Feature Story

What is good for the world and what is good for business is closer than ever

Learn what Cisco is doing to help save rhinos and why the company thinks sustainability and innovation go hand-in-hand.

Saving the rhino

Cisco is partnering with National Geographic and Dimension Data to release a two-part documentary series on the efforts to save the endangered rhino. The company has been working with strategic partner Dimension Data since 2015, launching the Connected Conservation project to help stop the poaching of rhinos.

In a pilot at a private reserve outside of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, Cisco used digital infrastructure, hybrid cloud, digital workplace, and cybersecurity to track potential poachers who come in and out of the reserve. From 2015 to 2017, the Connected Conservation project reduced poaching in the reserve by 96 percent.

See also: Dimension Data and Cisco join forces to co-innovate and co-create

Building on that success, Cisco plans to expand its efforts through a larger program which will use learnings and experiences in the conservation space and apply them to new ecosystems, and even new verticals. The aim is not to just protect animals and the environments, but also communities and people. Technology must empower local people and communities in order for any solution to make a lasting impact.

Technologists engaged in conservation

To scale its conservation and sustainability initiatives, Cisco is working with customers, partners and industry experts to ultimately address a full spectrum of wildlife, environmental, and social challenges. With the National Geographic documentary, Cisco hopes to attract the attention of even more partners committed to working together on toward the same conservation goals.

Cisco is uniquely positioned in the sustainability space, in part due to its supportive and engaged leadership who work to position the company as one of the largest enterprises committed to making a difference in the world.

“Being able to tie together great innovation talent and aim their efforts at driving impact on the environment is a highlight of my career,” Dave Ward, SVP, CTO of Engineering and Chief Architect, “Day to day, we use technology to solve many business problems and to be able to take our experiences and skills to help save a species is one of the most critical tasks we’ve ever focused on. What’s been very interesting as technologists learning the techno-conservation challenges has catalyzed some great, reusable innovation in IOT, AI, sensor fusion and operations control rooms for other critical areas: safer schools, smart cities, healthcare, and transportation. The entire team is focused not only on conservation, but inventing what is needed to help conserve species when the technology doesn’t exist.”

Cisco is serving as an aggregator for many different kinds of players in the conservation space—connecting companies and organizations together to encourage cooperation and collaboration.

See also: Cisco brings the good in South Africa

Working with partners and local wildlife communities, Cisco helped innovate a digital perimeter system to monitor animals, people, and vehicles. The solution combines such technologies as LoRaWAN, Wi-Fi, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and thermal cameras, acoustic microphone and fiber, leveraging advanced video analytics and collaboration platforms. The architecture of this fully connected network fabric can also be applied to other applications, enabling real-time situational awareness, intra-agency communication and collaboration, and local and cloud-based analytics for tracking, analyzing multiple layers of insights, and exponentially faster responses. 

Because we've been partnering with organizations that do make a difference in this space, Cisco is really being seen as a true dedicated global problem solver,” says Cayla Yang, Cisco Conservation volunteer, “By becoming a leader in the space, we can bring organizations and enterprises on board and act as a model for conscientious corporations. And as enterprise technologists trying to solve conservation problems, we have the ability to take a holistic approach by using a combination of technologies, people, and partnerships.”

Software bugs versus actual bugs

Sometimes it can be difficult for those in Silicon Valley to understand the different environments of conservation spaces. There can be remote and tough terrains with extreme weather conditions that are overrun by insects or big creatures.

We’re a tech company based on networking security infrastructure, working towards connecting sensors and the Internet of Things, but things that work in Silicon Valley don’t always work in the African bush,” says Ward, “We experienced power problems, we experienced connectivity problems, we experienced cooling problems and heat problems. When you’re in Africa, it’s not software bugs that get you, it’s the actual bugs going into the equipment and shorting it out. It’s fascinating to learn what it really takes to do something in the bush like this.”

Because of this, IT and technology companies haven’t been fully introduced to conservation at a big level—making the sustainability industry ripe for disruption.

To ignite this disruption, Cisco is incorporating sustainability programs into its 14 Co-Innovation Centers around the world, strategically located where they can create the most impact for business and now social good. These Co-Innovation Centers  bring together a diverse partner ecosystem of customers, governments, local startups, developers, researchers and academia, as well as business units and services teams, to co-innovate new solutions for today’s business and social problems.

