John Chambers is considered a Titan of the digital world. Under his watch as president and CEO of Cisco Systems Inc., revenue for the worldwide leader of Internet networking products grew from $1.2 billion to more than $14 billion, with 80 percent of those sales coming through e-commerce over the Web.
By the year 2003, Chambers estimates Cisco Systems’ online sales will top $20 billion. For anyone still doubting the Web’s effect on business, Chambers says it is time to wake up. The Internet isn’t going to merely play a role in business, it’s going to change everything you think about it.
“How are you positioning yourself to participate?” Chambers recently asked a lunchtime crowd of more than 1,000 businessmen and women assembled for his Northeast Ohio appearance. “It is truly an industrial revolution. I believe the textbooks will write about it as the ‘Internet Revolution’.
“It will not happen over several hundred years. It will literally be completed in decades and then be over. It will change every company and it will change every country. What remains to be seen is, ‘Do you participate?’”
For those still wrestling with how to best integrate the Web with their business, here are Chambers’ suggestions for securing a safe spot for your company during what he views as the second industrial revolution.
Strike before the competition
During the last 10 years, 50 percent of Cisco Systems’ investments have been in technology. Chambers says the key to rising to the top of the online pile in your industry is finding the best way to offer your product or service online before your competition does.
“It gave us a huge competitive advantage, because we figured out our applications a year before anyone else,” says Chambers. “We had a year lead and (the competition) never caught up. This will happen in every industry in every country.”
No matter what the product, sell it online
The idea that people will buy only inexpensive products such as books and compact discs online is a myth, says Chambers. Within five years, he estimates 50 percent of the vehicles in America will be sold over the Internet. Chambers recently experienced for himself the allure of shopping for a car online.
“Once I bought that car over the Internet, I will never go back to the dealership again,” he says. “It was a pleasant shopping experience that I haven’t experienced in the last 15 years.”
Convert paper systems to electronic systems
Chambers receives 60,000 applications a month from prospective employees, with more than 60 percent of them coming through the Internet. Applicants are asked to answer a questionnaire instead of submitting a traditional resume. That, he maintains, gives Cisco Systems a better idea of their strengths.
What he finds most interesting is the information it provides him about his competitors.
“Most of our applicants were filing from the workplace,” says Chambers. “All I had to do was look at the e-mail address. All of a sudden I could tell what companies were reorganizing and the geographies of it. I could tell who was having a rough quarter. It was child’s play.”
Always be ready to change
Cisco Systems has been restructured seven times in the past decade. Change will be a necessity for companies hoping to survive in the age of the Internet, since customer loyalties and buying patterns will shift without much notice.
Business owners must build a corporate culture that thrives on change and constant improvement.
“It will not be the big beating the small or the small beating the big,” says Chambers. “It will be the fastest that beat the slow.”
How to reach: Cisco Systems Inc., www.ciscosystems.com
Jim Vickers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at SBN.