MWC 2016: Cisco CEO on the Economy & Encryption
BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2016 -- Cisco's new CEO thinks that technology spending -- at least on certain projects -- is not as subject to the unpredictable economic conditions as it was a decade ago.
The networking vendor's annual media round-table here at Mobile World Congress gives Cisco execs a chance to take on weighty topics in the technology and socio-economic sphere. It was no exception this time, as CEO Chuck Robbins touched on the possibility of an economic downturn and the challenge of balancing citizen and government rights in the debate over when national security trumps the right to privacy.
"There is more uncertainty than there was three or four months ago," Robbins said, when asked whether market volatility could put a crimp in spending on tech. Today, however, is different from ten years ago, when technology spending was regarded by corporate customers as a "necessary evil."
"Today, technology has to be at the heart of their strategy," he said. That is true at least for crucial projects, so while a switch refresh might wait a couple months, a network security upgrade wouldn't.
Now that Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Cisco are partners, planning to sell into the enterprise, Robbins was unsurprisingly grilled several times about Apple's battle with the FBI, which wants the company to help it break into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, to access the data held therein. Apple has so far refused to do that. (See Apple & Cisco Plot an Enterprise Fast Lane.)
The Cisco CEO tried to walk a nuanced line on the issue. "There is no easy answer... I believe that encryption is incredibly important," he told the assorted reporters. "I do not believe that we should put backdoors into our products... that weaken the products," Robbins said.
He suggested that citizens have a right to "transparency" as regards security options but that "there really needs to be a balance" between citizens' rights and expectations and national security. Robbins didn't directly say it, but he appeared to favor a less absolutist approach than Apple boss Tim Cook.
He also didn't exactly say how such a balance could be achieved, other than stressing "transparency." Robbins did suggest, however, that the pendulum tends to swing between the need for perceived security and perceived privacy, depending whether a country is on a war footing or in a prolonged peaceful period.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading