RIYADH: Sensor equipped objects and their networks — what Cisco calls the Internet of Everything (IoE) — will generate SR59.1 billion in value for the public sector of Saudi Arabia over the next decade, says Mohammed Alabbadi, the newly-appointed general manager of Cisco Systems Saudi Arabia.
About Saudization, he said: “Saudization is a commitment to continue to invest in Saudi Arabia with a focus on recruiting and creating opportunities for Saudi nationals.”
Alabbadi, who is the youngest Saudi head of this American IT giant, spoke at length about Cisco’s engagement with Saudi government agencies and private companies in the Kingdom, in an interview with Arab News.
A graduate of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), Alabbadi, who also holds an MBA from Spain’s IE Business School, world’s major business institution, said the Kingdom can boast of 90 Cisco networking academics today.

Excerpts from the interview.

Q: How is CISCO doing in terms of business? Which are the major projects currently being executed by your company in Saudi Arabia? Please provide me brief information about the projects.
A: Cisco in Saudi Arabia has demonstrated a solid performance year-on-year fueled by customers being more aware of the critical role ICT Transformation is playing across all market sectors. Working with IT leaders like Cisco, ensures our customers and strategic partners the very best return of investment when it comes to leading technology solutions and services, a robust and secure network infrastructure and innovation. As John Chambers, Cisco chairman and CEO, commented following our Q3, FY15 earlier in May 2015 earnings announcement, Cisco is in a very strong position and we delivered another solid quarter which is contributing to a solid year. Our vision and strategy are working and we are executing very well in a tough environment, as evidenced in our revenue growth, profitability, strong gross margins and cash generation.
Our customers feel the pace of change and disruption in every industry and market, and know their success depends on digitizing their business.

Some of our major projects in Saudi Arabia are as follows:
Mobile and data services operator Zain KSA selected Cisco as one of the vendors for a multimillion dollar project to upgrade its network platform infrastructure in order to enhance its offerings to its customers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Cisco announced that they have agreed to strategically collaborate on several high-level projects to build joint solutions for the Saudi market.
We have signed a three-year Managed Services Agreement with the STC for delivering the full functionality of a service provider-grade Network Operating Center (NOC).
We will strategically collaborate to build three new data centers in response to growing market needs to accelerate and streamline cloud adoption in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The deployment represents the largest Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) installation in the Middle East to date.
University of Dammam (UoD) where we completed a full in-door Wi-Fi coverage project in its 16 campuses. UoD now provides a robust Wi-Fi infrastructure for students, faculty, and guests. The service made a tremendous impact on the user engagement, where students and faculty now access course materials and lectures from any building on any campus over the Wi-Fi network, easing the teaching and learning process.

Q: In a competitive market like Saudi Arabia, how do you differentiate Cisco from major players? Please define what makes the brand unique.
A. We believe we are pulling away from our competition using the same formula we’ve always used: Integrating our industry-leading products in every category into architectures and solutions that deliver real outcomes. Our vision — to change the way the world works, lives, plays and learns — has been the bedrock of our 30-year journey, guiding us to focus on the principles of predicting the future, while building on the past, to jointly create new markets and lead industry transitions with our customers and partners.
Only Cisco has the intelligent network expertise to embrace the IoE and make it a reality. This is the next phase of the Internet — a completely digitized infrastructure — combining people, data, processes and things making intelligent networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before; the network and compute infrastructure have become one.

Q: Is Saudi Arabia the fastest growing market for Cisco in the Middle East and Africa region in terms of revenue and customers? What has been the share of Saudi Arabia annually in the company’s overall global revenue?

