I am always skeptical of big technology companies when they pose programs that sound like “tech for good” and I do extra levels of research to get underneath the motive and gauge trust. Maybe it is my Midwest upbringing or maybe it’s having been an executive for over 20 years at tech companies that elicits my suspicious response. Maybe it is just me being a crusty industry analyst.
The first thing I do when I hear a claim like that is to look at the company’s CEO, board, and executive leadership team to see if it is the “real deal”. Cisco is one of those companies which I have spent an inordinate amount of time with its executives, and I can tell you when it comes to tech for good, it is the real deal. That does not mean blind giveaways for good, but well thought out strategies to help people around the world support themselves. It was doing CSR before it was cool and gives funds only to those who they believe can improve their situations and be sustainable with a little help. The company even has a strike force of technicians called TacOps who parachute into the eyes of hurricanes to setup needed infrastructure after natural disasters. Cisco is the real deal, trusted and I have a lot of respect for the company. I wanted to talk about a Cisco program I ran across that, while a lot of tech good can come out of it, is not part of Cisco’s official CSR program. It is also a program that requires a lot of trust from customers. My colleague Chris Wilder, security practice lead at Moor Insights & Strategy wrote two years about this Cisco program called “Country Digital Acceleration” or “CDA” or short. These were early days, but the program was already making strides.
Cisco describes the CDA strategy as “a long-term partnership with national leadership, industry & academia. By accelerating the national digitization agenda, the country will grow GDP, create new jobs and provide innovation and education across public & private sectors.” CDA operates in 34 countries around the world with so much experience and success it publishes “blueprints” on how to do this. When I read that description for the first time, I will admit, I was a bit confused. I could not quite tell if this was a CSR program or a masterful way to describe a top sales program to countries. So, I asked. Cisco’s analyst relations group connected me with Cisco CDA’s leader, Dr. Guy Diedrich and we had three conversations on the program.
Guy is an interesting “guy” and not just because he has government leaders around the world on speed dial, after some conversation, we realized we lived in the same Texas neighborhood 20 years ago. Prior to his current role at Cisco Systems, Diedrich was a Vice Chancellor at the Texas A&M University System, where he was responsible for research, commercialization, federal government relations, state government relations and strategic initiatives. One interesting factoid is that Guy received his Masters degree from Cambridge University and Ph.D. from Swansea University where he studied the economics of trust in organizations. Diedrich has a PhD in trust, and I believe trust is what makes CDA so effective.
As Diedrich explains it, “trust comes from a shared vulnerability” and when he and CEO Chuck Robbins meet with world leaders in the CDA context for the first time, it starts off as a very personal discussion about families and friends. Leaders want to know about the values of Cisco, how they deploy across the community and if Cisco truly is a member of their community. These world leaders were expecting to get sold infrastructure, but what they got instead was Southern charm and demonstrated compassion by Cisco. Beforehand, Cisco does meticulous research on the countries, the state of education, innovation, economics, and the state of the citizens and how countries have moved all of these up and to the right with CDA. It even suggests strategies to advance education, enable innovation, increase GDP, and improve the quality of life.
With countries that are rolling out CDA projects, 34 so far, the conversations, of course, are a little different. Robbins and Diedrich and their teams talk about the status of the list of initiatives in process or completed and how they turned out. They talk about what went right and what did not and what they can all do together to do it better. If the projects went well, it then gives permission to talk about the next potential projects.
So, what is CDA then? I do not think it is a CSR program nor do I think it’s a fancy shell for a selling program. I believe CDA is a completely different animal altogether and could be the new way we all will have to do business in the future, which is based on high degrees of trust. Diedrich and Robbins empathetically put themselves in the shoes of the country’s leaders and citizens and from the country’s point of view, seek to find ways to use technology to improve education, increase innovation, raise GDP and make lives better. The agreements Cisco has with countries are not giveaways, they are profit generating projects, and do not just involve Cisco technologies. Projects contain competitive products as Cisco acts as the “prime” for these major country initiatives. Cisco does not breakout financials specifically for its CDA customers but given the program longevity and 34 countries in the program, I must assume it’s financially successful.
While it took three meetings with Dr. Diedrich to fully understand CDA, what immediately struck me was “trust” and the very deep relationships that exist between Cisco and country leaders. Cisco earns the trust by showing empathy, competency and action and the country rewards them with contracts to transform their countries. If trust is the new currency in technology, Cisco is one of the companies I’d bank on.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.