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Hey, Pancho! Hey, Cisco!

For those of us north of 40, the word nostalgia has positive connotations. For those south of 40, nostalgia is old world and not relevant. Things that are old and cool for the younger generation-like the Gap commercial's revitalization of swing dancing-is "retro."

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In the spirit of being retro, everyone in the telecom sector who is old enough must immediately sing War's song: "The Cisco Kid, he was no friend of mine." Now shout at an associate, "Hey, Pancho!" See if they shout back the famous answer from the 1950s TV western, "Hey, Cisco!"

Let's be honest: Is there anything more boring than Cisco's marketing barrage that the telecom sector is old world, while Cisco's vision of an IP-centric communications infrastructure is new world? The only thing equally boring is Cisco's claim that the future is about conversion, not convergence.

Here's some free marcom advice to my fellow telecom travelers: WAKE UP!

Where is the response to old world vs. new world? Years ago, when AT&T introduced True Voice, I remember thinking that if Bill McGowan were alive, that campaign would have lasted one day. MCI would have responded, "If it is true today, what was it yesterday?" Where are the "your world vs. their (Cisco's) world" ads?

In your world things like best performance rather than best-effort communications are important. In your world, network availability, scalability, reliability, QOS, fully featured voice, accountability, interoperability, professional services and investment protection are reality.

In their world there are promises of things to come. If I were a telecom vendor, I'd remind them that we already understand their world.

And can we please stop talking about convergence and conversion? End users do not care. Service providers looking to differentiate themselves do not care. I've never met a person in an end user or service provider business who is the VP of convergence. What end users and carriers do care about are the four reasons why any company buys any IT stuff in the first place:

* Does it make an organization more efficient?

* Does it make an organization more responsive to its internal and external customers?

* Does it solve unresolved business problems?

* Does it generate new profit-making opportunities?

Vendors' customers are not looking for technology in search of tomorrow; they want solutions to current and anticipated business needs. Great technology only allows you a seat at the table. Convergence and conversion are technology terms.

If the telecom sector wishes to engage Cisco on a level playing field, it should be on the level of to whom you can entrust the future of your business. Call me a telecom bigot, but I like our sector's chances in this discussion. Having our marketing-challenged sector battle a superb technology marketing machine like Cisco on pure technology grounds can, at best, end in a draw.

If our sector feels compelled to keep engaging Cisco on its playing field, in the old world vs. new world discussion, let's engage them like this is war. Antiseptic air strikes won't win. Bring in the ground forces.

When John Chambers said he would get rid of all his PBXs within the next two years in favor of IP-flavored switches and routers that run telephony applications, Lucent CEO Rich McGinn was correct to volunteer to send trucks the next day to Cisco headquarters to take out Cisco's Lucent-made PBXs. Since then, Cisco has publicly stated that its IP PBX story should be viewed as something for small offices and people willing to experiment with IP voice switches, not to get people to remove their installed PBXs.

Look back over the Cisco acquisition list: Summa Four, Fibex, Geotel. They seem to be spending an awful lot of money to get old world expertise in a hurry.

If you took the company logos and product names off any of the big infrastructure providers chartware, even the smartest would be hard pressed to discern major differences in their technology visions of the future. Where value will be created for vendors will be in how they present their ability to meet the four challenges from above and position themselves against competitors who present themselves as offering superior alternatives.

The one thing troubling about all of this is my recollection that "The Cisco Kid" always dressed in black, and he was the good guy.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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