Cisco Positions for Infrastructure Spending with Rural Broadband Center


The Cisco Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program, led by Guy Diedrich, Cisco VP and Global Innovation Officer, is unique in the market. It blends the Corporate Social Responsibility effort with Cisco offerings to help governments connect and advance their citizens and operations on a global scale.

Most recently, Cisco pivoted in seeming support of the current U.S. Administration’s “Build Back Better” effort to help rural areas build up their broadband capability and connect those that are currently on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The result should put Cisco in a more favorable position when the delayed and changing infrastructure bill is finally approved. Still, it will also more deeply connect the company with the regions that need improvement to better assure government dollars are efficiently spent.

Let’s talk about why this effort is critical to Cisco and the Rural and Central Government efforts it supports.

The Government Problem

When it comes to building bridges and dams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is more than capable of carrying out the task. However, problems often result because the efforts feel decoupled from the needs of local governments and citizens. This problem is due primarily to a lack of engagement on both sides until something goes wrong and then both sides try to outdo each other with finger-pointing.

Governments are not known for being technology savvy. So suppose you add a heavy technology element. In that case, you now have an additional problem: finding the skills needed to assess, manage, and assure the results, which are rare in both governments and citizens. A vendor walking into that mess will likely fail mainly because the requirements for the project may not be fully understood until the effort misses them.

So particularly for a consumer-focused effort, like closing the digital divide, the vendor (if they want to be successful) needs to close this skills and knowledge gap; otherwise, they are likely to be lambasted for messing up.

Cisco’s Innovation Center

An Innovation Center like Cisco is building bridges the understanding gap between the user, governments and Cisco so the related goals can be better determined and the result more likely to please all the players. In addition, it removes some of the biggest reasons why projects like this fail by helping get everyone on the same page and understanding what sacrifices are needed to complete the project successfully.

As you would expect, Cisco already has a substantial amount of experience with projects like this, and they have made similar efforts in Texas, Canada, Arizona, and Michigan. In addition, the new center, which is in North Carolina, will help local governments better understand the tradeoffs they need to ensure broadband access while staying well within budget.

Primarily used as an educational resource for both the municipalities and the service organizations that will roll out the new networks, this center plays a pivotal role in assuring the quality of the effort and eventual end-user satisfaction.

And those driving the projects for their various municipalities to maximize the value of their limited budgets will be provided with technology-leading options that they might have been unaware of without this focused Cisco effort. It will ensure that they don’t find, as many do who aren’t technologically savvy, that by the time they’ve deployed, what they’ve deployed is obsolete. On the other hand, in these rural areas, skills are limited, so going too advanced could have colossal support and outage issues that could cause the projects to be seen as failures. The Innovation Centers help assure that doesn’t happen either.

Cisco has over 1,000 active or completed projects in 40 countries for projects like this, giving them a considerable background in what can go wrong with efforts like this to ensure their success.

Adding the ‘Better’ to Building Back

Governments tend to be ill-informed at scale on current technology, and most vendors sell to these governments without even trying to understand the unique requirements of the users because the governments often don’t bother to collect them. The Cisco Innovation Centers are designed to help close that gap and better assure massive projects like those currently happening worldwide to successfully close the digital divide, not just from a sales perspective but also from the user’s perspective. 

The CDA program is innovative at the engagement level, which is critical to the success of any project but requires a ton of focused effort because of the unique requirements of projects focused on those that aren’t currently connected.

I could argue that to assure the success of the “Build Back Better” infrastructure effort, more CDA-like efforts with centers like this one should be implemented. Because, while governments like ours can certainly build, without a program like CDA, the “better” part will likely be elusive.

Rob Enderle has been a columnist for the TechnologyAdvice B2B sites since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.