Cisco South Africa is laying the global foundations for the next stage of the Internet – the Internet of Everything. We spoke to Cathy Smith, general manager, about the promise of connectivity and the company’s plans for the future.
Cisco Systems, Inc. was founded by the husband and wife team Leonard Bosack and Sandy Lerner. While they were both employed by America’s Stanford University in the 1980s they wanted to email each other from different buildings, but found that they couldn’t using the technology available to them.
They pooled their knowledge and created a multi-protocol router that quickly became commercially successful, largely due to the flexibility of its operating system that allowed for easy upgrades as the IT boom took hold. Today Cisco’s employee count sits at over 70,000 and its revenue reached $12.68 billion during first quarter of the fiscal year 2016.
Cathy Smith, General Manager of Cisco South Africa, says that “over the last 30 years, Cisco has been the world leader in connecting people, things and technologies – to each other and to the Internet with our products, services and integrated solutions.
In today’s increasingly digital world, we help customers in every industry use technology – and specifically the network – to grow their businesses, drive efficiencies and gain competitive advantage.”
Cisco System, Inc. develop and sell a large range of products in order to achieve this aim. With over 300 product families they have a wide range of technology targeted at a spectrum of customers with vastly different expectations.
Smith elaborates. “Most Cisco products use a configure-to-order production model. Products are built based on confirmed customer orders. A large percentage of Cisco growth comes through acquisitions, and they bring their own supply chain requirements and processes that need to be integrated into Cisco core operations.”
In other words since the inception of its very first product the idea of customer-centric solutions is essential to Cisco’s philosophy.
Innovation has also always been at the heart of what Cisco do. According to Smith Cisco’s “unique selling point is our focus on innovation” and “we understand that our innovation is the core of why our customers are confident in our ability to help address their challenges.”
This focus on innovation has allowed Cisco not only to constantly develop new technologies in order to meet its customer’s demands, but also pioneer new strategies in the way they sell their products. A well-known example of this was their decision to launch a campaign to introduce a new router solely on social media advertising. The launch ended up being one of the top five in the company’s history and over $100,000 was saved on normal launch expenses.
Helping Africa Connect
We spoke to Cathy Smith about some of the ways Cisco has been helping to develop Africa’s IT infrastructure. She told us about Cisco’s involvement in the Square Kilometre Array project, an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. The Square Kilometre Array project will represent a huge leap forward for astronomy and promises to be one of the most exciting developments for the scientific community in the coming years.
“A flagship project which Cisco, in collaboration with the South African Department of Science and Technology, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has invested in, is the Square Kilometre Array project. The SKA is a natural extension of the Internet of Everything in that it will bring together people, processes, data and things to change outcomes and pioneer research in optical transport and big data – and South Africa will be at the forefront of these exciting developments.”
Smith told EBA that Cisco’s support towards SKA comprises of four main areas.
“Firstly there’s the Cisco Net Academy and Knowledge Centre in the remote town of Carnavon, Northern Cape, where the SKA is hosted. The purpose of the Academy is to help local community members develop basic and intermediate ICT and networking skills.
Then there’s the Optical Transport Research, also in partnership with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in support of the SKA in South Africa, which involved a donation of Cisco equipment, as well as a fully-fledged, multi-million dollar, state of art lab facility donation, and direct access to key expert resources in the Cisco optical engineering business unit.
Thirdly we managed to organise the donation of state of the art, next generation data centre fabric lab equipment to the SKA South Africa project office, to enable testing and validation of the central signal processing architectural and technical specification requirements.
Finally there was the donation of a Cisco Telepresence system to SKA South Africa and its key partner sites, providing high definition immersive video capabilities to enable and facilitate collaboration both locally and internationally.”
Cisco is also investing a lot into the continued development of South Africa as a world player in science and technology. They are doing this partly because they recognise the workforce requirements are shifting as increasing technological infrastructure continues to influence how businesses operate. They are dedicated to addressing the challenge of educating a workforce that will be faced with exponential digitization in the coming decades. Smith says that “it is essential to work towards solving this problem now, by investing not only in the technology required to be competitive with the rest of the world, but also in the skill sets needed to implement this technology.”
It’s exciting to see a large company investing in their potential future employees, as well the employees in other areas of the industry that will be needed as the world becomes more and more connected. As well as some of the projects Smith describes above Cisco are also investing at a more fundamental level.
