Technology is changing the way businesses are done globally. This is why tech-driven solutions are created to help companies expand and grow their access to markets and contribution to the GDP. An example of such a solution is the Cisco incubation and innovation hub developed by the technology company to address some of the challenges faced by Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises in Nigeria. Guy Diedrich, senior vice president and the Global Innovation Officer at Cisco, who spoke with select journalists in Lagos recently, speaks on how the incubation hub is positioned to enable local innovators and entrepreneurs to develop more secure, intelligent, and connected solutions to grow their businesses. He spoke on other issues. AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE brings the report. Excerpt:
Can you take us through the digital accelerated programme in Africa and Nigeria in particular? How important is Nigeria to this digitalisation move?
The mission of Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) programme is to power inclusive communities and resilient economies by unlocking the power of digitisation. With its young population, abundance of natural resources, and the second-largest GDP on the continent, Nigeria stands to benefit from an inclusive digital future.
The decision to bring Nigeria into the CDA programme is important because the Nigerian government is prepared to invest in the people in order to drive its digitalisation agenda.
We are aware that there are well-thought-out plans on how to connect the unconnected in Nigeria to give them access to power and an inclusive future for all. This is inspirational because what the government is doing aligns beautifully with the mission and vision of Cisco.
No doubt, by connecting those that are unconnected, we will instantly lift millions of people out of poverty. This move to drive connectivity in Nigeria is an economically prudent thing to do because of the incredible opportunities it will create.
Through our conversations with stakeholders, we understand how crucial digital transformation is to growing the country’s economy, building sustainable critical national infrastructure, and creating new job opportunities that would reduce the unemployment rate.
Your company launched Cisco EDGE to address the challenges SMMEs face in the country. Kindly take us through how this incubation hub can help solve some of these homegrown challenges?
While there are immense opportunities in the digital economy, entrepreneurs and Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises also face many challenges. Entrepreneurs may have an award-winning idea, but they may lack the technical expertise and knowledge necessary to turn that idea into a business in a digital-first economy.
They may not have the most optimal relationships with technology vendors and distributors, or a strategy directing them on how to engage. If SMMEs are to succeed, they must know how to leverage technology and fully understand the solutions upon which their products and services are built. Some foundational knowledge of applications, cybersecurity and the cloud is also key. That’s where Cisco EDGE Centres come in.
EDGE stands for “Experience, Design, Go-to-Market, Earn,” and each centre is based on three key pillars to support SMMEs as they grow their local digital economy. The first is to incubate: the centres create new job opportunities through partnerships that foster access to the market for new partners in the technology market space.
The second is to innovate: the centres help to enable local innovators to create new platforms and tools to build new software and solve today’s challenges, and the third is to educate, which means that through the Cisco Networking Academy, one of the world’s longest-running purpose-driven IT skills-to-jobs programmes, the centres transform the lives of learners, educators, and communities through the power of technology, education, and career opportunities fostered by strategic partnerships.
The centre hosts three key functions under one roof. It provides a space where local partners can showcase technologies and host client events; brings resources and tools to local innovators and entrepreneurs to help them develop more secure, intelligent, and connected solutions; and offers training programmes and education in the most advanced digital technologies.
What are the essential infrastructures that need to be instituted to enable small businesses in Nigeria to harness their growth potential and improve contributions to economic growth?
It is of critical importance to ensure that small businesses have access to basic infrastructure and facilities like these centres that provide a shared workspace equipped with state-of-the-art technology and reliable, secure connectivity. These centres are spaces where small businesses can showcase and demonstrate new technologies, and host clients and events.
EDGE Centres bring resources and tools to local innovators and entrepreneurs to help them develop more secure, intelligent, and connected solutions. They also offer training programmes and education based on the most advanced digital technologies.
Key sectors can be seen as vital to the transformation of the Nigerian economy. How can technology help to build, expand, diversify, and scale up the SMMEs sector?
Small businesses can expand and grow the economy through technology adoption; having access to market and specific vertical industries like manufacturing, retail, financial services; and creating new smart cities with sustainable buildings allows for new innovations to address the immediate needs of Nigeria’s economy. These vertical industries all require different and unique critical infrastructures like networking, data centres, collaboration, and cybersecurity which in turn provide growth opportunities across the SMME sector.
How is the operation of Cisco structured to attract and sustain patronage going forward? What are some of the unique selling points that stand the company out?
Cisco’s presence in Nigeria since 2002 shows our commitment to the country’s technological advancement, and we are excited that the EDGE Centre model enables us to grow that commitment by working directly with SMMEs to incubate new businesses, develop new technological innovations, and harness the power of IT education.
Getting the buy-in of stakeholders in Nigeria to develop an important industry like the one you operate in is a huge challenge. What would you say is the best approach to win over doubters?
The CDA programme will assist by creating long-term collaborations with the government of Nigeria by actively investing in strategic programmes that align with the national digitisation agenda, and by using Cisco’s platforms and expertise to form the bridge between Nigeria’s digital ambitions and the benefits of a digitally inclusive future.
Our presence in Nigeria since August 2002 shows commitment to the country’s technological advancement. Our efforts have led to job creation, economic growth, and investment in the Nigerian economy, ultimately building a knowledge-based economy.
In Nigeria, we have collaborated with local partner ecosystems to facilitate secure connections and embrace the digital opportunities that lie ahead. By empowering businesses and the government, we aim to contribute to Nigeria’s inclusive future.
One of our key initiatives in Nigeria is the investment in digital skills through the Cisco Networking Academy. Since its inception, the academies have provided training to over 411,000 students in the region. By bridging the digital skills gap, we are helping to prepare the workforce for the future digital economy, ensuring that Nigeria remains competitive and equipped with the necessary expertise.
In collaboration with the government of Nigeria, we intend to continue to invest in Nigeria’s national digital strategy through our Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) Programme. CDA is focused on what really matters to national leaders: growing GDP and empowering citizens with technology, skills, and innovation. CDA initiatives are implemented in 48 countries around the world, with over 1400 successful projects.
The issue of human capacity remains pivotal in Nigeria. What are the strategic plans that need to be put in place to address this in Nigeria?
The digital economy must be powered by digital skills. Cisco Networking Academy is an IT skills-to-jobs programme offering digital skills training through strong public-private partnerships, high-quality curriculum, and inclusive workforce development programmes. We are one of the longest-running, purpose-driven digital skills programmes in the world.
In the future of work, there is a new revolution, where people now work from home. People are not bound to go to the office every day. It is important to note that digitalisation is going to displace 85 million workers between now and 2025, but at the same time, digitalisation is going to create 97 million new digital-age jobs.
We are celebrating 25 years of impact. We have 288 active academies in Nigeria with around 336 instructors of which 10 percent are female and have trained an estimated 411,000 students across a variety of IT disciplines since inception in Nigeria.
What are some of the programmes you have lined up that Nigerians can look forward to before 2025?
Our centre will be offering several specialisation cohorts and will start with a Cybersecurity focused cohort in September 2023, followed by other cohorts dedicated to specific in-demand technologies.
This is one element of what the EDGE centres can bring to a community, the education part and giving you access to all of the different certifications or just general knowledge associated with security, networking, and programming digital skills. What these centres bring is an elevated experience for those entrepreneurs. We are also looking forward to hosting hack-a-thons, and innovation sessions for locals.