Monday, December 5, 2022

Cisco VP highlights need for inclusivity when entering the 4IR

As the global health crisis slowly subsides, one cannot ignore the fact that the pandemic forced a brave new world onto all of us. Pandemic-infused conundrums have evolved from mere debates between both people and companies, are now being actionably championed by those looking to thrive within the fourth industrial revolution.

The future of work, digital transformation, cybersecurity, smart cities, privacy, and everything in between have been thrown into the limelight, as the decisions and regulations taken today will affect our relationship with tech for generations to come.

To everyone, it’s considered a whole new world of opportunity where organizations of all walks of life have been forced to convert to digital, not only to remain adaptable to the winds of change of technology, but to merely survive the data explosion to come.

A 2018 McKinsey survey showed that well before the pandemic, 92 percent of company leaders believed “their business model would not remain economically viable through digitization.”

While companies across the globe have invested their resources into future-proofing their organizations, not many have championed the 4IR as notable as California-based tech giant, Cisco, who has been pushing for a more digital future from the get-go.

Inside Telecom sat down with Reem Asaad, Cisco’s Vice President for Middle East Africa, to better understand the company’s focus and efforts for what’s ahead.

INSIDE TELECOM: Cisco has been a driving force in a number of technological avenues, most notably by championing both remote and hybrid working models; accordingly, how does the company view the future of work? And how will Cisco look to double down on this view?

Asaad: At Cisco we believe work is not where you go, it’s what you do. That’s why we’re flexible on the numbers of days in — or out — of the office. In fact, pre-pandemic only a third of our employees were in the office full time, so we’ve long been a hybrid-first company.

This puts Cisco, and our technologies, in a unique position to help other organizations advance their hybrid work strategies. We view powering hybrid work in two distinct ways: enabling a Hybrid Workforce and transforming Hybrid Workspaces.

Enabling a Hybrid Workforce means providing secure access and collaboration from anywhere, anytime. Transforming your Hybrid Workspace only happens when networking, security, and collaboration tools come together to enhance health and well-being, safety, and efficiencies.

INSIDE TELECOM: Remote working is considered as an important aspect of digital transformation with some calling it “a main pillar of the fourth industrial revolution,” with that in mind, how is Cisco looking to bolster digitization on enterprise-level with its offering?

Asaad: We’ve been taking significant steps forward in helping the industries unlock the potential of their hybrid workforces – providing with unique insights and studies, while enabling them to collaborate in new ways and drive inclusive experience.

Since the pandemic started, Cisco has launched more than 1,000 Webex innovations. At WebexOne 2021 that was held recently, we announced significant new innovations across Webex ecosystem, the industry’s first and most comprehensive end-to-end hybrid work solution.

Webex Suite’s new meetings and messaging capabilities help our customers empower equal participation, from everywhere. Similarly, our new collaboration devices enhance effective collaboration, and the new Webex Events portfolio powers hybrid events at scale. Additionally, Webex interoperability with Zoom, Microsoft and Google video communications platforms ensures seamless collaboration with customers’ preferred platforms and devices.

INSIDE TELECOM: As all aspects of life are quickly and fully transitioning into digital, the importance of cybersecurity grows along with it, how is Cisco applying a security-by-design approach to its products within its core industries of focus?

Asaad: We believe that security has to be at the heart of everything. Cisco is major player in the cybersecurity market, and we’ve been building security into all of our technology, including user and email access, device and endpoint protection, network security, and locking down apps and data.

We also made several product announcements recently, including SecureX enhancements that address integrating IT and security inventory and visibility, endpoint detection and response (EDR) to XDR transition functions, new cloud security features via its SASE offering, updates to its Umbrella cloud-based firewall, and a new cloud-native firewall for Kubernetes development environments.

INSIDE TELECOM: Companies, as well as people, are bombarded every day with a plea to become more secure online, yet cyber-attacks and breaches are dominating the news cycle week-in and week-out, giving the impression that these tips and pleas are not sticking. Since cybersecurity is considered one of Cisco’s fortes, what advice can the company give both groups to bolster their cybersecurity efforts?

