Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

The Internet of Opportunity

April 7, 2015

Last Monday night at the London Science Museum the annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture was delivered. Over its 40+ year history the prestigious lecture has been given by the likes of Bill Gates, Christine Lagarde and the late Sir Terry Pratchett. This year’s speaker, Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of and a crossbench peer, delivered a lecture titled ‘Power, the Internet and You’, focusing on the digital evolution of the UK.

As the government’s former “UK digital champion” and now chair of digital skills charity Go ON UK, Lane Fox’s message was clear; Britain should bring the power of the internet to every corner of society, while being wary of the dangers inherent in a digital future. She urges that as a nation we need to understand the internet more deeply and to be curious and critical in our digital lives.

During the lecture, she took the opportunity to not only outline what action needs to be taken with the UK digital economy, but how this can be achieved. At the crux of the plan is the need to create a public institution for our digital age. Taking the name of DOT EVERYONE, it would be an independent organisation that is given its power by government but has a strong mandate from the public, with three overarching objectives focusing on internet education, gender equality and the ethics of the web.

As I listened, I was not only inspired but excited, as what Martha Lane Fox is trying to create requires collaboration of everyone, and that is intrinsically in our DNA at Cisco. Since forming some 30 years ago we’ve always been about using technology to make connections, whether that is between people, processes, data or things; or all of them – we believe in the internet of opportunity, and connecting the unconnected present’s incredible possibilities.

As I look at the three 3 primary objectives of DOT EVERYONE I believe as the UKI entity of Cisco we can proudly raise our hands and say we are working already to achieve this. We’re of course by no means there yet, but we’re certainly following the right path.

Looking firstly at educating all about the internet, a collaborative approach between business, government and educational institutions is essential. In the next 5 years, the technology industry will provide 500,000 jobs offering students an opportunity to change the way we live, and reimagine our future through technology. To ensure the public from every corner of the UK are embracing the internet we need to re-educate the educators, as well the government, of the fantastic opportunities.

To help make this a reality, at Cisco we are working in partnership with STEMNet, to help demonstrate the amazing opportunities that STEM skills unlock. Similarly with the Cisco Little BIG Awards, we’re inspiring 11-14 years olds to understand the fantastic and fun opportunities the Internet of Everything can offer, and we recently pulled together 20 schools in Hampshire and Surrey to do just this.

To ensure the UK society as a whole embraces the internet, focusing on just young people will of course not bring about the desired outcome. However, as Lane Fox alluded to herself, you have to start somewhere, and the more the Government of the day can be educated and fully understand how the power of the internet can reinvent and enhance services, the sooner we can ALL reap the benefits of such digital services.

The second objective is to put women at the heart of the technology sector. As Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Cisco UKI, I suppose I am evidence of this objective being achieved to an extent; however more still has to be done. I can personally relate to the interview question that Lane-Fox experienced, as a similar situation happened to me on my career journey. Our Global CTO, Padmasree Warrior, recently said ‘The common excuse I get is that no women applied for the job. I tell them to change that. Go find women’. Padmasaree raises a key point, too often technology companies believe it is only their responsibility to look the demand part, and that the supply element is out of their control – this is a convenient excuse.

Technology companies can do so much to improve gender equality. For example our Cisco Connected Women initiative recognises the need for more female participation in the high-technology industry, and we consequently have programs and resources to help women develop their skills as individual contributors, managers, and executives. Additionally, in the UK we’ve achieved a 50-50 gender split in our apprenticeship programme simply by changing the language we use in advertisements and job descriptions. Considering the general industry slant is closer to 80-20, that’s a significant achievement. Instead of terms like systems engineering, products and services, we favour words like technology, solving problems and people. It sounds simple because it is, but the results speak for themselves.

Finally, DOT EVERYONE would look to overcome the ethical and moral challenges the internet presents. For example, embedded devices are leading to complex networks of people and things in both the public and private sectors; such devices are creating new relationships among people and computers. Though, a balance must exist between understanding the positive impacts of the internet and generating awareness about its risks to privacy and security.

DOT EVERYONE may certainly end up leading on such ethical and moral issues, but businesses have a key role to play to ensure that the UK public have a clear understanding of ethical issues and the risks a digitally-driven world can bring, as well as ways to mitigate those risks.

We’re undoubtedly becoming a digital-as-default nation, both in the consumer and business world, as we continue to realise the full (endless) potential of the internet. The plans set out by Martha Lane Fox are incredibly exciting, and they have my full backing. Though, to achieve these objectives requires significant collaboration, and I would urge businesses to act today and question whether they are working to achieve these. From Land’s End to John o’ Groats let’s embrace the internet, help drive societal change for the better, and make Britain greater.

If you want to learn more about DOT EVERYONE, have a read of the website, and if you feel inspired on the proposed institution you can sign the petition demanding the next Prime Minister starts to build DOT EVERYONE – I have!

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