#4 Newsmaker: Nitin Kawale of Cisco Canada

Unsurprisingly, 2011 was a year filled with news from Cisco Systems, but this year saw major restructuring on a global level and changes to the company’s channel, along with more investment into Canadian projects from the vendor. Leading the way here was Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada.

There was one point when Cisco was tapping into several markets globally, including the consumer market. While there are still some remnants of that, this year saw the company shift back to its core businesses, establishing five priority areas- core routing, switching and services; collaboration; data centre; video; and architecture.

The shift was a response to financial troubles the company was facing at the global level. In July, the company cut about nine per cent of its global full-time workforce.

Earlier in the summer, though, Kawale told CDN that those problems didn’t extend here. Since then, nothing has changed, he said. “As much as it was painful, I think the restructuring of the company was an extremely important thing for us,” he said.

Related story: Cisco’s problems don’t include Canada: Kawale

Canada is actually in a strong position to help the company globally, Kawale contends. “Cisco Canada is a really large organization but it’s a great place to introduce new things,” he said. “The global corporation tends to use us as a launching pad for a lot of things.”

“We tend to be at the forefront of a lot of things that are happening within the company,” he added, including pushes in the SMB markets, which Cisco continued this year. When the company decided to reprioritize, CEO John Chambers told the team that the company wouldn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken, and that applied to the Canadian operations, Kawale said.

“Like anything, it’s a people business and when you go through change, it impacts all people all around you,” he said, but the Canadian team handled it well. “I think our teams have done a pretty good job in making sure there was a high level of communication, (and) that our partners really understood what we were trying to accomplish through these changes.”

In July, Cisco made some major changes to its channel, among people, geographies and go-to-market strategies. The vendor moved from eight geographies to just three-the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa and Asia-Pacific. It also changed its go-to-market strategy to focus on only two areas-Partner Led, focused on the midmarket and Customer Led, focused on large enterprise. A few months later, Cisco pumped $75 million of investment into its Partner Led strategy.

“Speaking to the partner community, I think people are excited about some of the transitions that we’re making and our renewed focus on the key areas,” Kawale said. “Customers and partners; they want to see us come out of the little funk we were in on the global level.”

Placing Canada into the same geography as the U.S. was a positive for Kawale. “We got much tighter alignment with the rest of the organization, which is very beneficial. Now it’s much more streamlined.”

Channel changes also extended to the executive team, where Canadian channel chief Donna Wittmann moved on to the U.S. to lead the vendor’s Partner Led group. Wittmann was succeeded by Mike Ansley, the former vice-president of solutions sales at Cisco Canada.

“Donna was a terrific teammate here and we’re obviously all very proud of her,” Kawale said. Her focus on the midmarket still makes her a crucial part of Canada’s growth, he added.

As part of its renewed focus on collaboration and video, Cisco launched several new products and offerings dedicated to unified communications among the SMB market in Canada. Most recently, the vendor announced a subscription-based telepresence offering for small businesses and updated its midmarket unified communications solutions. “We knew that video was going to be a dramatic game changer,” Kawale said. “This is one of those things that, it’s a when not an if.”

For Kawale, Canadian competitiveness is also a critical issue and he sees Cisco’s role as helping foster innovation in the country. “We wanted to continue to become part and parcel of the economic development around Canada,” this year, he said. That meant building a strategy around investing in the provinces and organizations such as universities to cater to the country’s economic and geographic diversity. “We’re a company that’s founded on innovation.”

Related story: Cisco pumps $455 million into Ontario R&D

Early in the year, Cisco and the Manitoba government partnered to create TelePresence video conferencing sites around the province. Then in July, the company signed a three-year partnership with the Nova Scotia government to support some of the province’s projects in healthcare, education and environment among others.

The next month, the company partnered with the Ontario government to invest half a billion dollars in research and development facilities, with the majority coming from Cisco itself. “I think that sets us on the right track in the terms of raising our R&D profile in Canada,” Kawale said. This fall, the company also created an endowment fund with the University of New Brunswick and provided the school with collaboration tools.

For Kawale, the company’s restructuring and refocus on its core business made the company stronger. “I think we managed that transition well,” he said. For him, this was epitomized in Cisco Canada being ranked No. 2 on Aon Hewitt’s Best Employers in Canada list. “That really showed us that the employees, the staff at Cisco Canada, were really buying into our strategy.”

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Harmeet Singh
Harmeet Singh
Harmeet reports on channel partner programs, new technologies and products and other issues relevant to Canada's channel community. She also contributes as a video journalist, providing content for the site's original streaming video. Harmeet is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism.

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