A. Although I cannot divulge revenue breakdown in detail, Saudi Arabia plays a significant and integral role in Cisco’s strategy for growth globally and in the Middle East and Africa region. Cisco’s operations in Saudi Arabia have grown considerably over the years and today represent a product and services business that is one of the four largest in our Emerging Theatre, with key transformational accounts, including service providers STC and Mobily, the Ministry of Interior (MOI), Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), and the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Q: How do you see the company changing in three years from now as you recently assumed charge as general manager? And how do you see yourself creating that change?
A: Cisco Saudi Arabia is on a journey of positive transformation to become the leading IT company in the country. With technology having been identified as a key focus for growth in the Kingdom, Cisco aims to continue to partner with both private and public sector organizations to help drive this growth and build on these opportunities. We will also continue to focus on developing and creating opportunities for Saudi nationals as well as continue to be the best place to work and develop talent in the Kingdom.

Q: Cisco signed an agreement with Saudi Telecom Company a few months back to collaborate and to build three new data centers in response to growing market needs to accelerate and streamline cloud adoption in the Kingdom. What are the highlights of this project?
A: The deployment, which will represent the largest Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) installation in the Middle East to date, will help STC to deliver operational efficiency, rapid deployment for customers across the board as well as ensure higher availability in a secure environment thereby guaranteeing increased customer satisfaction. It is a major milestone for both companies already long standing relationship. Cisco and STC will build the three data centers at the district level in both Riyadh and Dammam.
STC is looking to help customers in all sectors to achieve new level of productivity, agility and cost saving through cloud adoption and Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) is a data center and cloud solution, which offers full visibility and integrated management of both physical and virtual networked IT resources, all built around the needs of applications. Cisco ACI data center switching innovations will allow STC’s network to rapidly respond to its application development teams, while delivering up to 75 percent total cost of ownership savings compared to merchant silicon-based switches and software-only network virtualization solutions. ACI accelerates application deployment cycles to drive faster business processes and improve bottom line results.

Q: How many Saudi employees are currently on the pay roll of Cisco in Saudi Arabia? How many young Saudis you think will be hired by Cisco within five years from now?

A: Today, we have just fewer than 250 employees in Saudi Arabia. Cisco continues to align with the country agenda and we focus on creating job opportunities for the growing number of Saudi nationals who are entering the work force today and in the future. Our current Saudization is at 46 percent. We offer many diverse roles ranging from customer and partner facing to virtual and international roles
Today, approximately 20 percent of Cisco’s current work force in Riyadh are women. We offer a variety of flexible working conditions to suit the female work force’s varying needs and provide adequate work-life balance. We also offer diverse training opportunities for the female work force.

Q: What kind of training opportunities you are offering to new Cisco employees especially Saudis? Please give a brief account of the training programs — in-house and abroad.

A: Our Fresh Graduate Program gives Saudi graduates the opportunity to join Cisco every year and spend a year at Cisco’s hub in Amsterdam training as a systems engineer or technical support. Once training is complete, graduates are hired by Cisco.
We offer another FG program called Associate Network Consulting Engineer (ANCE), which is a unique opportunity to be part of a highly collaborative, fast paced, global environment combining technical expertise, professional excellence and consulting skills to become a fully qualified network consulting engineer (ANCE). The selected students spend off-sites in Portugal (3 weeks) and Belgium (2 weeks) plus in-country virtual learning.
Cisco also continues to focus on ICT training initiatives for graduates and university students throughout the Kingdom. The Cisco Co-op/Internship program, the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia, reinforces e-learning projects in the Kingdom through enabling the trainees to complete all of their training courses online, participate in on-the-job training, and submit regular reporting results to program managers. Most of the universities in Saudi are currently participating in the program. Up to 16 students (male/female) are enrolled twice yearly, for a 7 months on-the-job training program and up to 60 percent of the successful students who have completed the program have gone on to be hired either by Cisco, its customers or partners while the remaining 40 percent have gone on to peruse postgraduate studies.

Q: How do you explain the relevance and the importance of Internet of Everything (IoE)? Do you think that Cisco’s Internet of Everything (IoE) solutions could generate billions of riyals in value for Saudi public sector over the next decade?

