Photograph by Christopher Furlong via Getty Images
By Jonathan Vanian
August 19, 2016

What’s the cost of a so-called “digital transformation”? Judging from recent layoffs hitting big business technology companies, it appears to be more than 60,000 jobs over the past year.

Cisco’s decision this week to slash 5,500 employees highlights an unfortunate truth in an era in which businesses are bombarded with the message that they must go “digital” or face irrelevancy and extinction. Essentially, Cisco wants to focus more on higher-growth product lines involving software and less on its slowing legacy networking hardware business.

Yes, businesses must stay competitive in a rapidly changing technological world. But doing so is not as easy as buying the latest software service in the cloud or analyzing buckets of marketing data that have been unexamined since the early 2000s.

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There’s a human element that often gets overlooked when companies try to stay up to date with current technological trends. The quest for more “business agility” means that employees whose work is presumably no longer relevant or needed will be cut sooner rather than later.

The irony, though, is that many of the enterprise technology companies preaching the “go digital or go home” message are undergoing massive restructurings themselves, primarily because customers are no longer buying business technology in the same way as they used to.

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Companies like Cisco (csco), EMC (emc), NetApp (ntap), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (hpe), and IBM (ibm) are all overhauling their businesses as customers change how they buy technology. As these established companies shift to more software-oriented products, the hardworking hardware teams that were once their crown jewels are being slashed.

It’s as cold as it is digital, and it’s a software-oriented transformation that these companies are making just to survive.

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