Interop is primarily about IT infrastructure. That usually means hardware: routers, access points, storage arrays, security appliances, IP phones, mobile phones, and all the other gear that it takes to connect an organization and its people. Since Cisco has reigned as the king of IT infrastructure for over a decade, it makes sense that Cisco CEO John Chambers is a regular keynote speaker at Interop. In fact, he’s usually the keynote speaker.

This year, however, Chambers threw the audience a curve ball in the opening keynote as he talked only fleetingly about infrastructure, hardware, or networking. Instead, he drilled into his audacious vision of how Web 2.0 will revolutionize business and drive the next great wave of productivity gains.

“Web 2.0 to me is very simple,” said Chambers. “It’s just the tools to provide collaboration.”

Cisco’s example

Chambers explained how Web 2.0 mashups and collaboration tools have allowed Cisco to move much faster than ever before. He gave the example of two similar Cisco acquisitions.

In November 2005, Cisco’s acquisition of Scientific Atlanta took 45 days to close (a relatively quick transaction at the time). In February 2007, Cisco’s acquisition of WebEx took just eight days to close. Chambers credits the increased speed to collaboration tools that have changed and flattened business processes and made them more efficient than ever.

Learning from consumers

While Chambers touted the fact that Cisco is embracing these tools internally and building the infrastructure for the rest of the business world to do the same, he admitted that many of these tools have their origin in the Internet-based social networking applications that have gained immense popularity among consumers, especially children and teens. Some of them are now bringing those experiences and expectations into the workplace.

“What kids started with social networking will move into business,” Chambers said.

The implications for IT are obvious. “It’s been a way that people kind of communicated in spite of the IT department,” he said. “Now the IT department has to lead.”

Productivity gains

Chambers asserted that the next great wave of productivity gains will come from unleashing the forces of collaboration with tools such as unified communications, social networking, Web services, telepresence, video conferencing, and seamlessly moving between communications systems.

He predicted that these tools could drive 3%-5% productivity gains over the next five years, which would bring back the gains from the late 1990’s when the rise of the Internet drove strong gains. This new wave would also reverse the stagnant productivity numbers of the past several years.

Naturally, Chambers believes that Cisco is best situated to help companies achieve these gains because of the broad fleet of platforms and partners that it has built and integrated. “You have to approach it architecturally, not with individual products,” he said.

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Your take

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