Cisco Nigeria Country Manager, Mr. Kunle Oloruntimehin, speaks on the increased volume of data usage since COVID-19 and how organisations should leverage technology for sustainability. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:
Businesses are facing challenges that are threatening their survival, occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19. What are some of the economic effects of COVID-19 on businesses and how best can they be addressed?
What we have seen so far in three core business areas, occasioned by COVID-19, is the need for businesses to be resilient and to maintain business sustainability and continuity. To address the negative effect of COVID-19 on businesses, Cisco looked at key support around three core areas like: Overall employees’ experience; Transformation of the work place; and Customer experience. For the employee experience, we have seen companies migrate at very short notice to working from home. Cisco staff for instance, have been working from home since the lockdown was introduced. Other technology companies have moved 100 per cent of their staff to start working from home. Cisco was able to achieve this feat by deploying secured connectivity solutions. Cisco, for instance, is using its online platform called Webex to hold online meetings with staff, while working from home. Since we started using Webex, we have seen increase in the volume of data growth, to three and a half times between February and June, 2020. The increase in data usage is as a result of Cisco, supporting customers across multiple segments, including small business through the collaboration of Webex tools. We also have security tools to provide for secured connectivity like Bank Verification Number (BVN). The second one is the work place evolution and transformation. After the lockdown, most companies asked their workers to return to office and Cisco is providing the right technology that will enable such company workers to maintain all safety precautions like social distancing among others. In the Cisco WiFi system, there is something called the DNA spaces that we use to leverage the WiFi networks as a censor to ensure that people are properly spaced when they are on work place environment. For customer experience, we look at key areas like contact centre environment. Cisco provided a lot of capabilities to allow for greater insights and leveraging the cloud to achieve effective cloud calling, in order to improve customer experience.
What is your view on the availability and affordability of broadband, since broadband connectivity will drive the new normal where people can work from home and hold business meetings online?
Government, no doubt, has a lot to do in order to ensure ubiquitous broadband access at affordable rate, since everyone, including organisations need broadband connectivity to survive the new normal. We are partnering with various governments on this, to ensure cheap and available broadband for all. The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami is aware of the need for easy broadband access and he is in talks with the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) to ensure reduction in the cost of Right of Way (RoW) that will enable telecoms operators roll out broadband across the country at cheaper rate.
From the economic point of view, there has been increased demand for broadband because the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled more people to stay at home and work from home using internet connectivity, and broadband connectivity is not cheap. But as more people connect to the internet, the cost is internet broadband will reduce. To ensure availability of bandwidth, government must be willing to drive down the cost of bandwidth and I can see such willingness in this government. With what the NCC is doing in the area of licensing Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to roll out broadband infrastructure, will again help to deepen broadband penetration across the country. Cisco on its part is democratising the use of technology by making technology available to everyone, irrespective of their status, which will further help to deepen broadband penetration in the country.
How has Cisco impacted businesses in Nigeria since the inception of its operations in the country?
Cisco has been in the forefront of providing solutions from a Business-to-Business (B2B) point of view and we have been very relevant in the enterprise space. Specific to Nigeria, we are relevant in supporting businesses in the entertainment and small business spaces, helping them to be able to go through the digital transformation drive of the federal government and to providing relevant services to customers. We have also taken the line of success to small businesses in recent times by offering specific services around security, collaboration and in providing secured access for small businesses, thus giving small businesses the same experiences we are also offering enterprise businesses.
How can Cisco eliminate challenges that organisations face in digital network experiences?
We at Cisco are addressing organisational challenges in different ways. Most organisations in the country are already taking the part of the digital transformation journey. Cisco is taking them through that journey by working closely with them, by looking at organisational imperatives and marching it with technology interventions to deliver those imperatives and outcomes for organisational growth. We are also giving organisations the opportunity to adopt the best of technologies. There are evolving technologies that are world-class, but it takes the right technical skills to adopt the right technology and maximise its potential to the fullest. The support from Cisco will help organisations realise their returns on investments, while they still remain in business.
Cisco is implementing a new automation innovation for businesses. Can you give update on the implementation exercise and how businesses stand to gain from it?
Cisco is an innovative company and we have grown our portfolio through multiple acquisition over time. The latest acquisition that we recently announced was the ThousandEyes Inc., which is a company that gives us additional capabilities around visibilities into the network. Over and above visibility, we are leveraging the simplification of the network and leveraging other technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and transversing of our networks, including the automation of our processes, have helped us to segment our network for the benefits of our customers.
In terms of network segmentation, what are your plans to successfully deliver on this?
Network segmentation is both technology and policy imperatives, including compliance imperative, depending on what sector of the industry we are discussing. Cisco helps to provide guidance and capacity building from the people point of view. All our network technology allow us to maintain network segmentation for data centre traffic, and we look at it from three prompt approaches: people’s skills, technology and the processes. It all gears towards making organisations to become compliant and productive, even in hash economic situations.
How will you describe staff motivation on the increased demand for data services, occasioned by the effect of COVID-19?
There is need for organisational motivation for any serious minded organisations that is desirous to grow and be successful. I had earlier mentioned that digital transformation and digital services are key function of that. Access to data is necessary and must be readily available, which will increase productivity and organisational motivation. So the COVID-19 pandemic has just accelerated the demand for more data by data users.
COVID-19 has forced organisations to cut down on staff strength and there are reports that some small businesses are folding up as a result of the harsh business environment caused by the pandemic. What is your advice for organisations at this critical period?
Organisations must device means to survive the adverse effect of COVID-19 on businesses. They must focus on a couple of things to survive and remain relevant in business. The people in any organisation form the bulk of significant factors driving the organisation.They need to focus on employee welfare to sustain business continuity. Companies must find a way of retaining experienced staff that drive productivity in the organisation.
Technology is said to be the only alternative that will drive business productivity in post COVID-19. What is advice for organisations who still see deployment of technology as expensive and will rather want to avoid it?
I use it to tell people that technology is now essential commodity for every organisation that wants to remain in business in post-COVID-19. Companies must be able to define what their purpose and mission are, in terms of being successful. Technology intervention is a means to an end, which every serious organisations must take seriously to deploy. First of all an organisation must define its business outcomes to enable it understand the kind of technology they want to deploy and how to deploy it. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have witnesses increased investments in technology solutions by organisations who hitherto were reluctant in investing in technology. So, organisations must learn how to invest in technology in order to survive.
What are the new technologies that Cisco is introducing this period to sustain businesses?
I had earlier mentioned some of our new acquisitions in recent times, whose services will support businesses to survive in post COVID-19. We acquired ThousandEye that will help us in the area of business visibility. A Thousand Eyes is giving us added visibility across existing networks and network types. We also acquired Fluidmesh Networks in recent times that gives us better insights to Internet of Things (IoT) environment and these are key. In the area of collaboration, we have our Webex and we have added national security features to our Webex tool, which is used for online meetings and communication. We have added the Digital Assistant device that helps to give command to perform certain functions like taking notes and highlights of conferences, and these innovations are driven by AI.
What is Cisco’s contribution to the support of local start-ups in Nigeria?
We have mentor programme for start-ups, where volunteer within the Cisco family, which include employees and partners come together to
mentor start-ups. I have joined other Cisco employee to mentor start-ups in Nigeria and across African countries. Cisco has the African Prize for Innovation, which is held on a yearly basis, and it is organised to help start-ups develop technology solutions that are commercially viable. Cisco have several global programmes to support start-ups.