Sri Srinivasan really knows how to make a first impression. Cisco’s new VP and General Manager of the Team Collaboration Group began his first day on the job in Oslo, Norway. Sri, who joined Cisco in March and is based in Seattle, wanted to set the team at ease about the leadership change by starting where OJ Winge, the former leader of the group, was based. Winge is now responsible for new growth initiatives within the Collaboration team.
Focus Magazine recently talked with Sri, about his background and why he feels so connected to Cisco.
Focus Magazine: Introduce yourself and tell us what your role is with Cisco’s collaboration team.
Sri Srinivasan: I’m the VP and General Manager of the team collaboration group. I’m excited to be at Cisco. The Team Collaboration Group (TCG) creates Webex Meetings, Webex Teams and Webex Devices, such as Webex Room Series, Webex Board, and Webex Share. (These solutions were formerly named WebEx, Spark, Room Series and Spark Board.) Our focus is team empowerment through our collaboration canvas. The canvas brings together all of the collaboration touchpoints for groups of people who work on a common purpose, from the productivity tools they use to the places they meet, integrated with their business processes.
When I was first called about this position, my first reaction was “hey, you’ve got the wrong guy. My core skills were software development, with recent focus on cloud. I could take a premise-based business to the cloud.” I wasn’t sure how useful I would be at Cisco or whether I would have fun. Rowan (Rowan Trollope, SVP & GM of Cisco’s Applications Group) and I ended up having good conversations on the opportunity, the market, and the immense potential that Cisco holds in this space. We talked a lot about the culture, and he explained what kind of impact we can have in the future of cloud collaboration. What makes me hum is making teams work their best. When someone comes to you and says here’s an opportunity to build a canvas for teams, I have a hard time saying no.
Focus Magazine: Tell me about your background and what you did before coming to Cisco.
Sri Srinivasan: I’ve spent 25 years in the tech industry, mainly on business applications and platforms. Though I gravitated to business leadership, my formative years were as an engineer. In my heart, I’m an engineer and will always remain one. The best way to describe me is I’m an engineer that’s customer obsessed and will blow through any obstacle to do right by our customers and end users.
Focus Magazine: What drives this engineering mindset that you have?
Sri Srinivasan: I started as an engineer in ’93. I joined PeopleSoft around ’97 and the company became a pioneer in web technology. When our software hit trouble spots, I was one of the people that was called on to fix the snarliest issues. Being in the middle of these problems pitted me in real customer situations and often I would spend time understanding the business models and needs as part of the solutions. There’s a huge translation loss from what customers want, to what customers need, to what our product managers build.
My time at PeopleSoft taught me that we need to strive to always make technology adapt to people. This was well before the days of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. One of the deeply rooted philosophies I got from Dave Duffield, the founder at PeopleSoft, was that technology was the means to an outcome. The best technology is one you don’t see and one that just gets your function done, without a lot of fuss.
Around 2005, during the PeopleSoft/Oracle acquisition, I decided to move to Microsoft. I went against logic and went with my gut in joining Microsoft.
Satya Nadella, now Microsoft’s CEO, was the head of the division I joined in 2005. He ran business applications and I totally bought into his vision. His vision was one of the key drivers for my move to Microsoft. What resonated was his obsession with end-state solutions for customers. At that time, products were put together like Lego blocks and customers ended up building a lot more than they signed up for. Satya was talking about building and delivering solutions, not products, and that resonated with me.
I spent an amazing 14 years at Microsoft, some of the best times I’ve had, especially the last five years when I transformed a team that had deep roots in premises software into a force to deal with in the cloud. I’m hoping to beat that at Cisco.
See also: What’s on your desk, Tim Tuttle?
Focus Magazine: What made you want to join Cisco and the collaboration team?
Sri Srinivasan: Two reasons mainly, with the first being Cisco itself. Cisco is an iconic brand that is invested in transforming for the cloud and creating unparalleled digital experiences. More importantly, Cisco is a company that values and invests in relationships. It is a company that cares about its people, its customers and its partners and is open to change.
Second, the opportunity to work on collaboration and, as I define it, the collaboration canvas, was impossible to ignore. The modern workforce is transforming from individual tasks to team-based outcomes. It is the best time to participate in enabling and transforming team-based experiences.
Focus Magazine: What are some of the things you’re most looking forward to in this new role?
My philosophy has been and will remain that technology needs to adapt to how people work. Everything that I’ll enable my team to do will be with that thinking in mind.Sri Srinivasan: My philosophy has been and will remain that technology needs to adapt to how people work. Everything that I’ll enable my team to do will be with that thinking in mind. Enabling people to embrace the power of technology rather than seeing it as an impediment is the frontier for most software applications. We need to build solutions that can enable teams across divides, cultures and geographies, to come together on a single canvas, thereby creating endearing outcomes. For me, I see it as a team canvas that brings the modern workforce together in the act of dreaming, ideating and creating for today’s disruptive enterprise.
Here are some examples. The new Webex Meetings provides a video-centric meeting solution that brings a global workforce together. It’s modern and it brings people together in new ways. Not only that, Webex is sitting on an amazing amount of usage data. Converting that data into information so that every meeting host can improve meetings and see how others perceive them is the type of experience that excites me.
With Webex Teams, we are bringing together the best team experiences through messaging, business process automation, and interoperability. For example, we provide embedded messaging that can escalate to video chat for a sales representative to collaborate with the account team and customer, right from within the Salesforce application. Adding transcription and task lists are just the start of ways we can make meetings more efficient.
Focus Magazine: How do you see AI, AR and VR being integrated into collaboration tools?
Sri Srinivasan: We’re already doing it. In Webex Meeting, we can already mute my dog barking or dull my pounding on the keyboard. 3-D objects can now be part of video meetings through the amazing iOS SDK. The Webex Voice Assistant coming out reduces the volume at the end of the meeting to tell me I have another meeting coming up.
It’s the small things that matter and bring an extra bit of efficiency to a team. Often, we wonder who is in the meeting with us, what they do, and where they are in the organization. Knowing who we work with fosters trust in relationships. With our facial recognition capabilities, we can identify people in meetings and name them, and our integration with Microsoft Graph can help provide additional nuggets, like title, email address, department, and LinkedIn profile. The best piece of technology is one that an end user does not see but loves to use in their job.
Focus Magazine: What does the future of work mean to you?
Sri Srinivasan: The future of work is team based. At the heart of it, the value of a team and the synergies within are far larger than the sum of the parts. Enterprises are in a war for talent, crave speed of innovation and strive for digitized workplaces. The future of work is the canvas, one where we bring the team together, one where they collaborate, one where they perform their best for the modern enterprise, enabled by a continuous learning platform.
Focus Magazine: You jumped right into your first week of work, literally traveling around the world getting to know your team and your people. You’re fully immersed in this new job, but you have to have some outside passions. What are some of the things you do in your downtime, when you’re not working and thinking about the future of work?
Sri Srinivasan: I enjoy my work and see it as a passion, but there needs to be balance. Downtimes are crucial and help recharge each day. As a family, we travel a lot, enjoy cultures across the world. In addition, cooking is a passion and a stress reliever.
Focus Magazine: What do you cook?
Sri Srinivasan: I cook Thai and Indian. I love Italian food. I make my own pasta sauces. If I ever stop working in technology, you’ll find me cooking up a storm.
I have two girls, 16 and 10, and the older one has taken to baking. They’re in the kitchen all the time with my wife and me. Hanging out with them is a true joy.
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