These opportunistic spaces fuel digital solutions in areas such as country digitization, manufacturing, transportation, energy, healthcare, sustainability, and more. Cisco provides both the standard networking technology but also the expertise, training, and connectivity to engage with the technology in new ways.

Innovation, sustainability, and engineering can be synonymous

So why does combining sustainability with the Co-Innovation Centers make sense? One reason is that the Co-Innovation Centers were recently brought into the Chief Technology and Architecture Office under Ward’s leadership, creating a powerful Innovation Network that tightens collaborations among engineers, partners and customers.

“Innovation and sustainability can go hand-in-hand, and there’s a major movement afoot in Silicon Valley to build products that are less harmful to the planet or clean up our messes,” says Ward, “There’s a growing group of engineers that understand that business and the environment are not at odds. In this work, we looked at a sustainability problem, preserving this species and ecosystem, and enabled high-tech to be a part of the solution. It’s a tool in the overall solution, but one that seems to be quite effective at preventing the murder of rhinos. The technology we had in hand wasn’t enough, so, we just invented it. We will use this reference architecture to solve problems in other markets because it can help make schools, ports, and cities safer as well. This in turn, creates a positive, sustainable impact for good and for business at the same time.”

The Co-Innovation Centers, now augmented by Chief Technology and Architecture Office’s premier engineering talent, will not just be focusing on business and conservation solutions, but also work to advance the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. These Goals are 17 calls-for-action by all countries, addressing epic global challenges such as poverty, hunger, quality education and gender equality.

The Co-Innovation Centers are the perfect space to create partnerships, similar to the one with Dimension Data, that will make the world a better place. They provide the opportunity for teams to meet and help evolve traditional relationships with customers to go beyond purely transactional.

Cisco aims to bring in additional partners to the Co-Innovation Centers to showcase accomplishments and explore new frontiers of what’s possible together, making programs like Connected Conservation the rule—not the exception. As Cisco is shifting from products into software and services, Cisco can demonstrate a comprehensive range of technology tools to co-innovate digital solutions on the network for business and social good. 

What is good for the world is good for business

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins has said, “What is good for the world and good for business is more closely connected than ever before.”

Sustainability and aligning to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is a big opportunity for the company to create innovation in a multitude of new verticals. The Co-Innovation Centers are an open door for partners and customers to come in and brainstorm, and Cisco can use its technology to make those brainstorming ideas come to life.

Whether these ideas revolve around smart cities, talent development, skill set, or more, there is opportunity to address the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Society is beginning to develop higher demands and higher expectations from enterprises and corporations,” says Yang, “I am proud to work for a company that is dedicated to being there for our people, planet, and society.

As enterprises start to shift their view on what is good for business, they can begin to address problems in a way that is beneficial for everyone. Whether that is skilling communities through Networking Academy and helping fill needed IT jobs and helping re-balance the IT gender gap, or using Cisco technology to protect rhinos from poachers, business and good can also have a transactional relationship.

What Cisco is hoping to do in 2020

Like Connected Conservation, Cisco is working through 2020 to accomplish more tech for good campaigns, which we’ll report about in upcoming issues. The company wants to move beyond life on land—as an avid outdoorsman and fisherman, Ward seeks to look into coral rehabilitation and Gulf Coast cleanup, among other areas of interest.

Quality innovation creates the opportunity to empower others, whether that is through education, gender equality, or career building. The Chief Technology and Architecture Office believes that if you can create the right solutions in conservation, you can apply them almost anywhere. Because of that, they are also working on a reference architecture to apply what they have learned in conservation into other areas like education and healthcare.

“Our goals are to create a technology architecture with all of our partners in the industry to create a positive, sustainable impact for many social and environmental problems,” says Ward, “We don’t want to be the company that flies in, creates a demo and leaves behind unusable, soon-to-be-useless technology. We realize that sustainability requires improving the lives of people and the health of ecosystems. Cisco plans on working towards both goals. We won’t limit ourselves in the ecosystem we work in: terrestrial and aquatic, and we won’t limit ourselves to the social problems we won’t try and sustainably impact.”



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