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Cisco Brings in Box Exec to Head Security, Apps Group


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On Monday, June 15, one day ahead of Cisco Live, a two-day customer and partner virtual event, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins posted a blog introducing Jeetu Patel as the company’s SVP and GM of a newly formed Security and Applications business group.
This business unit comprises the security team, led by Gee Rittenhouse, and Collaboration, run by interim head, Javed Khan. The current Collaboration lead, Sri Srinivasan, is taking a personal leave of absence and Khan is leading the group until he returns. Patel will be a member of the executive leadership team (ELT), reporting directly to Robbins. On the ELT, he will join Cisco’s four other engineering heads: Eyal Dagan, Core Hardware Platforms; Liz Centoni, Emerging Technologies and Incubation; Jonathan Davidson, Mass-Scale Infrastructure; Todd Nightingale, Enterprise Networking and Cloud. Patel will be taking on this role on Aug. 3, the start of the company’s fiscal year.
Most recently, Patel served as chief product officer and chief strategy officer at the file-sharing and cloud content management leader, Box. Prior to Box, Patel held leadership positions at EMC and Doculabs.
Experience with User Experience
A lack of network background makes Patel an interesting hire for Cisco, but he certainly understands the cloud and the importance of a simplified user experience, both of which are key to Cisco’s future in collaboration and security. In many ways, his skill set is similar to Nightingale’s, who joined Cisco from Meraki, the enterprise WiFi startup the company acquired in late 2012. A number of well-qualified Cisco insiders could have filled the Networking and Cloud role, but I believe Nightingale’s focus on simplicity made him the best choice. I’ve not discussed this with any member of the ELT or Robbins himself, but since Robbins became CEO five years ago, he has stressed the importance of making products easier to use.
The security and collaboration teams have come a long way in this area over the past few years, but more is needed. For example, Cisco has greatly improved the usability of Webex through features like one click to join. It has also massively scaled up the capacity of the back end to handle the enormous number of new customers that are using Webex to handle today’s distributed workforce. The security team has simplified the purchasing and deployment of Cisco technology. For example, VPNs are notoriously difficult to deploy on remote endpoints, but Cisco’s AnyConnect can now be done with just a few mouse clicks.
Patel will be tasked with taking these groups to the next level — a great opportunity to move the needle given the huge uptick in interest in security and collaboration with the shift to a work-from-home (WFH) model because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This shift is making it impossible to decouple security from collaboration and vice versa, as both are foundational building blocks of enabling a distributed workforce over the long term.
One huge initiative for Cisco is creating better cross-domain solutions. For example, a WFH user needs security, collaboration, networking, cloud resources, and other technology. This will require Patel to work with the other technology leads on seamless product integration. I don’t know him, but people I’ve talked to tell me that working with others is a strength of his so that attribute will be key to his being successful at Cisco.
Pulling in AI
At Box, Patel was involved with the company’s efforts to tap the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to help enterprises glean insights from its content management platform. Under Patel, Box gave developers access to AI and machine learning algorithms through its Box Skills Kit. Using Box APIs, developers could enable companies to harness the power of AI without requiring a massive team of highly paid data scientists and AI experts.
At Cisco, the security and applications teams have been looking to use AI to bolster products and improve usability. Patel’s experience here should pay big dividends. There’s also an opportunity to bring greater AI capabilities to Cisco developers and software power users via Cisco DevNet, similar to Box Skills. I believe DevNet will be a core component of Cisco’s next wave of growth; bringing AI-based insight and analytics to DevNet will only make that program stronger.
We’re moving into an unprecedented time in the business world, and society at large and technology is at the heart of the new world. When business leaders ask me what the “new normal” looks like, my answer is always that the new normal is no normal. I expect we’ll see people return to work but organizations need to be prepared to send people back home if a spike in sicknesses occurs. This means company leaders need to be prepared to have everyone at the office, no one at the office, and every possibility in between. Security and collaboration are core to making this possible.
Patel has a big job ahead of him. The collaboration industry is filled with tough competitors, some of which are big, and some are small with big names. The security market is massive, but no vendor has managed to capture double-digit share given the fragmented nature of the landscape. But Patel’s focus on user experience combined with his background in cloud and AI should enable him to carry on from the work that’s happened at Cisco over the past couple of years in these areas and seize new opportunities.