This story is from the 2014 Access 25. Explore more from this issue
Padmasree Warrior

Q&A With Cisco’s Padmasree Warrior

Cisco strategy and technology chief believes the more connected we are, the better off we’ll be.

Padmasree Warrior

Padmasree Warrior, the chief technology and strategy officer for Cisco, has big ideas and a big audience for them, with a global following of nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers. Warrior and her colleagues at Cisco believe that with the “internet of everything,” we can solve the world’s most persistent problems — from hunger to clean water to the fragility of the global financial system.

Access: Cisco has argued that only 1 percent of what could be connected in the world actually is connected. What’s the thinking behind that?

PADMASREE WARRIOR: You have to look at all the things that can be connected, not just people. Today, if you look at how many subscribers there currently are on mobile and on the internet, that’s roughly half the world’s population. But you also have to look at the number of devices — things like traffic lights and cars and even things we wear — that today are not yet connected. We expect the number of connected things to reach 50 billion by 2020.

Access: Would a more connected world be a better world?

PW: Absolutely. I think the more connected we are, the more we can share and the more information people will have. The internet has brought economies together, and I think in many cases it has changed the political landscapes of some countries. It’s driven commerce in a much more logical, much more democratized way. So we definitely think that there is a huge potential upside, the more connected we make the world.

Access: Can a so-called internet of everything improve the ways in which we live our everyday lives?

PW: We really believe that by integrating the world’s data and processing capability, we can help human beings make decisions that are much smarter and much more data-driven. We estimate that will create a lot of value for businesses — roughly $14 trillion over the next decade in revenue and new profits across all different sectors in the business landscape.

Access: You have more than 1.4 million Twitter followers. So many C-level corporate executives avoid social media. Some are even afraid of it. What do you see in it that they don’t?

PW: It’s a platform for me to express an opinion. I read all of the replies that I get, and I use that to follow shifts in thinking. It gives me an opportunity to interact with people around the world from different segments that I normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to interact with. I call it my digital water cooler.

One time I remember I was preparing for a keynote and I was thinking about the future of collaboration. How will people collaborate in the future, and what will be their platforms? I posted that question, and there was a lot of commentary that came back, which I actually ended up incorporating into how I was thinking about collaboration. For example, people said a lot of collaboration in the future will be on the mobile platform. So as we develop solutions for collaboration in Cisco’s portfolio, it really has to be targeted at the mobile user first. That is definitely part of our collaboration strategy currently. Twitter is a very interesting means of bouncing things off the world, I guess you could say.

Access: A recent Cisco survey found that two out of every five young people would take a lower-paying job instead of one that didn’t allow them to use a mobile device or social media. What does this say about young people today, and what does it mean for the workplaces of the future?

PW: That’s a fascinating study, right? What that says to me is that younger people view the mobile device as an extension of their persona or personality. What that means in the work context is that companies have to really think about enabling what we call BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, in the workplace. I think companies have to really embrace this policy, especially if their workforce and their customers are going to grow up in this mobile cloud space.

The other thing that’s happening more recently is that when people bring their own devices, of course, they’re bringing their own applications. So it’s actually now turning into BYOA, or Bring Your Own Apps. That causes some security concerns for enterprises, so we’re working on helping businesses address those by enabling secure access to enterprise applications on mobile platforms. Cisco is a BYOD enterprise. We let people bring their devices. Our CIO has already embraced that transition. The lines are blurring between what used to be a consumer segment and an enterprise segment.

Access: The more people are connected, the more they seem to crave moments of disconnection. Is this true to your experience, especially as a leader? If so, how should we manage disconnection?

PW: I think there are times when we have to immerse ourselves in the physical world around us. Connectivity is there to help us be more productive and enjoy things more and be more creative in our business endeavors. It isn’t meant to be a distraction or a burden. I think each of us has a different threshold of how much connection we can handle. I have my digital detox sessions — hours on a weekend or days where I do something that is different from just being connected all the time. I paint, I write poetry, I go for long walks. I take photographs. I spend time with my friends and my family. I think that is really important. Just because you’re able to connect doesn’t mean that you have to connect.

Three websites Padmasree Warrior cannot live without

Twitter: I use my Twitter feed a lot to find other sources of information.

Scientific American: For very detailed articles and detailed research.

Mashable: Among the tech-focused blogs, this one is my favorite.

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