Daisy Chittilapilly, President, Cisco India & SAARC took over her current role in July 2021, around the time India was coming out of the havoc created by the pandemic’s second wave. Having led the digital transformation vertical of the company, Chittilapilly had closely witnessed the quick evolution and adoption of IT solutions in the country across various industries and sectors in the last two years.

In India, the company now wants to focus on the whole application space, modernisation, infrastructure, cyber security and hybrid experiences space. In an interview with BusinessLine , she takes us through the company’s strategy, offerings and various emerging technologies it is working on in both public and private sectors. Excerpts:

What has been some of your interesting observations during the pandemic in terms of technology adoption you have seen in India for Cisco?

There are a lot of ideas as to how tech can impact lives of businesses, people and the government. Some have been adopted and adapted to better than others. Covid has essentially turned India into a living lab, probably one of the largest living labs all around the world, running huge pilots in how to do e-education, e-healthcare, how to take what was previously physical programs of the government now completely online, how to make us shop more than we always shopped online, how to take medical appointments, financial transactions online. Whether us as a consumer, me as an employee in a business or me as a citizen, interacting with the government, there is so much that has been tested at scale in the last 24 months, since March 2020.

The pace of change is massive, but what is most exciting about that is that we will never go back to the way things were before Covid. This promise of technology to solve problems at a scale higher has been tested. There is far less scepticism all around, about the possibilities in front of us.

You can see it in the numbers already. India is right now at 100 million digital transactions a day with ₹5-lakh crore value of transactions happening daily. As government takes more and more services online, public sector spending in ICT (information and communications technology) is expected to clock about $8 billion in the next year. If you look at the National Digital Health Mission, they have already incorporated almost 3,000 hospitals and almost as many doctors and 14 crore digital health IDs have already been created and you can say we are sort of creating an Aadhaar equivalent on the health side. That will then create an insurance ecosystem. Lots of numbers are also showing that this is a move, which is going to be permanent. It was a revolution for the last 21 months, but it is now becoming more of an evolution of the way we do things in the future.

You had mentioned a $6 billion investment in R&D of 5G solutions and IoT space, is it entirely from a global standpoint and how much of it will be deployed in India?

In India, we have the second largest site outside the US. Every function that you see in the Cisco diaspora is represented in India. The $6 billion is a global R&D budget. It is quite sizable, if you take a percentage that companies spend on R&D. We are a $50-billion current run rate company. It is a substantial part of our revenue that we continue to put back into R&D and that is a big one.

From an India standpoint, we have the largest engineering footprint outside the US, in India. We are a very large technical assistance, and we follow the sun model. We have only four centers in the world and one of them is in India. Whether it is a finance or a supply chain Center of Excellence, you can find them here. That is the investment and commitment to India as a geography.

The last one in the thread of investments is the corporate development fund. India is a land of great innovation particularly technology innovation. As a company, we have built, bought or partnered to meet the outcomes that our clients want. So, we are constantly on the look for the investments that we want to make in companies or companies that we want to acquire, who are based in India.

We have had some success. We have acquired four Indian companies to date, and we are constantly looking to acquire more. All of this forms the basis of the portfolio that we bring to India as a company and the investments that we bring to India as a country.

Cisco has partnered with Vodafone Idea for try outs around 5G network. I wanted to understand the 5G solutions you are working on and how are these trials playing out? What opportunities are you seeing?

It is not just Vodafone, but we have partnered with Airtel, too. 5G is the next generation in connectivity. But what it's doing is because it is throwing more bandwidth at the edge. The pipe at the edge has a consumer is much fatter and thicker and probably will become as reliant and then you can drive more services on top of that pipe.

The ability then for us to push forward for using 5G, particularly in outdoor environments, to connect things on top of 5G, that's the promise of 5G for now. Essentially it is a way of riding on 5G. So, the edge applications are what 5G is expected to revolutionise, particularly the IoT ecosystem – sensors, not so much of IT devices. The promise of 5G is that it will open- up the connection of more things on to the internet and networks. So, it is power connectivity at a whole new level.

There are two kinds of conversations that we are having with service providers. One is about how do we get service provider networks upgraded to 5G and roll out 5G in the most efficient manner, in a short span of time. The other conversation is, if you are having 5G, can you can run e-education on top of it as a student who is sitting at home, can you drive an ambulance and can you extend healthcare to an ambulance which is on the move. Can you extend a doctor consultation to an ambulance that is picking up a patient and is on the way to the hospital? That is the second kind of conversation we are having with service providers.

There is the conversation around networks upgrade and the capability of 5G that the service provider has to create and then there is the conversation that if you get 5G, what can you do with it? Those are the types of trial that we are running elsewhere. So, two types of conversations are happening with service providers that matter here in India and broadly elsewhere.

The promise of 5G is that it will pull together an even bigger ecosystem, that will operate together and then the end outcome can be delivered to a consumer, industry or even government. Lot of players will participate to make that promise a reality. Even at Cisco, while we are a very important player and we do shape that conversation with service providers and governments and industry, in many parts of the world, not just in India, we partner even in tech stack with others. In the radio space in 5G, for example, we partner. We don’t have our own technology in radio space. It is a space that calls for partnership and collaboration at a whole new level.

