Revisiting Cisco

February 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

A few months ago, I had written about the slow yet defined remaking of Cisco. Since then, the Silicon Valley stalwart has delivered three lukewarm quarters and has seen its stock stagnate against its nimbler competition. The Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting article questioning some of the very moves it had lauded over the years. Analysts have also questioned Cisco’s slowing its pace of innovation against its competitors in its core area of expertise, routers. I figured the time is ripe to revisit my post and see if anything has changed fundamentally.

For starters, some of the niche acquisitions have not panned out as planned. Some of this is obvious. While the Flip camera product line was extremely popular at the time of purchase, it is now challenged by smart phones that do everything the Flip does and more. In addition, the Flip is a relatively pricey single purpose device while smart phones are multi-utility and carry a similar price of entry (excluding monthly service costs, of course).  Cisco has been releasing newer models at a steady clip but the question is if the product has outlived its utility.

Cisco announced a tablet product, the Cius to capitalize on the popularity of the iPad. It wanted to target the product for businesses and enterprises that were well entrenched into the Cisco family of tools and services. On the face of it, this was a smart move. It still is, if Cisco can deliver not just a business solution but a universally appreciated productivity tool. Android tablets are expected to be all over the place this year and Cisco needs more than its suite of applications to sell the Cius. One of the Cius’s biggest selling points namely video conferencing might soon become a feature of iOS with the rumored front facing cameras in iPad 2. Also, when the Cius was announced, enterprises were still evaluating the iPad. Almost 8 months since then, the iPad is a certified blockbuster in board rooms and executives are clamoring for their own iPad. This, coupled with Apple’s increased attention to business customers and the Cius has indeed a big wall to climb.

Cisco continues to sell its routers and lots of them. In recent quarters, they have complained of a stagnant government segment (which might not improve much for the next few quarters considering how much of a budget hole most states are in). In addition, HP has started encroaching on some of the lower end router business. Cisco itself entered the server business recently with their Unified Computing System (UCS) and has made slow but steady inroads there. The pricey acquisition of Scientific Atlanta for its set-top box business gave a new business area for Cisco to get into but they have been reporting lower sales in the segment, where the main competitor Motorola has been doing well the last few quarters.

Overall, Cisco is going through a rough patch the last few months. It would be easy to blame its strategy of expanding into hitherto unknown segments but there was not much more to gain in their primary router business and the expansion made sense. Eventually, Cisco might shrug off a few of these acquisitions and settle down with just a few select successful ones. Until then, the San Jose behemoth deserves the benefit of doubt.



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