Cisco Connect 2015

As a watchword, “change is constant,” would be a fair representation of the state of the ICT nation. But given recent transformation at Cisco and seismic shifts in the industry as a whole, it may have been more accurate for VP of marketing at Cisco Canada Mark Collins to launch the Cisco Connect 2015 event with ‘change is in hyperdrive’. Just a week prior to event, 20 year veteran of the CEO’s seat John Chambers announced his retirement, and Cisco proclaimed the July ascension of Chuck Robbins, a choice that came as a surprise to many industry watchers. This shift at the top levels had its counterpart on the Canadian front with the October 2014 appointment of Bernadette Wightman, the newish president who is actively putting her stamp on Canadian operations. And on a less auspicious note, ongoing personnel change has also been demonstrated in layoffs – eight percent of the company’s global workforce in 2014 – that are part of a restructuring campaign aimed at improving efficiencies and addressing technology disruption, notably the rise of SDN and its potential to impact core Cisco business.

So how is the company managing this massive sea change? If the Toronto Cisco Connect 2015 event is any indication, with a ‘steady as she goes’ advance on the good ship IoE, a craft that set sail a couple years back provisioned with research into Internet of Everything (IoE) business value, an expanding partner crew, multiple private and public sector ports of call and the IT infrastructure needed to capitalize on this growing opportunity.

Joseph Bradley, VP, IoE practice, Cisco Consulting Services
Joseph Bradley, VP, IoE practice, Cisco Consulting Services

In his keynote address to the record 2,000 event attendees, Joseph Bradley, VP, IoE practice, Cisco Consulting Services, underscored the importance of IoE to Cisco strategy and to the coming digital transformation of industry. According to Bradley, as the “world becomes hyperaware” through the distribution of sensor technology (24 billion sensors shipped in 2014, he claimed), “IoE is the vehicle for unlocking insight” – the “currency of 20th century.” And as guidance for companies looking to profit from “digital disruption,” he offered the following “top five implications”:

  • Though data is everywhere, insights are scarce; however, people expect companies to do something with their information.
  • Real-time is too late. In some cases, predictive analysis is required. With breast cancer, for example, early detection is critical – and supported through the iT bra currently on trial at the El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California, which is equipped with sensors that measure tissue temperatures to determine if cancer cells are growing.
  • If life doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work. Bradley pointed to findings in a survey of 127 Fortune 500 companies in which 57 percent rate poorly on mobile capability; of these, 38 percent outsource mobile app development, and 17 percent do in-house mobile app development.
  • Context is king. ‘Personalization’ is something everyone talks about, but this depends on context. “Just because you know my name, doesn’t mean you know me,” Bradley explained, rather digital behaviour is detected by context. Approximately 81.5 percent of VC funding is dedicated to predictive analytics startups, he added.
  • Innovation is more than ideation. Kodak invented the digital camera, but innovation is about ideation combined with execution, and commercialization is accelerated through multi-party, multi-disciplinary innovation.

According to Bradley, digital technologies are engendering a fundamental shift to new business models, such as the community platform which takes advantage of the wisdom of the crowd (ex. CrowdMed), and Internet-based services that offer new levels of customer empowerment (the Hilton’s market worth is now US$24 billion; Airbnb’s valuation is now US$35 billion) or frictionless life (Apple Pay was responsible for one percent of digital payment dollars weeks after launch in November because the company made online payment easier and faster). But capitalizing on new business models is about more than technology in the Cisco schema, in fact, Bradley devoted a good deal of his talk to the IoE quartet: “value in not in the number of things [deployed}, but in the connections of people, process, data and things,” he noted.

Bradley’s observations are based on the consulting group’s examination of 300 use cases and the resulting IoE Value Index, which has calculated IoE opportunity in a range of industries, including: 15.6 percent new opportunity in retail through checkout optimization, augmented reality offers, smart car, and automatic replenishment; 15.2 percent in financial services through video-based advisors and IoE enabled insurance; 11 percent in the oil & gas industries through wireless-enabled safety improvement and real time tracking video analytics, the decrease of drill time through edge intelligence/virtual experts, and efficiency improvements through automated loading/truck identification; and a 2 percent GDP improvement through enhancement of citizen utility, cyber security or smart solutions in lighting and parking. In Bradley’s view, a final requirement for digital transformation is “inclusive leadership” that is willing to act on data, that can align service delivery with the appropriate area of the business, and that uses collaboration to share and to find the right expert in order to drive participation and close the “execution gap.” According to Cisco research, 93 percent of “inclusive enterprises” outperform others who do not boast inclusive leadership.

Bernadette Wightman, president, Cisco Canada
Bernadette Wightman, president, Cisco Canada

Connect 2015 had more to say on the issue of leadership: Canadian president Bernadette Wightman noted that incoming CEO Chuck Robbins is “a champion of diversity” who places real value on teamwork, but is “very much an execution engine.” In Canada, ‘execution’ is taking the form of a move to new headquarters that feature state-of-the-art collaborative workspaces and will house one of eight global Cisco innovation hubs, as well as support for the Pan Am Games, which Wightman claimed will “most connected games ever” and alignment of Games work with Cisco’s educational goal of making technology seem fun – particularly to young women who continue to be underrepresented in the tech industry.

