I was at a survival training team activity recently. My biggest insight (besides the fact that Darwin would have written me off!) was how many different ways a wooden plank could be used to aid in survival. The plank truly became the foundation for a series of innovative use cases that could potentially aid my chances of survival. If I were to apply this analogy to the world of business – enterprises are still comprehending the onslaught of digitization, the network is the plank that enterprises could learn to utilize in order to aid their transformation and growth.
The network that we once took for granted as being the conveyor belt for inter-enterprise and intra-enterprise connectivity is now morphing into the lifeblood of enterprises. At a recent customer event, I heard of how hospitals use Cisco’s BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) based product and solution to track mission critical equipment like heart monitors to locate them easily whenever they are needed across emergency rooms and operation theaters. Likewise, another customer told me about the network controlling the physical perimeter of their building including doors, lights and security cameras. These use cases are not isolated. We take this responsibility of powering complete businesses very seriously. Not just in terms of product breadth, scalability and security but a more fundamental aspect – quality.
This translates into three key focus areas for the software engineering team at Cisco. First, we attempt to understand customers and their use cases, deployment scenarios, development environments and constraints better. This allows us to build better quality products ground-up that hopefully require less customization and handholding once placed within a customer’s ecosystem. We partner with our customers across several high-touch, active listening modes including engineer-engineer connect programs and co-development initiatives. This enables our engineers and designers to understand how the products they build are used in a customer’s environment. We also have several low-touch listening mechanisms including various telemetry methods, surveys, instant feedback mechanisms that provide us with data.
The second principle of quality we follow is reducing the underlying complexity of our software without compromising on functionality. Cisco has a legacy of building and buying its engineering horsepower. This sometimes translates to disparate systems. Improving the quality and customer experience of our products has meant creating operational simplicity. Our effort to consolidate our operating systems across 15+ product families to one operating system is already showing early signs of success. Other architectural improvements include efforts towards creating software patches rather than full-scale upgrades, improved serviceability levels and providing solution support rather than just stand-alone product support.
The final pillar that holds our quality strategy together is how we measure ourselves, and the metrics we actively track. While we continue to keep our eye on post-release metrics, we are beginning to now build advanced predictive intelligence into our in-process quality monitoring. We use algorithmic functions to study patterns of quality escapes, which in turn enable us to predict future hot spots. With this effort, we are attempting to shift our quality mindset to early intervention rather than the traditional approach of hyper-reliance on downstream testing.
Our quality journey is far from perfect or complete. However, we approach every quality intervention – immediate or foundational – with a sense of awe and humility at the sheer impact our products have on our customers and in turn their consumers. The effort with this blog was to share a behind-the-scenes view to how Cisco engineering is continuously chipping away at quality. We hope this conveys our primary sentiment that we have your back.
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