If you trace the roots of the American tech company Cisco, its foundation – and its future success – was very much based on its desire to help the world communicate.
As an internet pioneer, the network engineering skill of its founders – Stanford University computer science graduates Sandy Lerner and Leonard Bosack – paved the way for the modern era of high-speed connectivity and, of course, remote working.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Cisco has been helping its customers “flip” their business models to keep millions of workers in contact with their offices and colleagues, and to keep the wheels of global productivity turning.
That story is told in the data: according to Cisco’s own survey of 10,000 respondents across 12 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Russia – just 16 per cent of organisations reported having more than half of their workforce remote before the pandemic, a figure that soared to 67 per cent during peak lockdown times.
And even though there is still great uncertainty, the data indicates that – in the UK at least – the remote worker figure is predicted to stay at around 50 per cent post-pandemic.
Cisco works with over 90 per cent of Scottish public sector organisations and has over the years cultivated an unmatched reputation for network engineering and enterprise architecture.
During Covid-19, it has worked to develop that offer further: its Secure Remote Worker solution with built-in multi-factor authentication has enabled organisations to pivot quickly and safely to a trusted environment in which to continue to operate. Also at the core of the offering are security layers that help ward off the growing threat of ransomware, whether it be a VPN or threat detection capabilities that provide visibility from all corners of the internet.
The vastness of its reach through Cisco Talos enables it to scan for – and block – over 20 billion threats a day, reportedly exceeding the total number of daily Google searches.
“Our strengths are threefold,” says Ishbell MacPhail, Cisco’s Country Manager in Scotland. “Trust, innovation and choice. If you look at the data, we support 100 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies, and we’ve been selected as the best place to work globally two years in a row, with Gartner also citing us as the number one supply chain vendor coming out of the pandemic.
“Our products and services are built around that core networking strength, with our highly engineered solutions, but also increasingly around how we can support innovation in emerging cyber technologies through investment and the incubation of cyber startups, right across the UK.
“Allied to that are the scaleability and flexibility of the solutions we offer to customers. Through the pandemic we have helped support the smallest of SMEs to the largest of enterprises, to the frontline of the NHS.”
The product perhaps most familiar to many during the pandemic has been Webex – the conferencing platform used by many public sector organisations in Scotland, including the health and justice sectors. Globally, the platform almost doubled its user base from 342 million to 600 million in what MacPhail says was a “very short space of time”.
The NHS was an organisation Cisco actively “prioritised’ in terms of equipping front-line health workers with the tools they needed to allow them to carry on delivering vital care.
MacPhail adds: “Essentially, it was prioritising government services and all front-facing staff, getting the right infrastructure to customers, securing their enterprises and helping them understand how they could have their people working effectively on any device, from any app, anywhere.
“Because security was such a massive concern for every organisation our focus was on keeping people operational, supporting our customers through a difficult transition and keeping the engine
going. But actually, that remote operational footing required a massive focus on cybersecurity, as we are now working in a world where there is an enhanced threat level.”
The company also has one eye on the future, and how the world is shifting through a time of great
uncertainty. Cisco is aligning itself closely with government priorities and thinking, so that post-pandemic it can play an active role in the notion of “building back better”.
In Scotland, the recent digital strategy refresh – which places a great emphasis on connecting people
to the internet, ensuring that there is fair and equitable access for all – chimes well with Cisco’s purpose of building an inclusive future for all.
At the University of Strathclyde, a 5G demonstrator project is being heralded by the company as both
one with huge innovation potential – to support economic growth in new industry sectors, as well as digital startups based at the campus – but also as a lynchpin in the rollout of next generation connectivity.
It also wants to boost the wider tech skills pool to support the aspirations set out in former Skyscanner chief operating officer Mark Logan’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review, which has been endorsed as a blueprint for tech sector development by the Scottish Government.
Already, Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration programme and Networking Academy is plugging the annual tech skills gap. Worldwide, it has supported more than 12.7 million students with access to Cisco training and qualifications and in Scotland – via educational partnerships with Glasgow Caledonian University and Fife College – 13,000 learners have developed their digital skills with more than 8,000 having completed a professional course giving them an industry qualification and a route
into a new career.
The firm is also supporting a cadre of young police officers to develop their tech skills and help the national force realise its own digital strategic aims.
MacPhail says: “Through this activity, we are cementing our presence in Scotland and supporting both the government’s digital strategy and the Logan review.
“In addition, Cisco believes in the principle that no-one is left behind and we want to do our best to support an inclusive recovery over the next 100 days and beyond. In that sense we are proud of our work supporting the Scottish Women in Technology initiative to try and close what has been a widening gender gap.
“Startups and scale-ups are also in our DNA and through an academic partnership at the University of Edinburgh we are helping to advance an AI and blockchain accelerator.
“We want to play a part in innovative, preventative health and care, too. Our work with housing
associations in Scotland is already connecting residents to accesspoints which can deliver a better quality of life and standard of care.”
She adds: “Of course we want to do all that and remain focused on providing a safe environment for all of our customers, of every size. The Cisco Capital scheme has enabled customers to take advantage of zero per cent finance and extended payment terms, giving them access to multi-layered security products that will help break the kill-chain for new and emerging cyber threats
such as ransomware.
“When we’re talking to customers about enterprise networking, we might be talking about collaboration but we’re always talking about how you secure your environment. For us, cybersecurity is embedded in everything that we do.”
So, what next for a company whose history and culture are so entwined with the internet?
Although network architecture and enterprise solutions remain the core of Cisco’s business, its
last quarter’s growth figures – the biggest bounce in over two years – demonstrate a slow but undeniable shift to delivering its services differently.
Growing automation capabilities will enable the company to provide its customers with greater insights into their data, but the fundamental shift is that of building enterprise services in a hybrid working world.
The skyrocketing demand for software-as-a-service (SaaS) products like Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), will also ensure Cisco remains as committed to innovation as it was over 35 years ago when two young graduates met – and started to connect the world.