With the twenty-four hour clock ticking, Cisco performed exploratory surgery last week on the Internet of Everything (IoE) and its application in the Big Apple. The tour of New York City offered a quick sampling of the inner workings of IoE in the education, public security, transport, energy management and sports arenas - with special focus on the company’s role in supporting new levels of network connectivity. In the Cisco schema, the IoE represents the interconnection of people, processes, data and things, a scenario that will deliver unprecedented economic and social benefit: Cisco’s goal in the NYC tour was to demonstrate that the IoE era is closer than we think - in fact, it’s today.
Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s chief globalization officer and long term evangelist of the company’s IoE market strategy, introduced the tour with an overview of the tectonic shifts that are underway in the global community. The "21st century is a time of enormous change," he explained, marked by the emergence of the BRIC economies, and GDP gravitation to emerging countries where there is relatively little installed base of traditional technologies. At the same time, demographic change, including massive urbanization and population aging are affecting service demand, employment patterns, and generally putting new strain on city resources. According to Elfrink, we need annual productivity increases of two percent in order to simply maintain our current lifestyle, a target that is increasingly vulnerable to the impact of global trends. The answer to this conundrum is "innovation," but as Elfrink asked, ''are we ready for this?'' and ''do we have the right skills?''
The ‘right’ skills are clearly digital. As Elfrink noted, in 1984 only 1,000 things were connected, but by 2020, 5 billion smart objects will come online, and the resulting data deluge will create huge opportunity for organizations with the skills, the apps and digital infrastructure needed to manage Big Data connectivity. How big is the opportunity? Cisco has calculated the value at stake (in corporate profits) from adoption of IoE at $1.2 trillion in 2013 and $14.4 trillion by 2020; and estimated that the jobs created through "the next industrial revolution" will sit at 2 million by 2022. Unfortunately, rapid growth of the "new essential infrastructure'' (only 1 % of what can be connected is actually now connected) will also result in a talent gap - a shortage of 220,000 engineers, for example, in the 2014-2022 period, according to Cisco.
IT skills shortages are widely recognized as a corollary of inadequate STEM training, and a lack of STEM associated with a country’s inability to compete on a global basis. As a 2012 Council of Canadian Chief Executives report noted, "there is growing agreement that knowledge and proficiency in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (so-called STEM skills) are closely related to a country’s capacity to compete in those sectors of the economy in which technological innovation is most important" - areas that many argue will drive future growth and account for new employment. And while most learners acknowledge the importance of STEM training, the report concludes, this awareness is not translating into student pursuit of careers in science or engineering - at least not in sufficient numbers, and not in Canada.
To help combat this technophobia, Cisco has joined forces with the New York Academy of Sciences in the creation of a Global STEM Alliance, which aims to combine educational curriculum with international mentorship and science and technology research. Response to this program suggests that STEM gaps are in fact an international phenomenon: the first partners Barcelona and Malaysia joined the Alliance at the IoT World Forum in Barcelona in October, and the City of Buenos Aires and SUNY (the State University of New York) announced their participation on the NYC tour.
According David McCullough, senior director, corporate communications at Cisco, the Alliance’s STEM program demonstrates not only "how education can support the Internet opportunity," but also "how the Internet can transform education." Outlining the pilot program launched by the New York Academy of Sciences, president and CEO Ellis Rubinstein explained that Alliance partners will use Cisco collaboration technologies, including TelePresence HD video, to link young people with scientific experts around the world (his group has relationships with the British Academy and the Melbourne Academy of Science), and through "intergenerational mentorship" "humanize science" to generate enthusiasm for these subjects, while sharing STEM expertise on a global basis. The program will include workshops, classes and research experiences for students in all age ranges, as well additional support for female graduate and post-graduate students, and individual programming for gifted and under-served students.
Though the Academy’s program was designed to help corporations and local governments meet their economic goals, the public school system in New York initially declined to participate. However, the Academy was able to work with the Department of Youth and Community Services to deliver after school programming, and three years later, the school system is now looking to become a partner. Going forward, Rubinstein pointed to other opportunities for getting the message out: with broad access to the Internet, it may be possible to bring training into the student home via a PC or tablet. For Rubinstein’s group, the biggest challenge has been delivery - "we are a small organization and can't be everywhere" Rubinstein noted - and one answer to this issue was deployment of Cisco technology, which provides the added benefit of allowing young people to interact with technology. Another solution is to scale the program through partnerships with organizations such as SUNY.
For SUNY, partnership in the STEM Alliance serves a dual purpose. As Nancy L. Zimpher, Chancellor at SUNY and Board Chair for the New York Academy of Sciences, explained, the low level of STEM skill and literacy displayed by incoming students has posed a problem for the university system, which arises from inadequate preparation at the high school and even elementary school levels. Zimpher is looking to create a unified system of education that stretches from kindergarten to college and expects that mentoring through the Alliance program will help provide more consistent development of students’ STEM skills. An institution that is heavily invested in teacher training, SUNY also looks forward to participation in the program as a means of training its own young scientists to act as mentors. ''We feel we have to own the system of teacher training," Zimpher stated, and training through digital systems is becoming increasingly important in the ''flipped classroom,'' an emerging form of blended instruction that makes greater use of online content (especially video), real time, asynchronous learning and personalized student/teacher interaction, and less of traditional lecture formats.
To demonstrate current application of the STEM Alliance’s pedagogical vision, Cisco made use of TelePresence to beam a Canadian example into the New York event. Partners in Research, which operates a VROC program that executive director Kevin Cougler called the ''Virtual Researcher On Call,'' has partnered with a number of Canadian school boards, and now enables 20-50 Cisco powered calls between students and STEM experts on a daily basis. Brandon Zoras, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board, described student participants as "highly engaged in the two-way conversation," and the program a good solution for the fact that "text books go out of date too quickly." The ''education gone virtual'' program is ''one of the best tools I have,'' he added. For Craig Merrett, assistant professor in engineering at Carleton University, the program offers a huge mentorship opportunity. According to Merrett, 64% of students do not consider engineering as a career option, so the chance to connect with and educate young students on the notion that "engineering is not as challenging as they may believe" is helpful. In Cougler’s view, ''instantaneous learning'' and this instant connection with a scientist in the lab is ''changing the way we are thinking about education" - hopefully it will also motivate students to change the way they think about their training and career pathing.
Cisco’s education presentation constituted only one stop on the New York tour. Stay tuned for more on how the IoE is helping other industries to indentify new sources of savings and engage in better service delivery.