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Interview

Organizations that refuse to go digital cannot exist in the post-coronavirus world, says Cisco Israel GM

“At the end of the day, it comes down to having a culture that nourishes innovation and a platform that enables it. Only companies that can offer both will end up thriving,” says Oren Sagi

Omer Kabir 13:5829.09.20
“Most of my management meetings have been about transitioning to a hybrid or remote work model,” said Oren Sagi, the general manager of Cisco Systems in Israel in an interview with CTech this week. “In every meeting, someone else has a child on their lap. It’s part of the shifting norms that we have to get used to. It is understandable and part of the challenges we face. We have to teach ourselves how to work differently and it’s all part of the fun.”

 

“Fun” may not be the first word that comes to mind when most people think of working from home, even more so if kids are involved. But Sagi believes that organizations can turn WFH into a more pleasant experience if they realize that it is not just a temporary solution and instead embrace it fully. “Cisco released a study a month ago that found that organizations that adopted digital technologies are set to emerge from the crisis in a strengthened position. There is no doubt that it has highlighted new issues and it’s not all as black and white as we may have tended to think,” Sagi said.

 

Oren Sagi, General Manager of Cisco Israel. Photo: Tali Sagi Oren Sagi, General Manager of Cisco Israel. Photo: Tali Sagi
Sagi took part in the WORK@HOME virtual conference on September 30th that was held as a part of Calcalist’s series of online events, thisone dealing with the question of whether WFH is simply a temporary trend that will disappear after a Covid-19 vaccine is available or a longer-term phenomenon that will forever alter the employment world?

 

Sagi is firmly on the second side of the equation and believes companies must prepare for the change, primarily by adjusting their organizational culture. ”Since Cisco is a multinational company, we are used to using various digital tools, video calls, and working from anywhere. I can work from home or from any of our offices,” he said. “Not all organizations are in the same position and some had to move from being 100% location-based to 100% digital in the course of a week.”

 

But it has been a few months since that rapid transition

 

“All that was true for the first lockdown (that took place in March and April). We have to cope differently with the current circumstances since we now realize that the situation is not a temporary one and the hybrid model of working part of the time from home and part of the time in the office will be the new routine, with all the challenges and opportunities it entails.

 

“Beyond the cultural element, there is also the managerial and technological elements that we have to address. On the managerial side, it is important to maintain contact with all the teams and the individuals, to sustain innovation without the ability to meet at the coffee station. The absence of unplanned encounters harms organizations’ ability to innovate, which means that managers have to be far more attentive.

 

“Coping with WFH and social distancing effects people differently and as managers, we have to be very sensitive to that. According to our findings from our employees, people miss their colleagues and working in the office, but have developed alternative solutions and are attempting to consciously create the inter-personal relationships. It blurs the borders between the personal and professional space and the workweek has been extended by four hours on average since there are no strict limits. The behavioral-psychological factor is very important.

 

“The third element is the technological one and includes the need for secure digital corporate communication. During the first lockdown, everyone rushed to connect to the free available services. Nowadays, however, organizations aren’t looking for quick and easy solutions, but are instead building an overall digital strategy. Those who have done so are breaking ahead while others are still looking for comprehensive solutions that can offer secure, connected, and fully managed voice and video capabilities. When a company or organization adopts a hybrid work model, we have to provide it with cloud-based communications and conference call capabilities, cloud-based customer service call centers, and cloud-based security solutions. Since you can’t send an IT person to handle someone’s problems at home, you need the entire solution to be totally mobile and that is done on the cloud which allows you to reach any device while maintaining uniform company policies.”

 

It sounds like you’re saying that in the first lockdown everyone wanted the free and available options like Zoom, but are now searching for a richer and more complex solution.

 

“Initially people went for the solutions that were suitable for the private sector or for small talk, but it is now understood that these solutions aren’t suitable for large organizations, that require availability, service, security, and control. We are no longer in panic mode and companies are looking for other solutions that are suitable for organizations and include built-in cyber capabilities.”

 

How can organizations maintain their data security when so many employees connect remotely?

 

“Many organizations opened their doors to online services in order to enable business continuity from their employees’ homes. Such organizations in effect expanded their reach to hundreds of private homes, private devices, and private internet connections. Some believe that the traditional cryptographic solutions are sufficient to protect the services and tools, but we know that is not the case. A study by the U.S. Cyber Authority highlighted a dramatic increase in the frequency of cyber frauds since the Covid-19 outbreak.

 

“The Covid-19 era has forced organizations to deploy identification solutions and systems to proactively manage cyber threats. Cisco’s products are linked to the Talos Intelligence Group’s cyber analysis capabilities. We have invested in artificial intelligence solutions that can provide insights from Talos’ data and translate them into dedicated settings in the communication equipment being used by our clients. Cisco’s products detect vulnerabilities even before the company’s security officers can read about them and if hackers were able to breach into the systems of a company in Australia, the patch will be available to organizations in Israel before the morning rush hour begins.”

 

Cisco's Jerusalem offices. Photo: Amit Shaabi Cisco's Jerusalem offices. Photo: Amit Shaabi
You mentioned innovation and it really is a major obstacle. Working from home you don’t get the random hallway conversations and the chance encounters that lead to sparks. How do you cope with that?

 

“We are seeing major changes that are fascinating to witness. In the absence of the coffee station encounters, the question arises — How to bring about innovation and how to motivate employees to strive for it?

 

“Technology is a critical element to this because, without the ability to work on the same document or be part of a virtual team, you’ll be left behind. At Cisco, the approach is that there is no single solution, you need horizontal solutions and structural flexibility in order to enable innovation. We encourage heterogeneous thought groups and urge them to come together virtually to come up with new ideas. We provide a transparent cloud-based digital platform that can crosslink to any cloud service provider and thus enables flexibility and business continuity. In addition, there is a realization that innovation comes from the bottom up. You can’t go to the CEO and have them order their employees to innovate. The organization must develop ways to listen, work on new ideas at an early stage, and be willing to fail in some cases.

 

“At the end of the day, it comes down to having a culture that nourishes innovation and a platform that enables it. Only companies that can offer both will end up thriving. Organizations that are not digital must become so in order to survive, and those that already are must develop a work environment and management system that encourages innovation. Whoever doesn’t do those two things, will not survive.”