A. Companies and governments around the globe are embracing the next wave of the Internet — the Internet of Everything (IoE) — to create a new tomorrow for their customers, citizens and employees — KSA needs to do the same. Cisco defines the IoE as connecting people, process, data and things across industries, cities and countries to realize new economic value. When people, process, data, and things are brought together seamlessly through intelligent networked connections — institutions are transformed. They can then offer new customer and citizen experiences, improved operational efficiencies, breakthrough innovations and entirely new economic models for services and growth.
According to a Cisco study released recently, the Internet of Everything (IoE) could generate SR59.1 billion ($14.3 billion) in value for Saudi Arabia’s public sector over the next decade. The IoE can help the Saudi government create value by saving money, improving employee productivity, generating new revenue and enhancing citizen benefits. In the study, Cisco projects that the value for the Kingdom’s public sector can be realized on two levels — city and citizen. At city level the value over the next decade is projected at SR51.1 billion ($12.3 billion). The company identified the top five avenues through which government can deliver on this value, which include strategies around the following areas: smart grid, cyber security, travel, mobile collaboration and chronic disease management.
At a citizen level, the value at stake is projected at SR7 billion ($1.9 billion) for the country. Cisco identifies the following as the top five avenues through which government can tap into the IoE value on a citizen level: Payments, counterfeit drug programs, chronic disease management, telework and smart street lighting.

Q: There were reports that Cisco is strengthening its ties with Microsoft, announcing a joint technology platform that will combine Cisco Intercloud with Microsoft Azure to help service providers more quickly and cheaply launch new applications. What is your comment on this?

A. Earlier this year Cisco announced an extension of its cloud and data center partnership with Microsoft to include a new joint technology platform designed to accelerate service delivery and streamline the journey to the Intercloud for cloud providers.
Today’s next-generation cloud services require close compatibility between hardware, software, network, storage, and compute. As a result, cloud providers are challenged with managing the complexity and cost of integrating the infrastructure and application layers required to bring new cloud services to market. To address these issues, Cisco and Microsoft are launching the Cisco Cloud Architecture for the Microsoft Cloud Platform that dramatically simplifies operations and enables accelerated service delivery while reducing costs.

Q: Would you highlight the key markets where you operate and where you see the greatest opportunities for growth?

A. The key markets that Cisco operates in KSA and key opportunities for growth include broadband anywhere/anytime: Service providers and telco’s investment roll-out and sharing of infrastructure across incumbents and challenges.
Central/local government focus: Health care, Education and Defense.
Commercial — driven by a strong SME market segment across all ME countries.
In terms of opportunities for growth: Mobility is a key area as Saudi Arabia leads the Middle East market when it comes to usage of devices connected to Wi-Fi networks. The Kingdom also has one of highest smart phone penetration and adaptation levels globally.
Cisco Visual Networking Index, Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast: 2014-2019 forecasts the Gulf region will have fastest mobile data traffic growth rates, with a 62 percent increase projected by 2019. The ongoing adoption of more powerful mobile devices and wider deployments of emerging M2M applications, combined with broader access to faster wireless networks, will be key contributors to significant mobile traffic growth in the coming years
Security and Cyber Security — In the rapidly evolving world of security threats, total global threat alerts increased 14 percent year-on-year from 2012-2013, their highest-ever level, according to the Cisco 2014 Annual Security Report. Cisco has been securing organizations of all sizes for decades, and we understand the rapidly changing security landscape. Our customers need to maintain a secure end-to-end environment to protect critical infrastructure, data and intellectual property.
Data Center, Cloud and Virtualization — Organizations globally and in Saudi Arabia need to be aware of the fact that solving today’s biggest business and technology challenges requires an approach that fully integrates the three pillars of cloud computing: applications and services, data centers, and networks. This approach will need to keep pace with changing market trends, which require greater elasticity, agility, and speed to support evolution in weeks or months, not years. Today, Cisco is leading the industry in the next generation of data center transformation with Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), which is the catalyst for business success in today’s application economy, allowing enterprise networks to adjust to day-to-day business needs seamlessly.

