I recently returned to the high technology industry after a nine year detour into the world of philanthropy.
Prior to 2006, I had enjoyed a career of over 20 years in the world of making computers talk to one another. It is to this world that I returned a few months ago, and I found that some things had changed while many things were incredibly similar to how they were a decade ago.
The most astonishing thing I discovered, that remarkably had not changed at all was the total stranglehold that one vendor has on the networking infrastructure marketplace. That vendor, of course, is Cisco Systems. I have been asking myself, how can it be, in a mature market such as this, that one company can hold such sway, to the tune of commanding a 70 to 80% market share? Even more astounding is the fact that it is the company whose wares are universally acknowledged to be far-and-away the most expensive in the industry. I cannot think of a single other market sector where this is the case. So, why is it the case here?
The power of religion
The answer is: religion—never underestimate the power of well-crafted, carefully and ubiquitously disseminated mythology. I have to give the company its due. Cisco has masterfully crafted a multi-faceted mythology surrounding its company and its products, and the followers of this mythology are legion. Don’t get me wrong. The mythology is not that Cisco is a great company with very good products. These things are not a myth. They are, in fact, absolutely true.
The mythology lies elsewhere, and consists of a host of propositions about Cisco and its products and about other companies and their products, finely tuned and promulgated by Cisco over the years, that, if examined from a truly open and unbiased perspective, are simply not true. It is this web of myths that leads companies to routinely overpay for Cisco products when on the face of it they do not merit such deference. It is this package of propositions that time and again leads intelligent and otherwise responsible parties at all levels and in a variety of roles of organizations to gladly shell out whatever premium Cisco has mandated that it will charge them for its products without ever genuinely even considering the viable alternatives available to them.
Cisco has not succeeded in pulling this off on its own. Its massive host of followers have bought into the myth, having as they say in the industry, “drunk the cool-aid,” without which Cisco would have long ago been rendered just one among many companies vying for their place in the networking infrastructure space, perhaps commanding 15 or 20% market share rather than the lion’s share of the pie, and selling its products at a fair and respectable price point rather than at the stratospheric prices that they all too often command. That the market has bought into the myth and has allowed Cisco to prosper, not just at its competitors’ expense, but at the expense of the pocket books of its customers, has required the complicity of many, many religious zealots singing in the Cisco choir.
Examining the Cisco mythology
This series will seek to examine the elements of the Cisco mythology, and to evaluate them one by one to see if they stand up under scrutiny or instead merit being debunked. We’ll cover erroneous notions such as “Nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco,” “Cisco provides the Lowest Total Cost of Ownership,” “My people are all trained on Cisco so we can’t use anything else,” and more. The first myth to cover, however, and the foundation of all the other myths when one gets right down to it, is the following, which will be covered in the next installment: “Cisco is the only safe choice.”