Top Ten Newsmakers 2003: Ross Fowler

Top Ten Newsmakers 2003: Ross Fowler

“After being with Alcatel for 29 years, I suppose the first question you want to know is why I would consider leaving. Well it wasn’t something I was considering. For any other company, I would not have considered it.”

For something he was not considering, Ross Fowler certainly had to prove his worth to Cisco Systems. The rigorous selection process he undertook prior to accepting the position of managing director involved an exhaustive number of interviews – nearly 20 in all.

Such a long process is not easy to keep under wraps, and it was not long into the process when rumours began circulating that Cisco was poaching Alcatel’s top dog to fill the void left after Terry Walsh moved to Canada several months earlier.

“I was already well known in the industry, and it was well known what I had achieved,” Fowler said. “The style of these [job] interviews was aimed at determining whether there was a cultural fit between the way I like to do business and the way Cisco likes to do business. Determining that from the outset has made the transition so easy.”

Fowler claims that it is Cisco’s vision and leadership position in IP technology that swayed him to the organisation. “I saw very clearly that the market was moving around Internet Protocol (IP), that IP would be the platform for convergence in the future. Cisco is the market leader in IP,” he said.

“Cisco also understands the enterprise and commercial space. In the past, services were created by service providers, and the market would follow. In the IP world, it is the market that pulls. The industry has to be visionary with regards to technology, but it is the enterprise where the decisions are being made. The enterprise looks into it first, and the service providers follow.”

While Fowler is excited by the opportunities the enterprise market affords Cisco, he is also very familiar with the service provider and carrier markets.

Industry commentators have noted that this experience was one of the attributes Cisco was seeking in a managing director.

Fowler said he was confident that Australia’s service providers had given up on protecting their legacy investments and were embracing IP technology.

He cited the recent introduction of IP VPN service offerings from the major carriers and integrators as testament to this change.

“It is no longer a matter of if or when, the fact is that convergence is here and now,” he said. “[Service providers] must deliver, or they will be sitting on a shaky business model. I don’t see any service provider fighting the change.”

Just three months into the job, and Cisco had provided Fowler with a fair share of surprises, he said.

“It was a very pleasant surprise to realise that they are doing more than switches and routers,” he said, spruiking the vendor’s advanced technology mantra that has seen it aggressively adopt and market technologies such as IP telephony, security, storage, optical, wireless networking and home networking.

Australia was winning the race on adopting advanced technologies, Fowler said.

For Cisco worldwide, the six aforementioned advanced technologies account for 14 per cent of global sales, but those same technologies account for more than 25 per cent of Cisco Australia’s business.

Fowler said that Cisco Australia has already taken IP telephony to more than 70,000 handsets in Australia, and was performing particularly well in the areas of security and storage.

And while enterprise customers had begun rolling out networking refreshes and adopting advanced technologies, their smaller competitors were at the very least gearing up to do the same, he said.

Most of Cisco Australia’s commercial customers (those outside of its top 200 enterprise customers) are undertaking LAN and WAN refreshments to prepare their networks for IP adoption.

Fowler expects 2004 to be a big year for networking.

“We are already seeing encouraging signs in the marketplace – there have been strong investment levels in the enterprise and also a cautious level of investment among service providers,” he said.

And while he had very little exposure to the resellers during his tenure with Alcatel, Fowler has acknowledged that he will need to sharpen his knowledge of the local channel in his new position.

“The channel is a very important part of Cisco’s business, and so I am willing to put a lot of time and effort into it,” he said.

Fowler praised the level of experience and knowledge available to him at Cisco through the vendor’s director of commercial and channel business, Kip Cole.

“Kip has a lot of experience in the channel and does a fantastic job,” he said. “At the moment the two of us are spending some time assessing what further opportunities there are for the channel in the market.”

Outside of his new role at Cisco, Fowler has committed to aiding the development of the IT sector.

He is a strong advocate of teaching young people IT skills – and has subsequently committed to joining an advisory committee for the University of Technology in Sydney.

Fowler is concerned about the 30 per cent drop in enrolments into IT courses at Australian universities and TAFE’s.

“If this is not addressed very soon, we could have another skills shortage on our hands in three or four years,” he said.

Acknowledging that the dot-com bust has repelled many young people from considering a career in IT, Fowler is pushing for a change in mind-set among educational institutions.

He said that IT skills were now central to many industries and should be included in a wider variety of tertiary degrees.

“If the intake in IT courses is in decline, universities should be adding IT supplements on to other courses,” Fowler said.

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