Q: What are your future plans in terms of tapping more business from this country and from the region, which is seeing billions of dollars of investments in the public sector, oil and gas, banking and telecom sectors?
A. As I said earlier, Cisco Saudi Arabia is on a journey of positive transformation to become the leading IT company in the country and we aim to target all vertical public and private sectors for the next phase of our growth. With technology having been identified as a key focus for growth in the Kingdom, Cisco aims to continue to partner with both private and public sector organizations to help drive this growth and build on these opportunities. I look forward to leading Cisco in this next phase of growth in the Kingdom.

Q: Are you currently working with any project or initiative of the Saudi government, which is exerting all efforts to promote e-governance and e-government?

A. Saudi Arabia has embarked on a 20-year ICT plan that will support widespread technology and telecommunications adoption across KSA’s households and enterprises. ICT adoption is also increasing rapidly, thanks to an unprecedented commitment on the part of the public sector to achieving leadership in connectivity and information technology.
To realize the true opportunity of a connected world, companies and the government must work together to increase access to affordable, reliable technology for the Kingdom’s population. The true promise of digitization in Saudi Arabia is equal opportunities for all. By increasing access to the tools of the global economy — like phones, computers and the Internet — citizens in historically disadvantaged communities can learn the skills they need to succeed. For example, a connected country will drive demand for job creation of trained professionals with skills in information and communication technology, which in turn will help to maintain the networks that form the backbone of the country’s economic prosperity.
Cisco’s reputation is already well established in the technologies, standards and experience in having supported the development and growth of the Internet. Cisco envisions that the principles that have made the Internet a thriving ecosystem over the past 20 years can be applied to create and grow the networked platform for connecting people with products, services and information. This same network would also provide a means for cities to manage services, provide citywide information, gather knowledge on how citizens use managed services and provide business opportunities as well.
Together with an ecosystem of partners, we have created a powerful, integrated platform that incorporates top technology, applications and business models to improve the way communities and cities are designed, built and run – from lighting to waste management, from parking and traffic services to safety and security.

Q: Cisco has been a leader in corporate responsibility. How critical is this to the culture of the company, and would you highlight some of Cisco’s initiatives in this regard, if any in this country or the region?

A. Our biggest global CSR program, the Cisco Networking Academy program, is growing from strength to strength in Saudi Arabia. By partnering with educational institutions, government administrations and community based organizations we are delivering information and communications technology (ICT) education through effective in-classroom learning combined with innovative cloud-based curriculums and tools to prepare students for careers in the 21st-century global economy. For example, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has had a Cisco Networking Academy since 2013, with successful CCNA graduates. Likewise Cisco has partnered with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) and Networking Academy courses have been embedded into diplomas in their training units.
Today Saudi Arabia boasts 90 Networking Academies with 16,000+ active students (31 percent female); 62,000+ cumulative students since launch (33 percent female) and 280 instructors (18 percent female) representing a $ 20 million Cisco in-kind contribution to date. Saudi Arabia is also leading the female participation amongst Cisco’s top 20 countries worldwide.

Q: What are your key priorities for Cisco for the year 2015 and 2016 in order to retain your leadership position in the Saudi market and the Middle East market as a whole?

A. Six key areas will drive our business focus for Cisco in Saudi Arabia in 2015 and 2016:
Supporting the Kingdom’s ICT agenda — Saudi Arabia, like many countries, is witnessing the socio-economic impact of the ICT revolution. This revolution has happened because of the rapid development of ICT infrastructure and usage in the Kingdom. Cisco is focused on helping businesses and the government drive sustainable growth in KSA by providing network-based technologies that help organizations innovate, drive new business models, increase productivity and create new jobs.

Saudization — A commitment to continue to invest in Saudi Arabia with a focus on recruiting and creating opportunities for Saudi nationals.
Skills and Talent growth: A heightened focus on ICT skills training and CSR initiatives in the Kingdom — Cisco University Relations (UR) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities will support the educational and training institutions to deliver high-caliber graduates.
Diversity and Inclusion: Supporting diversity initiatives through an increased focus on hiring a female work force
Leadership in technology: Continued innovation and delivering state-of-the art technology solutions
Working with best of breed partners: Growing our partner ecosystem in order to work with the best of breed partners in the Kingdom.

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