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Cisco Collaboration to Add a Familiar Face: Snorre Kjesbu
Earlier this week, on Twitter, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Collaboration Group, Javed Khan, announced that former collaboration executive Snorre Kjesbu would be returning to Cisco and taking on the newly created role of VP and GM for Webex Rooms and Phones, with responsibility for all phones, video systems, and everything surrounding them. Currently, these various products fall under different leaders.
Kjesbu left Cisco in late 2018, after an almost 18-year career with the company, amid a slew of other executive departures from the collaboration business. During his 20-month hiatus from Cisco, Kjesbu served as EVP of product, creation, and fulfillment at consumer electronics company Bang & Olufsen.
Prepping for Hybrid Work
Bringing back Kjesbu, effective Oct. 1, is certainly well-timed. The COVID-19 pandemic has chased everyone into a work-from-home (WFH) situation, but that won’t be the case forever. In fact, businesses such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Barclays Bank, among others, have announced plans to get some staff returned to the workplace. Once companies such as these have workers back in the office, others are likely to follow suit and we might see a growing wave of companies repopulating their offices, though slowly.
In a work-from-anywhere study conducted earlier this year, ZK Research discovered some interesting factoids about return-to-work strategies. For example, a whopping 70% of respondents stated that virtual meetings will be mandated even when people are in the office. Another data point is that 72% of office workers will be offered flexible work hours. This means hybrid working will be the norm, and companies need to start thinking about how to integrate virtual and physical workspaces. They’ll need the right endpoints to pull this off successfully.
In a recent discussion on the hybrid workplace, Khan told me that Cisco’s goal is to deliver a 10x “better than being there” experience across its device portfolio. Right now, when people meet virtually, they often feel disadvantaged compared to colleagues meeting in person. Cisco’s goal is to flip this and make the meeting experience so good that people in live meetings are the ones who feel disadvantaged.
This shift is already taking place. Cisco’s Webex Meetings platform, for example, provides information to that people don’t get when everybody is participating in person. For example, the simple process of displaying a person’s name on screen helps everybody remember who is talking and involved in the meeting. Transcriptions minimize the need for taking detailed notes, allowing people to focus on the content instead of trying to capture a record of what’s been said. Availability of features like these will lead people to use endpoints even when meeting in person. This includes everything from desk phones to headsets, room systems, personal devices, and much more.
Endpoint innovation is critical to Cisco’s success in collaboration moving forward, and Kjesbu will now have the entire portfolio under his wing. Rolling up device responsibility under one person should lead to greater feature consistency across products. This is especially important with the delivery of AI and other functionality from the cloud.
One of Cisco’s critical initiatives going forward will need to be in doubling down on the lower end of the market, as that’s where much of the growth is going to come — meaning, in devices that go into people’s home offices. The time Kjesbu spent and experience gained at Bang & Olufsen, which has best-in-class consumer designs and audio quality, should pay dividends for Cisco here. Also, Kjsebu now brings some experience in the area of consumer channels for devices. This will complement Kjesbu’s experience in overseeing design for enterprise-class systems; during his first tenure at Cisco, the devices he oversaw won 23 Red Dot Design awards.
The shift down-market will be a key focal point for Cisco Collaboration. In a recent interview on Mad Money, CEO Chuck Robbins made comments to the effect of “we sell things that go into corporate offices and people aren’t going back to those offices, so we need to change what we sell.” This puts Webex in the crosshairs, as a core WFH component.
The longer people work from home, the more likely it’ll be that they want to use Webex endpoints and not just Webex on their computers. They’ll want the same type of endpoints they had in the office, but not at the same pricing. Hybrid working will rapidly become the norm, and having consistency of user experience across all devices in all locations will enable users to work without the technology getting in the way.
Kjesbu’s return is among a few other notable changes in the collaboration team. For example, his re-hiring enables Cisco to make Sandeep Mehra, who had been VP and GM of Webex Rooms and Telepresence, lead of a new team focused on business development, partnerships, online, and new markets for all of Collaboration. Cisco’s focus on driving Webex down-market requires new channels, and Mehra is tasked in developing these.
Also, Hakeem Mehmood, who had been VP and GM of Calling and Devices, is leaving Cisco. Rising star Lorrissa Horton, who had been VP and GM of Webex Strategy and Online Business, will now head Cloud Calling. Cisco’s calling business is at an inflection point, as it transitions from on premises to the cloud. It’s time to sink or swim. If you’ve ever met Horton, you know she’s an aggressive, hard-charging leader who will implement change. She’s an excellent choice to take on this challenge.
The pandemic has changed the world in ways we could never have imagined. Almost overnight cloud collaboration has shifted from a nice-to-have to an absolute must-have for most businesses. Now that the initial mad scramble is over, IT leaders need to take a step back and rethink their long-term strategies for hybrid working. It’s important to understand that delivering an experience that’s as good or hopefully better than being in person (by 10x, per Cisco’s goal) requires a combination of cloud services and devices.
Kjesbu’s return and these other leadership changes have put Cisco in a strong position as the world settles into its yet-to-be-determined new normal.