by Georgi Georgiev
California-based Cisco designs, manufactures and sells Internet Protocol-based networking and other technologies related to the ICT industry and provides services associated with these products and solutions. Approximately 70% of the world’s Internet traffic flows through Cisco networks. The company has more than 70,000 employees worldwide and 380 offices in more than 165 countries. Cisco spends nearly $6.0 billion a year on R&D.
What economic and technological trends are currently shaping IT spending in Southeast Europe (SEE)?
The nature of spending is changing and we experience this across all customer segments. We see increased interest in technologies enabling mobile ways of working, including the bring-your-own-device trend. Customers are also looking into bringing applications and services to the private cloud. Businesses operating regionally, as well as subsidiaries of international and global companies are interested in how collaboration technologies can make communication more efficient across supply chains, between local and international headquarters, as well as with end customers.
When it comes to upcoming trends, the Internet of Things and Internet of Everything (IoE) bear great opportunities for SEE, both for the private and public sectors. IoE is about the connection of people, processes, data and things, and the increased value that occurs as “everything” joins the network. Several technology transitions, including the Internet of Things, mobility, cloud computing and big data are combining to enable IoE. Lots of innovation is needed to make IoE a reality and this is an opportunity for innovative companies in SEE, be it start-ups or more established players.
How can the public and private sector work closer to boost the rate of absorption of next-generation technologies in the region?
Governments can play a key role here both through regulations as well as demand generation, such as new e-services. Examples could be remote and e-government services for citizens and businesses, e-education or e-health. At the same time, these services could help decrease bureaucracy and increase the efficiency of public organizations.
According to the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report, SEE countries are lagging behind because of insufficient development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure, low levels of ICT uptake as well as weaknesses in their innovation systems. These factors hinder us to fully enjoy the benefits that can come from ICT. I see it as a joint responsibility but also a joint opportunity for the public and private sector to come together and address these issues.
What level of interest do you see among local governments in SEE to learn from the experience of counterparts around the world that are mounting successful smart city initiatives?
I have met with several mayors from the region who clearly understand the role and potential of technology and are closely monitoring what some of their colleagues do in Europe and across the globe. Last year, for example, Ljubljana hosted a conference of chief information officers and IT leaders of the Major Cities of Europe organization. According to a recent study from Cisco about the potential economic benefits of IoE, we found that cities will generate almost two-thirds of IoE’s overall civilian benefits globally. The potential value for cities is around $1.9 trillion over the next decade and cities can capture much of this value by implementing “killer apps”, such as smart buildings, monitoring of utilities via smart metering, smart parking, waste collection, water management and others. However, when it comes to Smart City projects, there is no “one size fits all” solution. We need to look at each city and find out how technology can address their specific needs and challenges. In case of Hamburg, for example, the port is at the heart of the local economy. Hence, several of their Smart City initiatives are focusing on port operations and smart traffic pilots in and around the port area.
On the backdrop of the continuing squeeze on public spending across SEE, what opportunities do you see to engage governments in the region in promoting remote health care services?
Some experts argue that the next revolution in health care is not about medicine. It is about using information and technology to drive safe and efficient patient care. Remote health care services are a key part of this shift and can help address many of the issues our countries face today: bringing care to remote areas, aging population and the lack of doctors or specialists. As broadband connectivity is built out across SEE, it enables new models of services in health care, but also other citizen service areas, such as remote education. IoE has an important role to play here. Think of blood pressure monitors and other sensors sending data automatically to doctors who can easily and securely track patient records and pro-actively intervene if needed, even before a patient notices something is wrong.
What potential does the small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector have to fuel the region’s longer-term economic growth? In this context, how crucial is it for SMEs to keep abreast of technological advances?
In today’s economy, most SMEs are part of supply chains and one of the key success factors is how they can efficiently communicate and collaborate real-time with their suppliers, customers and partners. As consumption models in IT are shifting towards the cloud, this opens up great opportunities for SMEs to access cutting-edge information technologies, without having to make major investments. So my advice to SMEs is to think of IT and technology as a strategic part of their business, and not only some back office function. And if I may give another piece of advice: watch out for the IoE trend and what it can bring to your business. As mentioned before, lots of innovation is needed to make IoE a reality and this opens great opportunities to innovative SMEs in the region. At Cisco, we have initiated several new programs to foster innovation and support technology companies, including venture capital offerings, start-up competitions and our Cisco Networking Academy programme.
What momentum are you seeing behind the take-up rate for cloud services in the SEE region?
As mentioned before, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have emerged as a key driver of demand for cloud services in the SEE region as they seek to absorb cutting-edge technology and get integrated into the global supply chains.
Which SEE industries are leading the cloud push?
Telecom service providers are realizing there is a big market in the region for selling cloud services to SMEs and are actively working on building up know-how and cloud capabilities.
In addition to SMEs, another area where we see rising demand for cloud services in SEE is the public sector. Quite a few countries have started initial analysis how these services could be deployed properly and we are trying to engage to see where we can work with them.