Feature Story

The COVID recovery: How technology can drive a more Inclusive Future

by Tae Yoo

puzzle piece GIF

The power of connectivity creates significant possibilities, from supporting vaccine distribution to return-to-work efforts.

In a year of profound challenges and tragedies, technology kept businesses, schools, and hospitals up and running across the globe. But the COVID-19 pandemic also exposed glaring inequities. For too many people, a lack of connectivity meant isolation from education and skills development, economic opportunity, and healthcare.

At Cisco, helping out during a crisis is in our DNA. When the pandemic first shut down businesses, schools, and society, we immediately sought to address the needs of the most vulnerable. This included supporting nonprofits that were helping first responders and people in need of food, rental assistance, or financial support due to income loss. Now, as we move toward the strategic recovery phase almost a year later, we are looking at key interventions that could have the most long-term impact.

Building upon the lessons of 2020, we're committed to using technology not just to cope with our current challenges, but to power a better, more inclusive world.

Building upon the lessons of 2020, we’re committed to using technology not just to cope with our current challenges, but to power a better, more inclusive world. Moving forward, there will be no shortage of serious challenges, but I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish. Here are some key areas where Cisco is using its technology and expertise to support an inclusive recovery, as we look to a post-COVID world that’s more equitable, sustainable, and resilient.

The key to COVID recovery: safe and secure vaccines for all

Moving past our current crisis demands vaccine distribution on an unprecedented, global scale that transcends geographic and economic barriers. However, the logistics of such an operation are staggering. To make it all work, digital technologies are essential. Cisco and its partners are working on networking, security, and IoT solutions that support everything from development and shipping of vaccines to administration and patient follow-up. Quality control, for example, is supported by AI-powered sensors and cameras that track temperature, spoilage, cartage efficiency and other factors. Security solutions — both cyber and physical — ensure that only the right people gain access to vaccines and information.

In hospitals, pharmacies, and pop-up vaccination centers, advanced network technologies and collaboration tools like Webex and Cisco Telehealth provide the secure connections essential to this massive effort, enabling contact centers and medical professionals to share critical information with patients and with one another. The overarching goal is to get a vaccine to everyone who needs it, no matter their economic situation, or where they live.

New ways of working, learning, and governing

For all its harsh realities, the pandemic has spurred innovation and positive change. And some of those changes will bring greater flexibility and opportunity to people around the world. In 2020, we witnessed the critical importance of business resilience. Organizations with modernized networks, security, and collaboration technologies had the agility to respond to fast-changing conditions. Even with entire workforces moving home, they were able to remain productive and competitive.

See also: The power of connectivity: Closing the digital divide with next-gen wireless

Not all organizations were able to have modernized networks – be they a small business, school or government. An inclusive recovery means that we should look at different models that enable these organizations the opportunity to leverage the power of the network. To that end, Cisco and Meraki have helped organizations large and small with technology donations and flexible pricing solutions. As we move past the pandemic, work won’t be the same. Many people won’t ever return to the office full time, which could have a positive impact on traffic jams, environmental pressures, and employment opportunities beyond major cities.

To make that work-from-home experience as seamless and flexible as possible, Webex is incorporating AI and other emerging technologies. Data sharing, brainstorming, instant messaging, or large meetings are all possible on a single platform that integrates work and creativity.

For those who do return to the office, Cisco technologies will enhance safety and collaboration in new ways, helping to dissolve the divide between home workers and office workers.

As with work, education and government will benefit from these new innovations. Cisco has worked with governments to build in secure remote connections for workers, empower citizen engagement, and to ensure that critical services function under the most challenging circumstances.

Cisco technologies have also smoothed the transition to remote learning, as have our corporate social responsibility programs, like Cisco Networking Academy, and our partnerships with nonprofits like Talking Points and MIND Research Institute. At the same time, they are pointing the way to a new model for education, in which in-school learning and remote learning blend into a more personalized, engaging experience for students at multiple levels of ability and with respect to individualized learning styles.

A connected recovery for everyone

Of course, we can only be proud of a COVID recovery that includes everyone — with new opportunities in healthcare, education, jobs, and overall well-being. Without a recovery strategy that continues to target the underserved and that supports inclusivity, inequities that exist in our communities will only widen. For example, the pandemic has put a glaring spotlight on the dangers of unconnected communities. On America’s Native reservations, for example, COVID rates soared as job opportunities plummeted, and students lagged behind their peers in better connected regions.

Approximately 1.5 million people on these Tribal lands lack even basic wireless services, and more than a third don’t have access to high-speed broadband. Next-generation wireless technologies are one solution.

Approximately 1.5 million people on these Tribal lands lack even basic wireless services, and more than a third don’t have access to high-speed broadband. Next-generation wireless technologies are one solution. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 together can offer high-bandwidth, fast-speed and low-latency connectivity to remote regions, where the cost of laying fiber cables can be prohibitively high.

See also: Cisco thanks its customers for keeping innovation alive

But to drive real change, partnerships are critical. Working closely with MuralNet, Cisco is providing financial support, along with technical and market expertise, to support a Sustainable Tribal Networks program. Moving forward, we’ll need to forge similar alliances across public and private sectors alike, because no organization can drive change alone.

At Cisco, we believe that technology is a bridge. But it has to be a bridge that more people can access and afford. In the end we’ll all benefit — from the genius, creativity, and untapped potential of communities that have been too long ignored.

As we continue to meet the ongoing challenges of the pandemic at Cisco, we won’t stop looking toward that better, more inclusive future.

###

We welcome the re-use, republication, and distribution of "The Network" content. Please credit us with the following information: Used with the permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com/.