The networking equipment giant took its first step in that direction in August by partnering with Apple to turn iPhones into business phones with consumer appeal. It was a critical deal in Cisco's effort to show the world that its software can work on other devices.
But can Cisco be the glue for the vast video-conferencing industry? Last month, Cisco announced plans to spend about $700 million on a little-known London-based company named Acano, which promotes its video service as providing "unmatched interoperability, security and deployment."
Robbins wouldn't say much about the deal because it's yet to close. He acknowledged that Acano's cross-platform technology is "one of the core benefits of the acquisition."
Cisco's not alone in addressing the problem. There's competition from emerging vendors such as Blue Jeans Network and Zoom, which tout their ability to tie in the video-conferencing tools of multiple providers.
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For Robbins, transforming collaboration is central to his efforts to keep Cisco relevant as technology rapidly shifts away from proprietary systems and toward openness. Less than five months into his job as CEO, which followed the 20-year tenure of John Chambers, Robbins has made it clear that Cisco's role is not to ram more expensive gear down its customers' throats.
Quite the opposite. Businesses are going to the cloud, offloading more of their hardware to third parties. Cisco has to help them migrate and let them choose the vendors they want to use, whether in servers, storage, security or even communications.
It's not unlike the task that faced Microsoft's Satya Nadella, who succeeded Steve Ballmer as CEO early last year. In pushing Microsoft to the cloud and promoting its Azure infrastructure, Nadella has opened the platform and proved willing to help sell technology from rivals including Oracle, SAP and Salesforce.com.