

My last Cisco Live was in 2019, which also happened to be my first. Since then, I’ve started – and ended – a different career path, moved cities, beaten COVID-19 twice, grown a beard, gotten a bit fatter, returned to IT Pro and shifted my focus from networking to security.

It was only when I received the invite to attend Cisco Live 2022 did I realise it’d be the first in-person Cisco Live since we met three years ago in San Diego, putting aside the EMEA edition hosted in Barcelona two years ago.

The annual conference is one of the most eagerly anticipated on the calendar and, this year, is hosted in the Nevada desert and the blinding lights of Las Vegas. I couldn’t be more excited to be welcomed back by CEO Chuck Robbins and co in a city that played host to my fondly remembered end-of-university celebrations. There’ll be fewer pool parties and foot-long margaritas, of course, and more thought leadership talks on enterprise tech. A different kind of fun awaits, nonetheless, and hopefully some better luck on the roulette tables while I’m at it.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins (pictured) is ready to host us in Las Vegas

Cisco is expected to push hard on the core theme of hybrid work alongside a smattering of corporate social responsibility (CSR) – the two topics on which the event’s keynotes are geared towards. Executives will share their views on diversity and how we can make the industry more inclusive for everyone involved. We’ll also hear how big tech firms, including Cisco, can change tack to save the planet. Sustainability is a theme that’s cropped up over the last few months, from CES 2022 to SAP Sapphire, with Cisco championing responsible initiatives for years – especially since Robbins took over. 

Unpicking disappointing financial results

Positive messages are all well and good, but the foul stench of Cisco’s most recent earnings will also be wafting throughout Mandalay Bay next week. Attendees and investors will cast their gaze on how Robbins and his senior leadership team can assure them the company is, contrary to broadening opinion, in a good place both financially and strategically.

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Reactions to its recent Q3 financial results, which led to the company’s biggest one-day drop in share value since 2011, were mixed. Financial experts were most critical, slamming Cisco for blaming outside forces, such as supply chain woes, for its disappointing financial performance. Robbins’ attempts to convince investors that better times are on the horizon weren’t universally accepted. Wall Street also dismissed the firm’s claim that it’s on a “journey” towards diversifying its business – relying less on hardware sales in favour of newer revenue streams in software, services, cloud, and security. Commentators saw the fact it blamed hardware sales for its poor quarterly results as somewhat of a cop-out, suggesting the networking giant should already be reliant on other revenue streams by now.

Technology-focused analysts disagreed, casting a more positive spin. They suggested that supply chain difficulties aren’t just a simple catch-all excuse and have disproportionately impacted a business like Cisco’s. The naysayers should cut it some slack, they added. Cisco also has a record-breaking backlog of orders to fulfil, in the multi-billion dollar ballpark – from estimates I’ve seen. This may not be cleared until as late as 2025, Robbins says.

Paving a path towards recovery

Despite a mixed outlook, Cisco still has some convincing to do, and we expect to hear how a variety of new security products it launched in recent months might translate into a solid recovery. Cisco, for example, recently developed technology that can predict networking issues before they happen. We’ll also hear about how it plans to strengthen other platforms such as Webex, which was a casualty of the Zoom and Teams craze during COVID-19.

Somebody using Webex meetings on a smartphone in front of the Webex logo

Webex has fallen by the wayside against the likes of Zoom and Teams

Given hybrid work forms a key pillar of the programme, we should expect its flagship collaboration tool to come under considerable scrutiny. On the flip side, however, Cisco Live 2022 will also represent a chance for the tech giant to showcase all the impressive things it’s done in the three years since everyone descended onto San Diego, way back when.

What’s said at each of the dozens of scheduled talks may not matter that much to attendees, considering many will be attending their first in-person conference since the pandemic.

Personally, I’m hoping for less (not zero) earnings talk and more exciting announcements, as well as more fun, real-life interactions rather than the slog of virtual events of recent years. I’m also looking forward to learning how this company – that believes in its ability to turn its recent fortunes around – plans to do so. Above all, though, I’m looking forward to eating all the massively calorific American food this keen British foodie can fit down his gullet.

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