Q. How critical is the availablility of an ‘Innovation Ecosystem’ locally for Cisco?
A. For a company like Cisco, which is a systems company, there is a need for different layers of technology – hardware, software, network management, manufacturing, marketing, and sales to deliver a world-class product. Having a strong ecosystem is absolutely fundamental for a company like Cisco, which is focussed on systems development as opposed to a company into, say silicon development.
Q. While developing the ASR 901, what were the critical ecosystem challenges you faced?
A. India, and especially Bangalore, is a hub for engineering talent. The fact that it’s not invested in the right places or the right companies haven’t invested is a different matter. It’s not mature to the level needed, but the basic system is there. One of the biggest challenges in developing ASR 901 was the lack of a mature ecosystem. To be more specific, the pieces in the ecosystem of silicon vendors, the companies that develop silicon chips, service engineering partners, manufacturing partners… not all of these have the same level of maturity. Most of these tend to be MNCs with a presence in India. Not all of them have invested enough and developed the same level of expertise. There are some who have leading edge. For instance, Texas Instruments has been around for a long time, but if I pick some of the other companies, they just have a handful of application engineers, without a lot of depth in terms of products. So, when you are working on end-to-end solution, you require a lot of capabilities, which the ecosystem limits.
Q. Does it hamper your progress?
A. Yes, that is a challenge as we discovered while we were developing the ASR 901. Within the scope of what we were doing, we were able to strengthen those pieces of the ecosystem quite successfully, but other pieces of the ecosystem had also to be built around it. Tomorrow, if we get into developing a new product, we may hit more pieces of the ecosystem that aren’t mature enough. The ecosystem is about evolution.
Q. So, how can stakeholders ensure that the ecosystem is developed at a pace, which would make innovation possible?
A. I have personally been involved in such initiatives. There are professional organisations endeavouring to build the ecosystem and partnering with each other. For instance, Indian Semiconductor Association has identified few areas where members understand and try and resolve the problems pertaining to developing a product for a particular vertical, say education, healthcare, telecom, et al. Representatives of different companies meet regularly to communicate the technology piece of the product that they can bring to the table and what they would require from other companies. There are other forums where an ongoing dialogue and networking between companies and the leaders of these companies is happening. It is definitely one of the very hot topics and desires of the companies, because as they are endeavouring to innovate and develop the next level of original products from here, it is clear that you can’t do so without a strong ecosystem.