In a recent piece at Forbes, Roger Kay complained that parasitic vendors are killing the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the 2012 edition of which kicks off next week. When Kay refers to parasites, he means vendors that avail themselves of nearby hotel suites, where they host and entertain a select audience of invitation-only customers and partners, while evading the time-sucking clutches of the hoi polloi that pack the show floor.
As a vendor strategy, Kay allows, the hotel-suite gambit might make sense, but he’s concerned about the effect of the big-vendor exodus from the show floor. Among the industry players Kay calls on the carpet are Microsoft (exhibiting for the last time at CES this year), Dell, Acer, and Cisco.
Avoiding the Floor, Not the Show
Cisco? Yes, that Cisco. The networking titan that was supposed to be refocusing away from consumerist distractions has decided to hole up in a Las Vegas hotel suite next week on the periphery of a consumer-oriented electronics trade show. Unlike Kay, my problem with Cisco at CES is not that it prefers a sumptuous hotel suite to the lesser glories of the show floor, but that it will be there at all.
In the long-ago spring of 2011, when Cisco announced that it was immolating its Flip video camcorder business, the company stated that it was refocusing around five key technology areas: routing, switching, and services; collaboration; data center virtualization and the cloud; architectures; and video. Despite the apparent contradiction that Cisco was killing the Flip video camcorder while strategically prioritizing video, it seemed pretty clear Cisco’s denotation of “video” encompassed enterprise-related video, such as telepresence and videoconferencing, rather than the consumer-oriented video represented by the defunct Flip.
Or did it? After all, Cisco kept its consumer-oriented umi telepresence systems even as it binned Flip. Then again, Cisco belatedly acknowledged that particular error of omission, recently shuttering the umi business, such as it was.
That means Cisco finally is getting itself aligned with its strategic mandate — except, of course, when it isn’t. You see, Cisco still has its home-networking offerings, represented by the Linksys product portfolio, and, unless the company is exceptionally free with its definitions and interpretations, it would encounter great difficulty reconciling that business with its self-proclaimed strategic priorities.
Last year, Cisco said it would attempt to align the Linksys business with its core network-infrastructure business, though that would appear more a theoretical than a practical exercise. Meanwhile, some analysts expected Cisco to divest its low-growth, low-margin consumer businesses, but Cisco’s home-networking group, which definitely checks those divestiture-qualifying boxes, remains in the corporate fold.
Still, speculation persists about a potential sale of the Linksys unit, even as representatives of that unit attempt to portray it as a “key part” of Cisco’s strategy. According to that defiant narrative, Linksys’ solutions are supposed to be the centerpiece of a master plan that would put Cisco at the forefront of home-entertainment networks that distribute Internet-based video throughout the home to devices such as television sets and BluRay players. But with Cisco’s recent retreat from its umi videoconferencing, the company has decided that it will refrain from handling at least one type of video content in the home.
More Strategic Rigor Required
Look, I understand why Cisco likes video. It consumes a lot of bandwidth, and that means Cisco’s customers, including telcos and cable MSOs as well as enterprises, will need to spend more on network infrastructure to accommodate the rising tide of video traffic. I get the synergies with its core businesses, I really do.
But is Cisco truly equipped as a vendor and a brand that can win the hearts and minds of consumers and cross the threshold into the home? The company’s track record would suggest that the answer to that question is an emphatic and resounding no. Furthermore, does Cisco really need to be in the home to capture its “fair share” of video-based revenue? Again, the answer would seem to be negative.
When I read that Cisco was ramping up for CES, even though it doesn’t have a booth on the show floor, I was reminded that the company still needs to apply more rigor to its refocusing efforts. In the big picture, perhaps the resources expended to stage a consumer-oriented promotional blitz in Las Vegas next week do not distract significantly from Cisco’s professed strategic priorities. Nonetheless, I would argue that its CES excursion doesn’t help, and that an opportunity cost is still being incurred.