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The world of networking is changing quickly, and for businesses looking to respond to markets with unprecedented scale and pace of change, the key to success is driving better business outcomes through enhanced customer and partner experiences. As it looks to address the evolving needs of its customer base by being more of a data company, Cisco has said the key will be to empower a new generation of chief digital officers to provide digital services to the outside world.
Speaking at Cisco Live! EMEA 2024, Gene Hall, the networking technology and services giant’s chief marketing officer of strategy, incubation and applications, noted that within boardrooms across the world, experiences have become a key strategic focus, with a company study of business leaders showing as many as three-quarters of business leaders feel the digital experience has become a significantly more important issue for C-level executives over the past three years.
The study added three key reasons for this: principally, most customer engagement was now carried out via applications; a significant proportion of revenue now comes through applications; and applications are now the most important interface with firms’ customers and employers.
“We know that 52% of organisations are claiming customer engagement is now principally by applications in digital services,” it said.
“In our survey, we learned that 94% of the respondents in their own experience have experienced really poorly performing applications. And then out of that, 70% of respondents said that they are more likely to proactively keep using digital services that don’t perform, so the tolerance is very low for experiences that are not world-class, seamless and immediate.”
Chintan Patel, Cisco UK and Ireland chief technology officer, said the new experience economy was definitely something hugely top of mind to firms in terms of how they deliver services to their customers and employees. “We have genuinely moved, especially since the pandemic, from this bricks-to-clicks type of motion, and our attention span has changed as well as consumers’. CEOs are absolutely aware of this intimately, how they’re building services, because what they’re seeing is that people have a far greater propensity to change applications, change providers, if the service isn’t met. I think the survey underlines that in terms of 54% of people having deleted more apps in the past year than they’ve installed, and partly because of the type of service or experience they’ve received or not received.
“We’ve also seen some of the innovation that teams have been building into their platform, giving CEOs new levels of insight into things that are going on in the end user experience, which you couldn’t do before,” he said. “And now you can get through some of the innovation around session replay and actually go back to see what that user did, and when and where things stopped, to pinpoint what’s happening. For the CIO to then go back to the business to say, ‘You know, we can do something about this, we know where the issues were’ is hugely important.”
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Cisco’s vision is to present to the chief digital officers and those who need to understand the new experience paradigm a single pane-of-glass view of applications performance. That is generating a unified understanding of every component that an application depends upon.
For example, using the Thousand Eyes functionality to assess when, say, an application is accessing an application programming interface, so that performance issues from application performance issues or security issues can be revealed. And most importantly, show to companies how this application data is presented in a business context, such as the implication for revenue and the customer using the application. Moreover, aim to allow businesses to utilise fully their network assets to gain competitive differentiation in terms of how they deliver services, capabilities and ultimately increase revenue for their own businesses
Working to deliver on this potential was Cisco partner company global IT services firm Perform IT. Managing director Karl Brenner warned that companies like his now had to provide practical service at good quality without interruption, otherwise they’d lose people, but that the good news was that IT leaders were now increasingly using insights gained from the network to make better business decisions – but only if they could be understood across organisations.
“A few seconds’ delay in your ecommerce site and your customers have gone on to switch to someone else,” he said. “We need to ensure monitoring with solid IT operations that your environment is up and running and therefore everybody can use it. I think professionals tend to want a flexible platform where they can build up an environment which really represents the use case or the service they’re presenting out to the customer.
“And we find often that solutions which are readily available off the shelf, very rigid, and then just do one thing, fail. So, you have an assignment tool for networking, an assignment tool for server management, [one] for infrastructure, and so forth, and you end up with a multitude of tools. It’s hard to bring this all together to merge this in one platform, the single pane of glass.
“What we haven’t really achieved until now is having a platform which is solid, where we can stream data to in a standardised way, like open telemetry, and also can integrate multi-vendor solutions, and bring it together so that we can build use cases for our customers,” said Brenner.
“[Customers can then] say, ‘I'm not interested in bits and bytes and servers and this and that; I want to know what my service is doing. How do my users see me as a vendor out there? Am I performing right? Can I deliver what I would have promised?’ We can gather metrics more on a business level rather than on an IT level because their delivery has become a commodity. But we need to be able to translate that into real business metrics which are understood in the boardroom, so that people can make decisions based on the information we’re getting from them.”
But the question arises as to how fast this revolution is happening. If 75% of business leaders believe digital experience has become a significantly more important, has a tipping point already been reached whereby a customer experience-oriented approach is now the norm? And has Cisco’s engagement with customers changed to meet the new needs of the boardroom, and most importantly users? Is this revolution really only appropriate to larger enterprises able to take a more strategic view of their business priorities?
Regarding tipping points, Ronak Desai, Cisco senior vice-president and general manager of AppDynamics and full-stack observability told Computer Weekly the short answer is yes, but that there were certain workloads where maturity in such a way of working is not yet there.
“You will see in some of the bigger organisations where this is already becoming sort of prominent, and entrepreneur-focused,” he said. “If you go downstream, I think there’s still a little bit more work to be done. If you look at the full vertical of [Cisco] customers, I would say the top 50% of the customers has gone into that mindset. And we of course continue to educate on why it matters.”
Brenner added: “We have been working with Cisco in the background in building up managed service packages for [small organisation] customers which just don’t have the in-house know-how to do those things. They say, ‘Why don’t you do this all for us’? They want us to run processes and then just give the metrics afterwards.
“Large organisations are interested in building a centre of excellence to improve processes,” he said. “They want to save money and they want to do more with less. They don’t want to have people watching dashboards, and see that there’s something red blinking and go and jump to [something]. They want to see holistically how a service is performing and how to make sure that the process around the service is being improved over time to deliver continuous improvement.”