The third in the series of profile pieces looking at organizations that make corporate responsibility a core business practice. This time around, I spoke to Cisco director of systems engineering, Andrew Erratt, about the vendor’s Cisco Networking Academy program, and the value that brings both the community, the IT industry, and Cisco itself.
What value do you think Cisco Networking Academy brings to the organisation?
Andrew Erratt (AE):First and foremost, it’s a philanthropic program, and the not necessarily focused on Cisco, but on IT in general, and then they do go all the way to industry-type certifications rather than just Cisco. So the value that it brings to Cisco is to add more educated resources in the workforce around networking as opposed as a direct result to Cisco. We try to keep an arms length from the people who are in the program to the people that we hire so that it’s a benefit to the industry as opposed to a benefit just for Cisco.
As a leader in this space though, you would stand to benefit the most from a program that puts additional skills into the workforce?
AE: We benefit by having Cisco-educated people in the workforce as opposed to other types of educations - they come through the education process with Cisco in the background as opposed to coming through any other program provided by any other vendor. It’s very robust and the programs which the academy runs are industry standard and people hire for those skill sets so again, I get back to the fact that we all benefit from it, not just Cisco.
How long has it been running here?
AE:We’ve been running the Network Academies I would think for at least 10 years - I think we had our 10-year anniversary last year in Australia and New Zealand.
Now that you’re looking to broaden the program to be an Asia-Pacific based project, where do you see it going from there? And how do you see this thing developing over, I guess the next 10 years?
AE:So the reason we’re turning it into an Asia-Pacific project is as an economy of scale issue. Where do we take it from here? We continue to work with academic institutions to continue to roll it out in more places. Let me give you an example of how we see it moving forward. There’s one area where Australia needs to zero in at the moment, what I call putting their weight behind it.
So for example, we’re working with a group out in Redfern, Sydney, where they’ve renovated public schools out there that’s now a become a community center for Redfern. We’re working with the CEO out there, to start a Network Academy in the community so that we have indigenous kids go to a Network Academy in a local environment. So we’re looking to look at other opportunities to expand the Network Academies into indigenous education.
And the other thing that we want to do it is to have virtual Network Academies. At the moment all the Network Academies are instructor led, so you have to turn up to a class as if it’s at university or a high school. Where we want to take this to in the future is to become a virtual Network Academy so that we have somebody run it and we can have students just log in and then participate in a remote location. Obviously you would need broadband so that you would participate remotely so that we can move it beyond the classroom, just the boundary of a classroom.
So what value does Cisco consider its social responsibly programs to have?
AE:I passionately believe that all large organizations should give back. They should find a cause and give back because they are able to do it. And a lot of those can actually move the needle on a lot of issues when they throw their weight behind it. We’re not necessarily in it for all the glory and the publicity and all of that, we don’t demand advertising space on corners of people’s websites or on the logos on their correspondence, what we actually want to do is to start to find an issue that we can throw our weight behind to try and affect for the better, and in this case, we’re focused on reputable education models and indigenous education.
Partnerships are an important part of your social responsibility programs, then?
AE:Yes they are, and we have great relationships with some of the NGO’s in the North Queensland, and also some of the NGO’s down here. We maintain both formal and informal relationships, and all of those relationships are important.
In terms of building partnerships with these organizations, is it a different process to, what you could call a typical business relationship?
AE: Absolutely. People are there for different motivations. If we’ve got a partnership with an integrator, the motivation is to sell stuff and grow your business. When you’re creating a partnership with an NGO, you’ve got a different outcome and the outcome is to improve a particular social issue.
What does an NGO expect from its corporate partner?
AE It’s not around money; it’s around time and intellectual property. One thing that corporate Australia has that a lot of these fledgling indigenous organizations don’t have is business experience and when I say business experience, an example would be, something like trying start a farm growing something up in North Queensland. So Getting commercial business plans together, lobbying financial institutions to raise working capital. And that’s not necessarily playing with handing out cash because handing out cash is a really easy thing to do. If you’ve got it, you hand it out; you say I’m really good and then you walk away. It’s not that sticky. What you need to be able to do is to provide intellectual property, stick with the cause and see the outcome.