By Michael Kanellos
Cisco (CSCO) may have decided to kill its popular Flip video camera, but it will still continue -- as an afterthought of sorts -- to look at the smart grid.
The networking giant earlier this month decided to concentrate on its core businesses -- data centers, video, collaboration, switching -- but it didn't mention grid. Take a look at the canned speech: the word "grid" doesn't even show up. CEO John Chambers, however, amplified his comments at a subsequent conference to say that the company will still invest in it.
"And when you're growing, let's say for the purpose of discussion, in the high teens, you can afford to bet in many areas. When you're growing at a lower number, just for the purpose of discussion let's cut that number in half, you can't afford many of the other areas. So we're going to cut back on the number of priorities, get very focused on our top five, drive it through. That doesn't mean we won't invest in security or smart grid or some of the big plays that will be big plays in the future. We clearly will," he said.
(Emphasis added by Cisco's PR department.)
So there you have it. Still, one has to wonder how deep the commitment will be or how it will change over time. Selling smart grid equipment is not fun. The main customers are utilities, and they tend to be conservative, cautious and slow. Like China, they think in terms of dynasties, not quarterly reports. Single deals can bring in tremendous amounts of revenue, but they aren't easy to land. Competitors seemed to revel in talking about Cisco and its utility progress at Distributech.
Cisco, moreover, has a few other products that will likely soar as companies seek to reduce energy consumption. Datacenters are investing heavily in virtualization and datacenter services, while videoconferencing has emerged as one of the best, if not the best, green technology in terms of return on investment. SAP's Cisco video system paid for itself in a year in reduced plane tickets to Frankfurt. Millions of customers, not a few thousand, exist in these markets.
This will weigh on Chambers' mind as he reaches for another can of Diet Coke. It will be interesting to watch. (Disclosure: this is all personal opinion; others at this company strongly disagree.)
-- ABB (ABB), the Swedish-Swiss conglomerate that has been buying other companies with abandon, is taking advantage of them too. ABB said it has won a deal to provide distribution automation solutions, software and mobile technology to CenterPoint, and some of the underlying technology comes from Ventyx, which ABB bought last year and turned into a subsidiary, and Obvient, which Ventyx bought in 2011. Acquisitions often go awry: Intel is notorious for buying companies they later sell off. Cisco is one of the best at absorbing acquisitions -- and look what happened to Flip.
So hats off to ABB. On another note, keep an eye on Europe. Although the world is obsessed with China, European companies -- Schneider Electric, Areva, Veolia, ABB, Siemens -- are some of the most active acquirers.
Back in early 2008, this author bravely predicted that green could make Europe, which largely missed the IT revolution, an industrial power. Hey, that's my byline. Imagine that.
Come see ABB and the other Euro powers at Networked Grid conference May 3 and 4 in San Francisco.
-- Please welcome Panoramic Power (OTCPK:PANRF) to the building automation/energy conservation market. The company raised $4.5 million in a second round from Israel Cleantech Ventures (OTCPK:CTEK), Qualcomm Ventures (QCOM), Greylock Partners and the Israel Electric Company. Panoramic measures energy consumption and comes up with solutions to curb power via data mining and cloud computing. That makes it similar to Scientific Conservation (commercial buildings), EnerNoc (ENOC) (commercial buildings and demand response), Serious Materials and Cimetrics (buildings with a particular concentration on campuses), EPS (industrial sites and equipment), SynapSense and Sentilla (datacenters), Redwood Systems (lights) and all of those Euro conglomerates listed above.
It's a big market. Room exists. Acquisitions will also occur. Having Qualcomm and a utility as investors will likely open doors.
--Finally, in power production, General Electric (GE) won a deal to install 2.5-megawatt turbines in Poland, while United Solar will open a 15 MW plant in Ontario, the growing solar colossus of the north.