Former Cisco CEO: USA Is Only Major Country Without Proper Digital Agenda

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers says the US government is not doing enough and country risks falling behind in digitisation race

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers has warned the USA risks falling behind other nations because its government, and one of the candidates for the Republican and Democrat nominations for the US presidency, have a clear digital agenda.

Speaking at BoxWorks 2015 in San Francisco, Chambers praised countries like China, France, India and the UK for recognising the potential of technology to transform an economy and lamented that his homeland, for so long at the forefront of technological innovation, had not.

Chambers, who stepped down from his position earlier this year, noted Chinese president Xi’s meeting with major tech firms and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley and his vision of a ‘Digital India’ as examples of other governments action.

US falling behind?

Cisco John Chambers BoxWorks 2015 (1)He also praised French president Francois Hollande’s cooperation with industry and UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse.’

“This is the first time that our government has not led a technology transition,” he said. “Our government has been remarkably slow. We are the last major developed country in the world without a digital agenda.

“I think every major country has this as one of their top two priorities and we don’t. We won’t get GDP increase and we won’t be as competitive with our startups.

“The real surprise to me was how governments around the world, except ours, moved.”

Speaking about the 2016 Presidential Election, Chambers said he was a “moderate” Republican that wanted a candidate from the “middle” who would be able to lead this transformation. However again, he was concerned technology and its power was not a major issue in the race so far.

“We are the only country in the world where the candidates are not articulating a digital strategy.”

Business transformation

Chambers said many of the same principles applied to businesses, who must digitise to survive. He boasted that Cisco had made several transitions and was stronger as a result

“You have to get the market transitions right. Our competitors’ from 15 years ago don’t exist. The industry is brutal.

“Uber is a technology company with asset sharing that can be applied to any industry. Airbnb the same thing. When you talk to transportation companies and hospitality companies know they must make this transition. That’s why 45 percent of companies won’t survive.”

He noted Apple, GM, GE and Walmart as examples of businesses that had recognised the need to respond to these changes, and said firms needed to take risks, not do the same “right thing” for too long and constantly reinvent themselves.

The future is partnerships

US President Obama using his BlackBerry in 2013

“Traditional companies in this industry think linear,” he argued. “You’ve got to think exponentially. You’ve got to reinvent yourself as a leader, your organisation structure and a company.

“Leaders who can’t reinvent themselves, change their leadership team and organisational structure.

Chambers said many companies had previously looked to acquisitions to maintain growth, but the future was in partnerships. Cisco has partnered with a number of firms, including Box, and believes this is the way forward.

“Watch strategic partnerships,” he said. “Most won’t work, but the ones that do will change the industry.

“I think you’re going to see large and companies work together. Unfortunately, most of them will still fail.”

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