Cisco’s smart grid team has just lost a second key executive. Laura Ipsen, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Connected Energy (i.e., smart grid) unit, has left the networking giant to join Microsoft as corporate vice president of its Worldwide Public Sector division.

Marthin De Beer, senior vice president of Cisco's emerging business group, will take over Ipsen’s duties on an interim basis while the company seeks a permanent replacement. Ipsen took over as Cisco’s smart grid chief in 2009, after managing the company’s Global Policy and Government Affairs division. 

Ipsen, who spent more than 16 years with Cisco, is the second high-profile smart grid executive to leave the company this year. Paul De Martini, the former Southern California Edison smart grid chief who joined Cisco in 2009, announced in early January that he was leaving Cisco to start working on a contracted basis on Cisco’s “Gridonomics” smart grid business architecture service.

How will Ipsen’s departure affect Cisco’s sprawling smart grid plans? It’s hard to say, but there's definitely a lot on Cisco's smart grid plate that requires strong execution this year. Ipsen’s last act before leaving was to unveil Cisco’s latest raft of grid networking services last month, and there’s no reason to think the company is going to back off on those ambitions.

Cisco’s new suite includes a beefed-up field-area network architecture that supports its partnership with smart meter vendor Itron, as well as a network management system to serve both its own and others’ smart grid systems.

Likewise, its “GridBlocks Architecture” (PDF) reference model is likely to be a guiding document for a lot of smart grid networking plans, and could see uptake by utility customers seeking to mesh grid systems with workforce and asset management platforms, as well as enterprise business software.

Cisco has already been competing in the field of substation and distribution grid routers, and its broader smart grid plans have been pretty well set for the past year or so. Still, Cisco has backed away from some business lines after key executive departures. Last year, Cisco decided to back out of its Building Mediator line of building energy management products, though it continues to work on building energy controls with such partners as Schneider Electric. That move came shortly after the departure of Ed Richards, a founder of Richards-Zeta Building Intelligence, the company Cisco bought in 2009 and which served as the foundation of its Building Mediator product.

Cisco's utility and energy customers include BC Hydro, Duke Energy, Ausgrid, San Diego Gas & Electric, First Wind, the Western Electric Coordinating Council and others. Partners include utility data analysis company OSIsoft, geographic presentment and interface maker Space-Time Insight and multi-communications network management startup Proximetry, among many others.

Indeed, Cisco is in a class of IT giants like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP that are defining the "soft grid" space through their partnerships and architectures. That means that its decisions reverberate up and down the smart grid food chain. 

Ipsen’s move to Microsoft, however, is not to bolster that company's smart grid efforts (which are mostly in commercial building energy management), or even to work specifically in the energy space. She will lead the company’s sales and marketing organization serving government, public safety and national security, education, and nonprivatized healthcare customers across the globe.

No doubt Cisco's smart grid customers and vendor partners will be watching developments at the business unit with some interest to see if a change in leadership leads to some lines being emphasized over others.


Katherine Tweed contributed to this article.