Asaad: Whether we like it or not, cybersecurity is a topic that affects society as a whole. Security is the most important investment that a company can ever make. While it may be true that an investment in security is unlikely to generate new business, it cannot be denied that investing in security will prevent a company from experiencing serious resources losses and seeing its reputation compromised, perhaps irremediably. The damage can be so significant that even established companies have gone out of business after a cybersecurity attack.

Therefore, companies must secure every single component of the system: hardware, software, and network.

INSIDE TELECOM: As we’ve previously touched up, remote working, digital transformation, and cybersecurity are all intertwined in the development and transition into smart cities and communities; accordingly, could you briefly walk us through Cisco’s role within this transition?

Asaad: Digital technologies are the key driver to achieving social and economic good and powering an inclusive future for all. We at Cisco work closely with all public and private sector partners to develop an integrated vision, which reflects the leadership’s efforts to create community and aspiration-driven cities of the future, with flexible infrastructure that is capable to manage and deliver connected urban services.

From inclusive access to smart water systems, Cisco is a trusted partner in enabling cities to operate sustainably and meet the needs of their citizens.

INSIDE TELECOM: In your opinion, what have been the main obstacles within this transition?

Asaad: Many cities today have ambitions of becoming the smart cities of tomorrow. But to achieve this, they need to overcome the challenges associated with mapping out a complex strategy that involves public and private participants, direct and indirect stakeholders, integrators, network and managed service providers, product vendors and IT infrastructure providers.

Smart city planning is a balancing act that involves citizens, public organizations, state and local government and private enterprises. Once this balance is achieved, it creates huge opportunities for business, sustainability, disaster prevention, public safety, and quality of life improvements.

Investment must come not only in terms of infrastructure, but also in upskilling and developing digital competencies in the people who will operate and oversee various aspects of the smart city. With little margin for error, a smart city can only be enabled if the people bringing it to life are forward-thinking and fully knowledgeable of the tasks at hand. At Cisco, our Networking Academy (NetAcad) program is designed to do exactly that – build digital skills to futureproof careers and help nations advance their digital agendas. Since the program was introduced to the MEA region, we have trained in excess of 1.6 million students. Today, we have well over 1,600 active academies, in countries ranging from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to Egypt, South Africa and Kenya to name but a few.

INSIDE TELECOM: How can Cisco, and other major tech companies offer assistance to governments to hasten the progression into smart cities in an efficient and secure way for all?

Asaad: At Cisco, we believe that technology is the ultimate enabler and unifying link which makes people’s ambitions a reality. However, in the context of a smart city, a city can only be classed as ‘smart’ if it truly works for its people. Top-down approaches to smart city planning often do not consider the idiosyncrasies which may occur on a more granular, grassroots level. This is a mistake. A smart city requires constant iteration between its leadership, technology providers, end users and the wider public to create improved outcomes which can benefit the masses.

To address this, at Cisco, we are proud to be running an initiative known as our Country Digital Acceleration (CDA program). The program is a long-term partnership through which we work alongside national leadership, industry, and academia to achieve a country’s vision for a smarter and more sustainable future.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are local examples of nations we work closely with in the region, via our CDA program. Sectors which we continue to work alongside local stakeholders to transform range from education and healthcare, to trade, tourism and energy. In each case, it is digitization which is key to developing a particular industry, and we think not only about how the city can be reimagined to for the benefit of the economy, but also to improve quality of life for all.

INSIDE TELECOM: Smart city development comes hand-in-hand with greener initiatives that are meant to foster a fiercer fight against climate; earlier in September, Cisco committed itself to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, could you briefly walk us through the company’s roadmap?

Asaad: For more than 15 years, Cisco has worked toward a sustainable future by reducing emissions, reducing waste, building more efficient products, and setting and achieving ambitious goals.

We recently announced our commitment to reaching net zero for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across all scopes by 2040, 10 years ahead of when climate scientists say the planet must reach net zero to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Cisco’s net zero goal will be supported by ambitious near-term targets, including to reach net zero for all global Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 2025.

To reach net zero include:

  • Continuing to increase the energy efficiency of our products through innovative product design
  • Accelerating use of renewable energy
  • Embracing hybrid work
  • Investing in carbon removal solutions