Coun­try Dig­i­ti­za­tion—In­side The Play­book

For tech com­pa­nies, coun­try dig­i­ti­za­tion projects mean mil­lions or even bil­lions of dol­lars in busi­ness, but they are high-risk and com­plex en­deav­ors

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While dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion has be­come the holy grail for en­ter­prises, coun­tries are not far be­hind. It is not about sell­ing your way through and hook­ing up tech­nol­ogy all around. Guy Diedrich, VP and Global In­no­va­tion Of­fi­cer, Cisco knows bet­ter. Diedrich is a mem­ber of Cisco’s Of­fice of the Chair­man and CEO, con­tribut­ing to Cisco’s Coun­try Dig­i­ti­za­tion Ac­cel­er­a­tion. He is cur­rently work­ing with govern­ment and in­dus­try lead­ers in coun­tries through­out Europe, the Mid­dle East, Asia and the Amer­i­cas to dig­i­tize the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors in or­der to in­crease GDP, cre­ate mil­lions of next-gen­er­a­tion jobs, and de­velop sus­tain­able in­no­va­tion ecosys­tems.

Cisco has set up coun­try dig­i­ti­za­tion ac­cel­er­a­tors (CDA) in 18 coun­tries and two more would be added shortly. These coun­tries range from small ones like Por­tu­gal and Kaza­khstan to large ones like In­dia and China to de­vel­oped ones like UK, Italy, and Ger­many. These coun­tries rep­re­sent nearly a third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. The ideal can­di­dates for CDA are coun­tries that are com­mit­ted to dig­i­tal­iza­tion with a pub­lished dig­i­tal agenda that is sup­ported by req­ui­site bud­get out­lays. Fac­tors such as eco­nomic growth po­ten­tial and large pop­u­la­tion help. The idea is to be able to cor­re­late the im­pact of dig­i­ti­za­tion with eco­nomic per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors such GDP growth and jobs growth.

CDA – CHART­ING THE ROUTE, PLAN­NING THE STEPS When asked as to how does Cisco go through huge coun­try dig­i­ti­za­tion projects when so many stake­hold­ers are in­volved and how do they achieve pace, Diedrich re­ferred to what he wrote on his blog: “How does coun­try dig­i­ti­za­tion work? Con­sid­er­ing the com­plex­i­ties of de­vel­op­ing a plan to dig­i­tize an en­tire coun­try, the process from eval­u­a­tion to hav­ing an ex­e­cutable plan hap­pens at al­most warp speed at Cisco – be­tween 90 to 120 days.”


The steps al­most seem like the ones out of a stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure man­ual. The CDA pro­gram is run in a struc­tured man­ner to max­i­mize the out­comes; the pri­or­i­ties in each coun­try may vary, but Cisco believes in fol­low­ing a gen­eral tem­plate that has de­vel­oped over the years and is be­ing con­tin­u­ally im­proved upon. Diedrich makes it clear that Cisco does not cre­ate the dig­i­tal roadmap for any coun­try. He says that the cre­ation of dig­i­tal strat­egy is best left to the coun­try lead­er­ship or to strat­egy con­sult­ing com­pa­nies. The CDA pro­gram usu­ally be­gins with a review of the dig­i­tal agenda with lo­cal in­dus­try part­ners, academia, and other stake­holder in­sti­tu­tions. A CDA ar­chi­tec­ture for the coun­try is then drawn up along a quar­tet of ar­eas: re­search and ed­u­ca­tion, busi­ness and in­vest­ing, dig­i­tal plat­forms for eco­nomic im­pact, and dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture.

Un­der re­search and ed­u­ca­tion, Cisco in­vests in univer­sity chairs such as the Cisco Chair in IoT, Cy­ber­se­cu­rity, ex­pands of Net­work­ing Academy pro­gram, and en­gages in re­train­ing peo­ple. The area of busi­ness and in­vest­ing in­volves cre­at­ing in­cu­ba­tors like the one that was in­au­gu­rated in Ban­ga­lore, cre­at­ing CoE, bring­ing in Cisco ven­ture cap­i­tal, run­ning hackathons and such other ac­tiv­i­ties to spur home­grown in­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship. The third part of the quar­tet— dig­i­tal plat­forms for eco­nomic im­pact— comes from the coun­try’s dig­i­tal agenda. For ex­am­ple, if one is host­ing the World Cup, then Smart Con­nected Sta­di­ums would be a dig­i­tal pro­ject. The last area in the quar­tet about dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture deals with set­ting up the dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy back­bone such as wifi, broad­band net­works, cy­ber­se­cu­rity, IoT in­fra­struc­ture, and such. These four ar­eas are de­signed to co­a­lesce in such a way that they feed into each other and are in­te­grated to de­liver the out­comes.


Fol­low­ing this, an ex­e­cu­tion plan along three time­hori­zons— 12 months, 12 to 24 months, and 24 months and be­yond— is cre­ated and bud­gets are built against these phases. In the next step, part­ners are brought in. Diedrich says that this is a very im­por­tant step and Cisco fol­lows a very in­clu­sive ap­proach by bring­ing in part­ners who might even be com­peti­tors. For one, Diedrich believes that Cisco can’t do it all alone and that the idea is not to own ev­ery pro­ject. But he adds that Cisco will bid for ev­ery pro­ject and when the MoU is signed it clearly cap­tures the ar­eas that Cisco is set out to do.

