AI hype has grown to epic proportions in the 12 months since the last Cisco Live event, with enterprise technology players scrambling to get products sporting the technology into the market and position themselves as a leader in the space.

As a result, it was no great shock to see AI woven into each keynote at Cisco Live 2024 and feature heavily in every session at the associated analyst and media conference.

The technology was pitched as an all-encompassing employee companion for future enterprises. Among the business areas expected to benefit from the latest AI-badged developments are security, network resilience, and customer experience management for call centres and elsewhere.

Cisco has put serious money behind this AI drive. A major part of the show was around highlighting a generation of products benefitting from integrating technology developed by Splunk, the AI cybersecurity specialist it spent $28 billion on in a deal completed earlier this year.

Tom Casey, GM of products and technology at Splunk, said it had made the “quick progress” its customers wanted from the combination.

Platforms set to use technology originally designed by Splunk and Cisco include a network analytics offer covering the full IT stack.  

Cisco executives highlighted several times Splunk was one of a number of AI-related moves, with more than 20 companies already backed by the networking giant. 

This spending looks unlikely to stop anytime soon. During the event, it launched a $1 billion fund for investment in AI start-ups, cash CEO Chuck Robbins was quick to highlight would be spent on companies it can collaborate with to develop products.

Part of the pot has already been earmarked for AI players Cohere, Mistral AI and Scale AI.

On announcing the fund, Robbins acknowledged there had been plenty of similarly large sums spent on AI across the industry, highlighting “everybody yawns when you hear about a billion dollars for AI these days”.

However, he emphasised Cisco planned to do things differently and be more hands-on than a silent investor.

Use cases
In terms of tangible enterprise benefits from AI, generative and otherwise, security, cross-network observability and network resilience were positioned as key areas by Cisco executives.

The company’s security experts positioned its AI-fuelled products as “melting security into the network”, adding improved analytics can provide greater troubleshooting and problem identification for its customers.

Elsewhere, its workplace tools product lines, including its customer experience management platforms, provided some of the most immediate and obvious use cases.

A man wearing glasses, a white shirt, and a blue blazer is sitting on a chair. He has a lapel microphone attached to his shirt. A beverage bottle is placed on a table in front of him. Green plants and a lightly colored background are visible behind him.

During a session on the future workplace, SVP and GM of Cisco’s collaboration division Javed Khan (pictured, left) cited conference call meeting summaries and generating response prompts for customer service agents as real world uses providing value.

“AI ultimately has to deliver better experiences” for employees and customers, he noted, adding the technology will otherwise “just be a buzzword”.

A number of Cisco’s representatives painted a future where every customer service call is initially answered by an AI assistant, with the apparent benefit of eliminating time spent on hold when contacting companies.

Around all of the talk pumping-up AI’s abilities, there was a playing down of fears of mass job losses from the technology’s adoption.

It was positioned very much as an assistant to human employees rather than a replacement.

A person is standing on a stage, wearing a brown leather jacket, white shirt, and blue jeans. They have short dark hair and are holding a microphone. The background is dark with some blurred lights.

Cisco EVP and chief customer experience officer Liz Centoni (pictured, left) noted the “magic of AI is all around us…our AI assistants are getting so much better at generating content, understanding semantic relationships and delivering great insights from the data it has”.

“But when it comes to understanding complex human emotions, ambiguous tasks, ambitious tasks, I think it’s about as clueless as a goldfish in a maze. And that’s where humans come in. We bring our innate empathy and emotional intelligence”, she added, describing AI as having a “brilliant but slightly awkward genius”.

Given the vast amount of resources being spent by Cisco and others on developing and promoting the technology to customers, it and its peers will be hopeful enough enterprises are willing to pay extra for the benefits of that slightly awkward genius to make the high value bets pay out.