Would you be looking to partner with startups in the 5G space and other aspects like IoT, cybersecurity?

Absolutely. When we first started LaunchPad, we had this idea, as a technology biggie, we have to do something to accelerate the growth of technology ecosystem in India. That was the genesis for LaunchPad, when we started five years ago. We quickly realised that as our customers and market is digitising at the pace that it is, startups bring innovative use case. They innovate at speed, and they do one or two things really well. We quickly realised that the better opportunity with LaunchPad is we have the market access in India. We have partners who are the extension of our ecosystem and the whole promise of being involved in the entrepreneur startup conversation in India is that we can curate this ecosystem to deliver what our client is looking for.

A lot of the clients, in India, are a little hesitant. They love the ideas that come out in the startup ecosystem, but they are worried about the sustainability of that idea and the operation. So, when a large brand like Cisco says we will bring a solution together and we will partner and deliver this solution to you, it is great for the startup as well because the time to market shrinks and they get massive access to markets and time to markets and money also shortens. That is the power of this and there is tremendous value in this conversation.

We provide tremendous depth and market access to these startups. But in return I think we are all very blessed that they come in to complete many of our solution conversations and it works wonderfully both ways. It is a very symbiotic relationship.

Since Cisco is big on the hardware aspect as well, are you feeling the brunt of the chip shortage?

Our CEO is on record saying that we expect this to be a situation that lasts through all of 2022 and potentially 2023 as well.

We have always had a culture of transparency with all of our stakeholders and it is no different when it comes to the semiconductor situation. We are constantly communicating with both our customers and our partners and suppliers and all of our ecosystem that is involved. If it is customer and a partner, we have to plan at a level that we have never planner before.

Our supply chain is rated the number one supply chain in the world, for a few years running. Typically, our supply chain used to be able to ship any category of product in four to six weeks. Now, we are not talking any everything close to it by a mile. It requires a rethink and co-planning with all of our ecosystems to make sure that some of these digital projects that are very necessary and some of these technological capabilities that are very necessary, we make sure that it can be planned for, and it can be made available, and those projects don’t grind to a halt. It is not a temporary situation, and the more people can get on board with this fact, the better we can plan together. That will set us up for success because couple more years is what we are signalling the as the shortage situation.

In terms of product offerings as well as various categories and verticals that you are working on, which are top revenue contributors in India?

For us, service provider, public sector, IT services, banking, and manufacturing are all big. SMB is getting very interesting because we have never seen such an appetite for technology in SMB as we see now. Covid has really made even the most technology-shy SMB take a serious view of technology. Those are the four to five spaces in the country.

We will see emergence in some of these newer spaces like transportation, utilities, agri and so on but not at this level of contribution at this point.

Are there software and products that are developed for India but are being taken and deployed to other markets as well?

We did buy some India-based companies which are now part of our global portfolio. They are integrated in our global portfolio. So, there are acquisitions that have happened. There are products that we had built for India. One of them, of course, now we have exited that market, but many years ago, one of our first, early products was set-top box.

We have some products in routing that came out of India, and then has been used in other spaces as well. Some interesting ideas in automation which we started in India for the first time, but then has become a footprint for service providers worldwide. So, either products we built with India in mind but then went quickly global or projects that we did in India which then became a blueprint for the way projects could be done. We have done both - product level innovation as well as the whole technology lifecycle roll out overall, which has become a model for Cisco worldwide as well. So, for us, everything we build, we build not for India but as a part of global footprint right.

Are there specific geographies where Cisco would be more likely to replicate a particular product or solution from India?

No, because for example, some of the innovative work which we have done with service providers in India, we have seen it go to the developed markets also. That has become a blueprint for developed markets like Japan, Europe and the US. We are not very good at productising by geography. We prefer to make bets on technology transitions, and we believe that everybody will get to that level of maturity sooner or later. Is the world flat or is there a gap in technology maturity, adoption, maturity between countries? Cisco’s view is that everybody in the world should have access to the best technology. We believe everybody should have access to the best-in-class technology. People will get there at different points in time but between India and other parts of the world there is no gap.

Are there any upskilling programmes within the organisation as well as outside of organisation that Cisco conducts?

We have Cisco Networking Academy. We have nine lakh students who have gone through Net Acad. We used to run it as a physical programme at engineering colleges. We train the trainers, and give out the curriculum, and the college would run it. But now we are empanelled with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, so we are an accredited course with the Government of India. During Covid, we took it online as well. Out of the nine lakh students, three lakh came out only in the last 12 months. As a woman, I am very happy that 30 per cent of the student intake and 30 per cent of the instructor count are women, so that is good.

We run the programme in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it is obviously smaller size of operation. There’s 100 per cent employability for people who get certified from the programme. In India, it’s 95 per cent. So, it is a great course to go to. So that is external.

Internal, for our people, we build and buy capabilities, on a monthly basis almost. It is very important, for our people irrespective of which function they are in, to constantly stay learning. Learning is in the genes of anyone who aspires to have a career at Cisco, and there are all kinds of learning paths. It is a good hybrid of hands-on and community learning, continuous education through personalised learning maps, tools which are deployed internally and so on. It’s a mix of both.