But why would Cisco in­vest so much in the quar­tet ar­eas when the com­pe­ti­tion is open? Diedrich’s an­swer to this is dead prag­matic. He says that dig­i­ti­za­tion is a time-bound op­por­tu­nity— up to 500 bil­lion peo­ple and things will be con­nected by 2030; it is hap­pen­ing here and now and if you don’t put enough stakes in the ground, no one gains. He points out three plau­si­ble sce­nar­ios. First, the coun­try might de­cide not to dig­i­tize, which is rarely the case in a CDA coun­try, but even if it does, there is noth­ing fur­ther. The sec­ond pos­si­bil­ity is that coun­try has dig­i­tal am­bi­tions but chooses wrong pri­or­i­ties and ap­proaches, throws money at the prob­lem in­dis­crim­i­nately, and ev­ery­one ends up los­ing. The third case is that of the coun­try fol­low­ing a process-driven ap­proach with in­clu­sive part­ner­ships and rolls out an in­te­grated strat­egy. Here ev­ery­body wins, the coun­try wins, the in­dus­try wins, the peo­ple win.


Diedrich’s team is lean and ag­ile with 18 peo­ple spread across the world and han­dling all the coun­tries. It is not a fat team tasked with chas­ing na­tional dig­i­ti­za­tion projects busi­ness and find­ing ways to sell Cisco tech­nol­ogy, Diedrich clar­i­fies. This is where process helps. We start ex­e­cut­ing the day fol­low­ing the day the pro­ject is an­nounced and cleared. The lo­cal Cisco team takes over the pro­ject and pulls in re­sources from all parts of the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the part­ner com­mu­nity. CDA projects have top­notch pri­or­ity and im­por­tance and the pro­ject is con­trolled by the coun­try of­fice. There is of­ten a na­tion­al­is­tic fer­vor at­tached to CDA projects, it is the best ex­am­ple of global pro­grams ex­e­cuted lo­cally, Diedrich says.

Cisco’s CDA pro­gram has done projects rang­ing from smart in­fra­struc­ture to emer­gency re­sponse to smart park­ing to smart con­nected ci­ties to name a few. There are 350 ac­tive or com­pleted projects run­ning across the 18 CDA coun­tries cur­rently.


The In­dia CDA started three years ago, which is a tes­ta­ment to the cur­rent govern­ment’s stress on Dig­i­tal In­dia.

If Cisco se­lected In­dia for a CDA on the ba­sis of the Cisco’s cri­te­ria, Diedrich also cred­its and pays trib­ute to In­dia for se­lect­ing Cisco as the dig­i­tal part­ner.

The In­dia CDA is run by Anil Nair, Man­ag­ing Direc­torIn­dia CDA, Cisco. In­dia is the largest and most com­plex coun­try. Fifty-two projects have been iden­ti­fied out of which 44 have been com­pleted or pro­cessed.

Anil Nair said that smart ci­ties are an im­por­tant ini­tia­tive in In­dia with the pop­u­la­tion ex­plod­ing in ci­ties and ru­ral to ur­ban mi­gra­tion reach­ing its lim­its. There­fore, new ur­ban cen­ters with smart in­fra­struc­ture have to be de­vel­oped. Some of the ex­am­ples are Vi­jayawada, Hy­der­abad, and Gand­hi­na­gar. We have done projects with all use cases such as WiFi, smart waste man­age­ment, smart trans­porta­tion, smart park­ing, amongst oth­ers, Anil said. We have in­no­vated us­ing the value cap­ture fund­ing model. With mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions, it is easy to en­vis­age what dif­fer­ence can be made. Nearly 166 ci­ties have said that they will go this way. Re­search by IDC has sug­gested that dig­i­ti­za­tion shows im­prove­ment in so­cial, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal in­di­ca­tors.

Dig­i­tal bank­ing and fi­nan­cial ser­vices is an­other huge im­pact area, es­pe­cially for coun­tries like In­dia with a large amount of un­banked pop­u­la­tion. Re­cent de­vel­op­ments like de­mon­e­ti­za­tion and GST have gal­va­nized the pace of dig­i­tal fi­nance, so have de­vel­op­ments such as UPI, Aad­haar, Jan Dhan Yo­jna which are based on dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies. Un­der the CDA pro­gram, Cisco has cre­ated a Dig­i­tal Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­ter at Mumbai to pro­vide an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in fi­nan­cial tech­nolo­gies.

Such in­vest­ments have an im­pact be­yond the coun­try and it al­lows in­no­va­tions from one coun­try to be taken to an­other thereby ac­cel­er­at­ing the process. Ar­eas such as cy­ber­se­cu­rity which is a huge fo­cus area for Cisco glob­ally are uni­formly rel­e­vant across all coun­tries. Diedrich says that Cisco tech­nol­ogy helps thwart 20 bil­lion cy­ber­se­cu­rity at­tacks ev­ery day— from the net­work to the edge to the data cen­ter to the cloud. Cisco can de­tect mal­ware in game-chang­ing ways, avers Diedrich. The Cy­berRange lab set up in Gur­gaon is a cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­per­tise cen­ter that can link up with mul­ti­ple se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion cen­ters (SOCs). Cisco has funded a re­search chair in cy­ber­se­cu­rity at IIDT Tiru­pati, a Govt of Andhra Pradesh ini­tia­tive. Cisco has also set up a se­cu­rity trust of­fice at Pune.

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