Since taking the Canadian helm, Wightman has engaged in extensive consultation with customers and employees to better understand needs and talent pools. The upshot is a new approach to staffing that will see more Cisco sales folk engage directly with customers, as well as a new program aimed at developing internal employees which will supplement their domain and consulting expertise with sales training to enable existing staff to explore the range of career options. The program targeted enrollment of 35 employees – 45 volunteered. Another intent of the program is to develop the sales function to address the growing need for companies to sell to the business manager in addition to IT, and for Cisco to transition to the sale of IoE solutions, such as Connected City, which Wightman added is coming soon to an as yet unspecified Canadian city, which will “overtake Barcelona” in terms of IoE scope.

Of course, IoE is already making headway in Canada, as evidenced by the panel of implementers from the southern Ontario region, who were on hand to discuss their IoE projects. Headed up by Cisco Canada IoE lead Victor Woo, the panel included Brandon Scott, IT director at Metrolinks, which connected 2,800 digital security cameras to its IP network eight years ago, has now deployed digital signage in 30 stations, is using mobile apps to push scheduling information, and has enabled connected trip planning through its website. Going forward, Scott is looking forward to connected rail services – the “OpExpress Launch” – that can provide seamless WiFi-based infotainment even when the train is traveling really quickly, and ultimately to deployment of the network backbone that can provide “positive train control” or proactive maintenance and safety monitoring and better energy management on devices.

Deployment of The Internet of Things in urban environments was outlined in the panel by the City of Mississauga, which has built IoT on its own private fibre network. According to city CIO Shawn Slack, Mississauga’s implementation has extended connectivity to many different places, and sensors now deliver so much real time information that staff have transitioned from looking for reports to looking for analytics. Systems such as advanced traffic management and smart lighting have produced significant savings for the city, and going forward, Mississauga intends to build connections to additional communities – Port Credit, for example – and to position IoT as a business development opportunity. Prospects for success are good: strong support at the mayoral level, and the city’s establishment of partnerships across different geographical and regional governments demonstrate Mississauga’s ability to negotiate one of the key challenges in IoT – competing interests in the multi-agency organization. Mississauga now has a project manager for Internet of Things who evaluates and builds the business case for individual projects, and as Slack explained, IT is brought in as a contractor in virtually all construction/facilities conversations.

For Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the target was not just connectivity, but service delivery defined by senior director of IT Sasha Puric as “the next generation fan experience,” in which analytics replace “the heart” of the game. Two years ago, the organization partnered with Cisco to build a massive entertainment portal that provides sports data but also information on facilities services and how to navigate the MLSE buildings. With wireless infrastructure in place across its properties, MLSE is moving into digital signage, and working to gather information on the fan base – the identity of the people in the building – using Cisco CMX and occupancy analytics to better target services. And in the ultimate IoT deployment, Puric wondered how the game might change when players wear sensors, and video is used to analyze this action.

IoE opportunities in education outlined at the event covered what is perhaps the broadest territory. From Peel District School Board, CIO Mark Keating described the board’s $8 million project to support ubiquitous WiFi for BYOD, which managed to bring 65,000 wireless devices onto the network in a nine month period. As Keating explained, the WAN and LAN and network core – all Cisco – had to be robust and seamless to meet student need for instant on connectivity. Next up for Peel is video conferencing and collaboration that can support new use cases for 20th century digital classroom – connecting with students in other countries, introducing new online programs and reducing staff travel.

Across these different IoT experiences, a number of common challenges emerged – how to best effect change management, the skills shortages in IoT, how to engage in continuous innovation, and the need to partner appropriately for some components of the solution that are not readily available through in-house resources. But these challenges pale in comparison to the paucity of technology and people resources that exist in Nunavit and to the enormous need for medical and educational services in northern regions. In an update on Cisco’s Connected North initiative launched a year ago to provide mental health support for youth in Nunavit, VP corporate affairs for Cisco Canada Willa Black described Cisco’s partnership with Sick Kids Hospital, which provided doctor’s services and the Royal Bank Foundation, which paid for them, that resulted in launch of the Telehealth Psychiatric Service last year. A next pilot involved Cisco donation of Telepresence equipment for grades 6, 7 and 8 in a pilot school, and the connection of Nunavit students with math and science experts in the Virtual Researchers On Call program. According to Black, response to the program from students alike has been positive, and also from teachers who work on the “frontline of some of the toughest communities.” To help mitigate high turnover rates for teachers in the region, the Cisco team developed a teacher training package and approached the government of Nunavit with a proposal for a virtual professional development solution. This program is now being rolled out to 490 teachers across the region. Other northern projects include Classroom Connect where three schools are now matched with private schools in Toronto and Calgary for hour long virtual “Nation Building Exercises,” and needs identification in the schools. One example of this is a career mentoring program that is now in pilot with the help of Canadian North Airlines which aims at sourcing naive speaking employees and which will provide students with opportunities that were unimagined before. Summing up, Black noted that one pilot in year one has extended to 14 this year, and 93 schools are on the waitlist. The initiative, she argued, demonstrates the potential for multiparty innovation and shows how the IT industry (Cisco has invested $2 million in the project and worked with bandwidth providers SSI Micros and SaskTel) can come together to address social issues, an observation made more poignant by revelations from the Auditor General’s report released this week chronicling ongoing government underspending in budgets for aboriginal communities.