Why Amit Phadnis manages $11B for Cisco and is perhaps the most important go-to man for startups in India?


Cisco Systems, the $49.24-billion networking equipment giant, is omnipresent across global markets. But within that system is a maverick who runs almost 25 percent of its business. Amit Phadnis is the President - Engineering and India Site Leader for Cisco. As part of Cisco’s Core Software Group (CSG) India, his team is responsible for $11-billion business portfolio for the company. Amit leads a team of 2,500 engineers to drive innovations and product development, architectural alignment and integration with go-to-market strategies in the routing, switching and wireless area. He has over 20 US PTO patents to his name. Now equipped with an idea that was 18 months in-the-making, Amit, along with Cisco, has started LaunchPad, a no-equity accelerator programme that gives startups access to Cisco’s technology and connections with clients.

YourStory caught up with Amit to get his two cents on the quality of startups in India and why Cisco wants to enter this game, especially when the likes of Microsoft and SAP have already started robust programmes for startups within the country. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

YS: What is the thought process behind the programme, LaunchPad, and what were the trends you noticed in India for Cisco to set up such a programme?

Amit: Let me talk about the trends first. Globally, in less than a decade, we are going to have more than six billion people connected to the network through their mobile phone and other devices. Today, only half are connected to the Internet. What is going to drive this change is the fact that the younger audience are going to push consumption of apps. I will talk about some trends in India on why corporations have to invest in these new communications technologies. I was noticing a group of medical students who were sharing a video of the human dissection procedure, while in college, to all their friends across the nation. You may find this odd and disgusting, but they are doing this to discuss among friends about the methods of dissection and how the body works.

Apps and networks are a centre of this universe. They are changing the way education is perceived; in this case it is medical education. Imagine the use of virtual reality solutions in this case. The phone becomes central to all this communication and consumption. So, this fits into Cisco’s overall networking technology piece. The programme will allow us to connect startups to some of our partners and customers. The pilots that emerge from the eight or more startups that we select from the 300 applications will also be some form of learning for our customers and enables Cisco to give these entrepreneurs a chance to shape their business and technology.

YS: So, will corporations adopt this technology faster?

Amit: I can go on about healthcare and education applications. Technologies can service a large number of people remotely. The use of augmented reality and virtual reality to create and disseminate information is getting robust. You do not have to invest in machinery to create prototypes. Now imagine the data generated through these systems. The opportunity to automate decision-making or enable machine learning can make corporations nimbler. But is this happening at a faster rate? I think the next three years you will see a faster rate of growth in adoption of these technologies. The world is already run by a combination of machines and sensors that analyse the world around you. Machine learning is going to grow at a faster rate than any other business opportunity.

YS: So will it be a machine that understands Voice, Vision and Text (VVT) as we would like to call it?

Amit: This will be where people and machines converge. It is a powerful thought that machines will give us insight. But we will be the ones who train the machines to give that insight. These are some of the broad themes of machines getting intelligent by understanding and analysing VVT for business insights. Artificial intelligence is a reality and a lot of factories are going smart with machines analysing their production cycle data and energy data. I would say that the engineering pool will handle building these kinds of applications for corporations.

YS: Why do you think Indian startups struggle to get business? Let us talk about B2B companies.

Amit: In the B2B space corporations have certain processes that can be daunting for a startup. Sometimes, the startup does not realise that the technology itself may not be ready to be scaled up. If a corporation has to sign up with you then the business proposition should be compelling for them to use the technology. In the end, by using a piece of technology there must be a premium attached to it. Most often startups cannot manage the scale of requirements with a corporation. We are talking about multiple offices and a global workforce, so the startup usually staggers here. The LaunchPad programme will help them with all these aspects, which also include go-to-market strategies. In all I see a great amount of interest in the use of sensors in India for predictive and prescriptive analysis. So for Cisco, this trend is hard to ignore.



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