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[Herald Interview] ‘Success of Korea’s Digital New Deal depends on connectivity, cloud, IT talent’

Cisco exec explains what digitalization really means, how technologies have helped cities recover from COVID-19

Fran Katsoudas, Executive Vice President and Chief People, Policy and Purpose Officer at Cisco (Cisco Korea)
Fran Katsoudas, Executive Vice President and Chief People, Policy and Purpose Officer at Cisco (Cisco Korea)

Ever since the emergence of the internet, digitalization has been a popular catchphrase. Yet, it is an elusive goal for many, as nearly half of the world’s population remain unconnected.

South Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world and the first country to roll out the next-generation 5G networks, has set digitalization as its new goal, seeking to invigorate its pandemic-hit local economy with the “Digital New Deal.”

An executive of Cisco -- a US tech firm which has helped many governments and cities go digital -- said the vision requires a combination of factors -- wide-range and strong connectivity, cloud service that frees people from the restraints of physical places and highly skilled IT experts, plus close cooperation between the private and public sectors.

“The success of this vision is built on the foundation of universal internet connectivity, accessibility of cloud services, as well as a healthy talent pool of skilled IT professionals,” said Fran Katsoudas, executive vice president at Cisco in an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday.

The US company on Wednesday launched the Country Digital Acceleration program in Korea, a collaborative framework to accelerate digitalization across the country and support an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has introduced the program in more than 40 countries around the world to support their digital transformation initiatives by collaborating with governments and local businesses. Through the program, Cisco helps countries develop digital technologies and build infrastructure to benefit both public and private sectors.

Aligned with the Korean Digital New Deal strategy, the CDA program in Korea will focus on 5G B2B technologies, cloud services, smart factories and education, according to the company.

“Cisco’s CDA program is focused on collaborating with key stakeholders on driving innovation in 5G services, multi and hybrid-cloud enablement, and developing the next generation of IT professionals in the country through our Cisco Networking Academy program,” the executive explained.

In Korea, specifically, Cisco runs 23 educational training centers called Networking Academy. These academies have trained more than 53,000 students so far. And as part of the CDA program, the company will be offering more Cisco Networking Academy programs in the country to train the next generation of IT professionals.

“Korea’s Digital New Deal is aimed at accelerating the country’s transition to a digital economy by extensively digitizing national infrastructure,” Katsoudas said. “When President Moon Jae-in announced the initiative, he emphasized that the focus will be on fostering the D.N.A (data, network and AI) ecosystem and non-face-to-face industries.”

To advise Korea on its digitalization plan, the US tech firm called for the need of cooperation between companies and the government.

“Individual companies can be catalysts for digitization but if we’re truly going to have an inclusive future for a country or society, a national commitment to digitization is essential,” he underlined. “At a basic level, that means having a vision of connecting the unconnected (about 3.7 billion people). Individual companies can contribute to the digitization but that framework at a national level provides that roadmap for digitization to flourish.”

For the past six years, Cisco has executed as many as 70 projects on six continents, especially more last year to help governments respond to the pandemic.

“The ability for governments to work remotely was essential to leading their citizens through this crisis, as was delivering public services in new and innovative ways,” she said. “We quickly understood that legislatures around the world needed new ways to hold hearings, vote, caucus, and meet with constituents. For example, Webex enabled the United States Congress to hold critical hearings and meetings remotely and to do so in a hybrid environment.”

To date, the US House of Representatives and Senate have held more than 8,500 meetings and hearings on Webex developed by Cisco.

“What Covid-19 has taught us is that cities cannot function without technology – whether it’s the coordination of vaccines, children receiving education, connected court proceedings, virtual legislatures, or accessing critical healthcare. Those without technology and internet connectivity are at risk of being left behind,” she said.

The company’s projects turned out successful in countries like Brazil, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Germany in the fields of judiciary, health care and education, according to the executive.

“All of this work through CDA serves as a reminder that the lack of reliable connectivity is a critical societal issue,” Katsoudas said. “Networking and collaboration are the enablers of education, of healthcare, and of the ability to receive government services.”

But even today, nearly half of the world remains unconnected, the executive noted.

“In the US and Canada, Cisco has worked with the cities of Dallas and Toronto, the State of Arizona, and several local governments in Michigan to provide Wi-Fi access and cloud security technology to vulnerable communities. Cisco is also working to bridge the digital divide on Tribal land. There is more work to do to close the widening digital divide and Cisco will continue our partnership across the public and private sectors to be that bridge,” she said.

On the 5G front, the Cisco executive showed interests in working in a country with the most advanced 5G infrastructure so far, promising speeds up to 50 times faster, 10 times more in responsiveness, and much lower power connectivity than 4G.

“For enterprise, the impact will be even more profound. Businesses across Korea are looking to leverage technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, 3D printing, advanced robotics and wearables, to increase efficiency and boost growth,” she said. “The success of these technologies is dependent on underlying connectivity. This is where 5G with its high speed and low latency will be a game-changer, especially in areas like machine-to-machine communications in smart factories, large-scale IoT deployments, edge computing, and areas like robotics etc.

By working closely with Kwangwoon University, Cisco will help develop and test new 5G network solutions to bring more value to enterprises and enhanced network experiences to customers.

And with Naver Cloud, the country’s largest cloud vendor, the US tech firm aims to strengthen a hybrid-cloud enablement in Korea.

“Integrating our cloud solutions with Naver Cloud to strengthen the hybrid-cloud enablement in Korea is in line with the continuously evolving needs of our customers and the shift to hybrid/remote IT environments,” the executive said.

“The way we think about security and the edge has fundamentally changed: The network no longer starts and ends at a campus, branch, or datacenter — it extends to wherever employees, students, and patients are. The ‘Cloud’ has become the new data center, the ‘Internet’ is the network, SaaS are the applications, and the ’Edge’ is where the person or thing is.”

By Song Su-hyun (