Jan Niemiec, vice president of sales at Cisco, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding the challenges of driving digital transformation efforts for the company to stay ahead of innovation in the federal landscape and support the missions of its customers.
In addition, Niemiec also discussed recent growth initiatives and driving value for Cisco in a highly competitive sector as well as the uphill challenges of federal recruitment and implementing zero-trust architecture during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.
“At Cisco, we have a culture based on innovation. We invest more than $6 billion into research and development. In addition, we constantly keep a pulse on the market for future potential acquisitions or investments. My team’s role is to take that innovation and apply it to the federal defense and intelligence market.”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight interview with Jan Niemiec below:
ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the company’s recent growth initiatives and how you’re driving value for your customers through contract awards, acquisitions and other aspects across the federal sector?
Jan Niemiec: “At Cisco, we continue to change the way people work, play, live and learn. This has shown itself in a big way in the last couple of years. As you can imagine, we saw things like telehealth visits jump as much as 50 percent and we have over 1.2 billion children around the globe moving to hybrid and virtual education.
As we look at the Department of Defense and the supporting agencies, there has been a massive acceleration and having to be able to digitize everything there is. As that’s taking place, it’s accelerating the mission and raising expectations across the board on what can be accomplished.
That has pushed Cisco to reimagine how our customers are designing, developing and deploying all their applications. They have to deploy everything on a consistent user experience across all their separate networks. They accelerate everything they do across multiple classifications and even now, including mobile.
That’s something that hasn’t been done historically and all that work was done while just maintaining the world’s best cybersecurity posture. The only way in doing that is to leverage automation and machine learning as well as what we call ‘full stack visibility’ across all their environments.
We’ve had a couple acquisitions such as ThousandEyes, which we acquired a little less than a year ago. It’s basically developing situational awareness for the internet. The company provides instant visibility on what’s happening across the internet.
Everyone’s becoming more dependent on the internet, especially with remote and hybrid work changes that we’ve all seen. As a result, it’s critical to have that situational awareness and then bring that awareness automatically into the network.
It just helps across the board with the user experience and helps with your overall flexibility and deployment of new applications. We also recently acquired a company called Acacia Communications. That helps us a great deal with our routed optical. These are leveraging this technology in their backbones.
As we see big carriers rolling out 5G capabilities and building out their 5G networks, that silicone chip is our own design and has really helped us create huge growth, which has been 70 percent year-over-year.
From my standpoint, our job is to take that growth and ensure that the government can take advantage of it. Of course, the government can take advantage of it through the carriers and things like that, but sometimes, the government’s building its own infrastructure.
The trick is just to ensure the government is getting all the advantages of the innovation we have as well as our ability to run these multi-terabit networks.”
ExecutiveBiz: With the influence of emerging technologies impacting every aspect of business, how has your company been able to drive digital transformation efforts to stay ahead of innovation in the federal landscape for yourself and your customers?
Jan Niemiec: “At Cisco, we have a culture based on innovation. We invest more than $6 billion into research and development. In addition, we constantly keep a pulse on the market for future potential acquisitions or investments.
My team’s role is to take that innovation and apply it to the federal defense and intelligence market. Presently, we see a ton of potential for the innovation in how this market approaches the Internet of Things (IoT).
Cisco’s operating system inherently helps customers deploy IoT solutions, which can range from the digitization of factories for those in the Defense Industrial Base to fleet management for those agencies operating along the border. Another critical example comes from our Mass Scale Infrastructure technology investments.
Our web scale business saw 70 percent YoY growth last quarter with rapid adoption of our 400GB solutions and our routed optical networking portfolio. This was specifically from our 8000 product line, Acacia and Silicon One. It’s our team’s duty to provide that same technology innovation into the larger DoD and national security networks to support our warfighters.
Cisco is supporting and building out 5G capabilities across the board. We also have private 5G capabilities that we enable our big partners to leverage, which could be AT&T, Verizon, General Dynamics, Lumen, etc.
With our own private 5G, we can also enable government agencies or even the defense department to build themselves up and give them the flexibility they need to take advantage of 5G technology while maintaining the security that they need for their data.
The big challenge for artificial intelligence and machine learning in the federal marketplace is on how we take the networks and fully automate them. That’s what we’re focused on and that is full automation.
That always has an AI or machine learning component to it because the only way to be fully automated is with a full loop. You need to automate the network. You should have sensors out there that allow the network to know that the automation in place happened.
That’s the loop that you need to establish and that’s our focus. We’re heavily focused on automation across the networks, which includes global networks with software defined WAN, software defined campuses as well as in our data centers with our application-centric infrastructure technology.”
ExecutiveBiz: How does your company ensure long term success for your workforce to drive value for your employees as you continue to face the uphill challenge to recruit and retain the best talent in the federal marketplace?
Jan Niemiec: “At the end of our FY 2021, we published our Purpose Report. We state very clearly that our purpose is to ‘Power an Inclusive Future for all. The Purpose Report takes corporate social responsibility and creates key metrics that we measure in environmental, social and governance (ESG).
We’ve published this report and we show how we’re performing against metrics. For example, we’ve focused on increasing energy efficiency not only in our own building consumption, but also by designing our products to be more energy efficient.
Employees at Cisco love working here and embrace the transparency that’s been outlined in the purpose report. Nothing recruits better than having a workforce that actively recruits every day and whose enthusiasm makes some of the best talent want to work at Cisco.
That talent directly translates into company performance, which also helps attract talent. We had great performance in our fiscal Q2, which just closed, with 9 percent growth and broad-based demand across the majority of our product portfolio.
We kind of started this pivot back in 2016. We had something called ‘the People Deal.’ That started as a grassroots movement. It culminated, but we now specifically measure how we’re progressing.
For instance, we put a stake out there that we want to increase people that identify as African American by 25 percent and we are actually measuring these types of things in terms of our company diversity. If you don’t work to measure these things, you can’t get to your goal.
We want to increase our energy efficiency. We’re working to reduce our energy and be energy efficient within our own buildings and be aware of our carbon footprint as well.
Through our own progress report, we wanted to know how we continue to make progress and be able to showcase our hard work and improvements. Let’s reduce the energy consumption of our own products. That seems like a good start and we can deliver that same efficiency to our customers.”
ExecutiveBiz: With zero-trust technology becoming a major focal point moving forward, what can you tell us about the difficulties of implementing zero-trust architectures and focusing on data security?
Jan Niemiec: “This question hits home for Cisco. The network and specifically network visibility is a critical piece to a zero-trust architecture. The May 2021 Executive Order emphasized the importance across the federal government of zero-trust.
Cisco and our partners are continuously working with our customers to design and deploy zero trust across their entire environment. We’ve categorized zero-trust as Workplace, Workforce and Workload:
Workplace is within the walls of the customer’s environment with identity services, protection against denial of service and application aware technologies.
Workforce got a lot of attention the last few years as trust is extended beyond the walls and it includes technology around multi-factor authentication and endpoint protection.
Workload requires the customer to analyze and audit flows anywhere including cloud, on-premise and remote locations. It also requires application-level security monitoring.
The military and its supporting agencies have unique requirements with zero-trust as they operate globally across multiple classifications. The first steps are leveraging the network and ensuring that there’s the correct visibility across the entire environment. That then enables the customers to develop roadmaps specific to their use cases to get to a full zero-trust posture.”