John Chambers, the CEO of networking giant Cisco Systems, was in fine evangelical mode today, laying out his company's vision of a future where intelligent networks power IT and collaboration is the key driver for businesses.

"My role is to challenge your thought process," Chambers told attendees at his keynote address at Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco.

Chambers' take is that many IT vendors and customers have gotten overly comfortable with current systems and are nervous about change. But he maintains that major change is needed for companies, including his own, to remain globally competitive.

Such change may well feel strange as, according to Chambers, more and more intelligence, previously part of applications, middleware and operating systems, will reside instead in the network. At the same time, storage and applications will be completely virtualised. Users won't know where the application they're deploying resides. The network will be able to connect any device's screen to any application an individual is authorised to access.

The added intelligence in the network will mean that users will be able to communicate with each other in the format they each prefer with the network making the necessary translations.

At the same time, organisations will need to change their business processes and move from having a command-and-control focus on individual silos of expertise such as financials and human resources to enabling collaboration and communication across the entire company.

Cisco has been working at bringing such change to its internal operations, he said, and, at first, it was a painful process. "We lost huge productivity in our first two years," he said, but now having put collaboration at the heart of its decision-making process, the company is able to be much more nimble.