Smith tells EBA that “Cisco has developed the Networking Academy programme and formed several partnerships with businesses, governments and educational institutions across Africa in line with this way of thinking. There are more than 870 academies throughout the continent linked to NGOs, schools and universities, with 60 000 active students taking part in the programmes offered. From computer clubs for young children and courses teaching basic knowledge of how to use a computer, to A+ computer technician courses on understanding hardware and software, Linux Essentials courses, CCNA accreditation and even networking courses in Sign Language for the deaf community, the aim is to equip students with practical skills to succeed in the working world.”
It’s clear then that Cisco South Africa is deeply involved at all levels in progressing IT in South Africa and the continent. With companies acting so generously it’s easy to be hopeful about Africa’s place in the world’s continuing digitization and connection.
This brings us to another focus of Cisco, and one of the hottest buzz words of the moment – the Internet of Everything.
The Internet of Everything
Note that this is not just the Internet of Things. The Internet of Everything takes that concept and brings it to another level. As a company whose essential product and expertise is connection, Cisco have placed themselves at the forefront of this exciting global phenomenon.
While the Internet of Things involves objects being able to communicate digitally and cooperate without human intervention, the Internet of Everything brings humans, systems, companies and well… everything also into the mix. The Internet of Everything is the idea that, in the not too distant future, in some way everything will be connected to everything else. Cathy Smith and Cisco are very excited by this idea and it’s at the very core of Cisco’s business strategy.
The Internet of Everything is already becoming a big thing in the developed world. Part of Cisco’s strategy of investment is their desire to get Africa more involved. Smith suggests that “the world’s developing and emerging economies should embrace the potential of ICT to drive social and economic transformation and catch up with other nations.”
This presents governments and companies with some huge tasks. Smith summarises what needs to be done.
“In order for African cities, countries and economic systems to embrace the Internet of Everything, each institution must become fully digitised. And if you want to become a digital business you’ll need an agile IT model and the ability to rethink core processes for the digital era. Embracing new security, cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies required to become fully digitized takes imagination, investment and expertise.”
Judging by what Smith has been telling us, Cisco South Africa can’t be accused of lacking those three essential qualities.
New Problems, New Solutions
Implementing the Internet of Everything will bring untold benefit to people’s lives and is a key aspect to the growth of the developing world. However, as with anything else, new systems bring new problems and it takes the three qualities Smith describes above to provide solutions to them.
Smith identifies the biggest problem facing a more connected world as cyber security. While businesses grow and embrace new information technologies security has sometimes been an afterthought, and this is a problem that needs addressing. Smith explained to us that “in the past there was a disconnect between business and IT. CEOs never paid sufficient attention to cyber security, and mobile defence was regarded as an afterthought. However, as cyber-attacks increase in frequency, CEOs and employees are now forced to take cyber security seriously.”
Security is a huge part of Cisco’s operations as they recognise that the process of connecting must also involve the process of securing. Smith says that “Cisco has been securing organisations of all sizes for decades, and we understand the rapidly changing security landscape. Our customers need to maintain a secure end-to-end environment to protect critical infrastructure, data and intellectual property.”
The vast increase in mobile connection also brings the problem of security to the average consumer. Rather worryingly for those of us who don’t necessary think about this sort of things Smith comments that “an example of a key driver in mobile security breaches is the reality that most apps developed are not secure by design as many developers use open source components, which result in vulnerabilities.”
Let’s hope that Cisco have got our backs when it comes to our day to day app usage too.
Smith doesn’t mince her words when it comes to describing the aim of Cisco Systems, Inc. “Cisco is focused on becoming the number one technology company globally”, she says. Cisco are currently embarking on a campaign to help companies realise how much value will be gained by implementing the Internet of Everything in the coming decade. According to Smith “the Internet of Everything will deliver $19T of value to individuals, businesses and countries globally. Our goal is to be a strategic partner to our customers as they move from traditional to digital businesses.”
Smith also told EBA about its plans for operations in South Africa. As well as investing in education and the SKA project they are looking at several fundamental long term strategies.
These including increasing the service providers that bring high bandwidth access and IP services to Africa, and healthcare in order to improve the citizen’s quality of life. In order to sustain South Africa’s natural resources Smith also suggests that South Africa’s Critical National Infrastructure must be improved. Smith describes security as “a key enabler to the digital economy” and their dedication to this problem is one of the most visible aspects to their presence online, and the enormous increase in wearable devices will also be important to Cisco’s future.
All of these strategies are related to Cisco’s dedication to the Internet of Everything, and their core belief that a world with better connections will be a better one in which to live. It’s clear that Cisco’s passion for developing IT in Africa is genuine, and we look forward to witnessing how their influence helps Africa to grow.