Cisco Systems, the biggest maker of equipment that runs the internet, plans to cut about 7 percent of its workforce, trying to recast itself as a provider of software-based systems and services.

The company will eliminate 5,500 positions from its workforce of more than 73,700, Cisco said Wednesday in a statement. Savings from the job reductions will be invested in newer businesses that Cisco expects to fuel sales growth, such as cloud computing and connected devices. The company said it will take charges totaling about $700 million associated with the restructuring.

“We need to make some pretty immediate shifts in our portfolio,” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said. “We have rapidly shifting customer expectations. The winners in the future will be the ones that understand those dynamics.”

Chuck Robbins
Chuck Robbins

Robbins, who took over in July 2015, has been working to rekindle growth by shifting Cisco toward software-based networking, security and management products, which customers increasingly prefer because they’re less expensive and more versatile. Cutting Cisco’s workforce may give Robbins the resources to speed the company’s transition, potentially helping it take advantage of stronger demand in markets such as security, which grew 16 percent in the fourth quarter, and collaboration, where sales rose 6 percent.

“We are looking at the areas where we believe growth will come faster,” Robbins said on a conference call. “It’s not that we’re ignoring one in favor of another; we just want to make sure our investments are commensurate with the growth opportunity.”

“Cisco is plodding along,” said David Heger, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. “They’re not overall declining. That’s a signal that they’re managing the transition fairly well.”

Underlining Cisco’s struggles to revitalize growth, the company Wednesday reported fourth-quarter sales that declined 2 percent from the same quarter a year earlier in a “challenging macro environment.”

Orders in emerging markets and to service providers slowed, hurting router revenue, Robbins said. In times of economic uncertainty, companies try to extend the life of existing equipment, he said. Sales in Cisco’s biggest business unit, switching, increased 2 percent to $3.8 billion, while routing, the second-largest revenue source, fell 6 percent to $1.9 billion.

The headcount reduction was much less than some analysts had speculated and in line with a more typical annual cut of 5 percent, Simon Leopold, an analyst at Raymond James, said in a note. Had the reduction in force been larger, investors would have been concerned that Cisco was signaling “a more challenging sales environment than we had expected.”

The company last announced a large round of layoffs in August 2014, when it eliminated 6,000 positions. Cisco’s workforce is down from the 75,000 it employed in 2013.

Results released in May showed that Robbins is making headway in rejiggering Cisco’s businesses. The company projected sales growth of as much as 3 percent in the period that ended in July, compared with analysts’ projections for a revenue decline. Even so, Robbins said the company still has a long way to go and that earnings are not where they should be.

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