How can Cisco's $1 billion tech fund boost business - and schools?

Dominic Sacco explores how the firm's initiative could boost trade in the coming years
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As Cisco pumps $1 billion into the UK economy with an education and skills initiative, Dominic Sacco explores how this could boost trade in the coming years…

Prime Minister David Cameron and senior Cisco execs – including UK and Ireland CEO Phil Smith – met in July to make a landmark announcement that could help drive serious growth in the UK. (pictured - John Chambers, Chuck Robbins and Phil Smith outside number 10).

A whopping $1 billion (around £650 million) will be invested in various projects over the next three to five years to improve the economy and education systems.

This will include $150 million (£95 million) on venture capital investments in UK Internet of Things (IoT) startups, as well as improvements to Cisco’s British Innovation Gateway initiative which offers advice to entrepreneurs. And importantly, investments in key education and skills initiatives which could help close the IT skills gap.

IT trade association CompTIA has been banging the IT skills gap drum for a while now, recognising the need for better education and initiatives, in order to give students the skills they need in getting a career in IT.

In recognition of this, Cisco is improving its UK-based Cisco Networking Academy education programme, an IT skills and career building initiative that claims to have helped more than 5.5 million people prepare for the IT workforce since 1997. 

Cisco says it’s also making these investments to redress the country’s North-South economic imbalance.

For a company that last year told PCR it expected classrooms to effectively die out, with children connected to the internet and teachers replaced by apps, this is a huge investment for the education sector.

The company is clearly betting on IoT, which it calls the Internet of Everything, to have a greater influence on schools in the coming years. “The classroom of the future may not even be a room,” Sarah Eccleston, director of enterprise networks and IoT at Cisco UK and Ireland, previously told us. “It can become much more of a remote virtual learning environment where you can use video much more greatly, and everything and everybody can be connected to the internet.”

The announcements come as the UK tech trade prepares for the back to school selling period, following the launch of Windows 10 on July 29th.

When asked what his thoughts are around back to school this year, in light of declining tablet and desktop sales, Dixons Carphone chief executive Sebastian James told PCR: “Tablets is in fairly rapid decline, partly because there’s not much new technology. But we think Windows 10 will be helpful so we’re expecting a good back to school. It’s a big computing period for us – it’s not gigantic but it’s important, and I think to have that with Windows 10 is helpful.”

It’s not just Cisco investing in education either. Microsoft and Ebuyer are backing The Tablet Academy’s series of STEM workshops for teachers and students across the UK. This should increase the aptitude teachers and children have around computers and technology, which again, could mean more jobs and inspiring minds for the UK IT channel in the future.

Beyond education, IoT is set to change how we work and provide new growth opportunities overall, which could in turn help vendors, distributors and resellers grow in the near future. Cisco’s investment will focus on helping IoT tech within the finance, retail and healthcare industries, as well as smart city development.

Then there’s the growth of Cisco itself in the UK, where it employs up to 7,000 staff. The company wants to expand further, doubling its Central London footprint with a new office before the end of 2015.

All of these investments are part of Cisco’s ‘country digitisation acceleration strategy’ which is focused on long-term partnerships with national leadership, industry and academia to ultimately grow GDP, create new jobs and invest in a sustainable ecosystem across public and private sectors. 

Cisco’s investment in education is undoubtedly a good thing whether you’re a distributor, vendor, reseller or services company – and reaffirms the point that the IoT is coming. And it could change everything.

PCR's Sector Spotlight on Education is running throughout August - click here for more articles

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