Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program is fascinating. It is fascinating that it is designed to help countries, not companies, with Digital Transformation. I’ve had a chance to look at other efforts like this over the years, and there have been more failures than successes. The failure is often the tendency for the company driving the effort not understanding how the government they are trying to sell into works and what drives the purchase decision. Cisco’s success is primarily because their program addresses these oversights out of the box. Cisco forms a genuine partnership with the country’s government before the project is defined, and that partnership assures the success of the resulting effort.
One of the most interesting CDA efforts was undertaken in Japan, and that effort’s success has as much to do with Cisco’s approach as it does with Cisco’s technology. Let’s talk about what’s behind Cisco’s CDA program success this week.
Japan is a fascinating country, but it can be a problematic country with which to work. Its language is difficult to learn, its culture is very different from western culture, and business relationship dynamics seem to be modeled after family dynamics. It is also one of the strongest countries globally, and today Japan produces some of the highest quality products in the world.
Japanese people tend to put an unusually high value on trust, and they can be exceedingly loyal if that trust is first earned. But earning that trust, particularly as a Western company, can be difficult. Companies that have done well working with and in Japan tend to establish a significant presence in the country, staff their effort predominantly with Japanese people, establish trust early on, and put in place processes that assure that this trust isn’t misplaced.
In this regard, Cisco’s CDA program checked all the boxes.
Cisco CDA In Japan
While Guy Diedrich leads Cisco’s CDA program, the effort in Japan was driven by Josh Nakamura. Rather than coming in like most Western vendors and immediately advocating a solution for a problem that wasn’t well understood, Cisco initially partnered with NEC and Alaxala and worked with two of Japan’s Prime Ministers to better understand Japan’s problem and craft a solution the country would accept.
The problem, which was an aging network infrastructure based on a unique and dated technology, was well within Cisco’s expertise area. Still, they needed a partner that understood this problem from the standpoint of a native to define and mitigate it properly. This effort was necessary because this old network technology was dragging down productivity and causing Japan to fall behind other countries.
By working with companies that understood the problem well, Cisco was able to craft a solution. With these partners’ help, they were able to craft a solution that the country not only would accept but widely advocate and help spread.
Specific results included a digitized education program in Japan to address the need for remote learning during the pandemic. One of Japan’s unique problems is that, along with the mainland, many of the 70 large and small islands disbursed over 12,000 kilometers also need access to the web and communication/collaboration hardware and software solutions. These islands have populations of 7K people. They are using a combination of wired and wireless cloud resources to connect school kids and businesses to the web. This effort is now part of a country-wide effort to revamp Japan’s entire education system.
To help get this technology into small businesses, they partnered with Printer company Ricoh who then worked with Cisco to create a printer internet hub solution that could provide a near instant wireless network in the business with a straightforward setup process bought into the solution. Using embedded Meraki technology from Cisco resulted in one of the fastest high-speed network upgrades ever attempted. This combination printer with a built-in wireless network hub was well received in the country because it was designed in the country, and that approach reflects another best practice.
Cisco was able to massively help Japan by working with the country’s leadership and existing infrastructure vendors to craft and deploy a solution expressly designed in and for the Japanese resident’s unique needs. By working with the country, instead of just pitching products at them, Cisco’s CDA leadership made progress where other companies using more traditional approaches would have likely failed.
This collaborative approach doesn’t just work in Japan either; Cisco’s skill set has been shown to work in all countries because you can’t create a viable solution unless there is substantial knowledge about its unique aspects.
The most successful salespeople know that the probability of a successful sale increases the more you know about the prospect’s unique needs, practices, and interests. It appears that this scales up to country scale, and Cisco’s CDA program is a showcase of how well this focused approach works, particularly with extensive in-country projects.