I spoke about the Cisco CDA program about a month ago. I recently had a chance to meet with the mayor of Turin (also known as Torino) Italy, the honorable Chiara Appendino, on their impressively rapid pivot during the COVID-19 crisis. What made this fascinating was that Cisco’s CDA (Country Digital Acceleration) program had been in place since 2016, and this allowed the City to not only pivot to social distancing internally within four days, it allowed several other institutions to pivot rapidly as well.
The other institutions that pivoted were old folks homes, jails, and emergency hospitals. It is refreshing to see any politician with foresight and unusual, and I left the call impressed with both the Mayor of Turin and Vice Mayor, the Honorable Marco Pironti. Both of these impressive politicians had a solid grasp on the Technology needed to turn their City into a responsible technology showcase. With Cisco’s help, they have helped make Turin one of the bright spots in Europe.
Let’s talk about how they were able to pivot during this crisis rapidly this week.
The issue for all cities hit by the COVID-19 Pandemic is that much of the operation of the City gets done in person through in-person meetings. Besides, there are institutions within a city where personal contact can be critical. For instance, in jails, extreme punishment is often isolation, and prisoner density during a wide-spread illness can drive the prisoners to revolt as they give in to fear surrounding the event. It is interesting to note, that at least in Italy, it appears prisoners appeared treated better than many cruise passengers have been related to this outbreak.
But it isn’t just prisoners that have separation anxiety problems, those in advanced age groups who were particularly vulnerable to the virus had to be isolated as well. Many of these people have various forms of age-related mental problems, so they don’t retain the reason why they have been abandoned; they just feel like their families don’t love or want them anymore. The people in the institutions don’t just felt what a horrid way for many to end their lives, and the pain, it is profoundly felt by their families as well. The amount of guilt that families feel leads them to try to talk to their loved ones through the windows of the facility, which isn’t very practical or safe given that they too are supposed to remain safe in their homes.
Finally, as the City responded to the virus, the need to rapidly convert existing high capacity structures, which otherwise would have gone unused into emergency hospitals, was both new and critical.
Here is what resulted.
Turin + Cisco CDA Response
Turin, since 2016, had been aggressively advancing into becoming a leading tech-forward City under the belief that, done right, Technology could dramatically improve the quality of life within it. Cisco’s CDA program appeared ideal for this purpose. Some of the initial efforts were turning institutions focused on homeless people and jails into Networking Academies so that both affected groups could emerge with valuable and lucrative careers. This effort both turned homeless people from institutional liabilities (consuming resources) to assets (paying taxes) and prisoners (this effort goes well beyond Turin) into functioning members of society (helping to prevent a recurrence of the criminal behavior which too often occurs because released criminals can’t find lucrative jobs).
A secondary advantage was building in both a competence for video conferencing Technology and an internal acceptance for this Technology. The expertise and acceptance allowed the City, with Cisco’s help, to immediately (within four days) shift City Council meetings from in-person to virtual, and to re-mission some of the education efforts (like those in Jails) to connect with families and friends.
It is interesting also to note that they were able, in 3 weeks, to convert 40% of the City employees to remote work, something that had been evaluated just three months earlier and determined to be impossible. And when it came to setting up the emergency hospitals (the one they showcased had 3,000 beds), using partners, Cisco was able to help set up the networking and communications capabilities in 14 days and 3 hours with seven Cisco employees working with those partners.
This effort is awe-inspiring work, and it not only showcases the value of Cisco’s CDA program. But the importance of organizations choosing partners who aren’t just there to sell products but want to assure a favorable outcome by fully understanding the critical needs and requirements while engaging with local talent.
The real impact of the combined effort is that people can continue to function well from home, they don’t have to travel to visit loved ones in retirement homes or jails, and Turin was able to set up emergency connected facilities almost on demand.
Wrapping Up: Best Practice
Integrated programs like Cisco’s CDA effort have huge execution advantages because they mostly avoid the typical vendor/customer conflicts and drama. The focus isn’t on selling products but on accomplishing something meaningful for the client organization, and the measurements reflect this. That allows the company, in this case, Cisco, to better focus on addressing critical needs rather than just pushing volume. These programs also require politicians who are focused on solving problems rather than just taking credit, and they can sometimes seem rather rare.
But when you get the right combination of Politicians and Vendor, as was the case here, magic can result, and Turin is now a glowing positive example not only for Italy but for the rest of the world, and for other vendors, on how these efforts are done.
Overall I remain impressed with Dr. Guy Diedrich, who runs Cisco’s CDA program, Agostino Santoni (who needs to get a WebEx system to his mother) who executed in-country, and both the Mayor and Vice Mayor of Turin who showcased incredible foresight and vision throughout the execution process.
While it is great to see people step up like this and make a difference, I do wish this kind of effort was more the rule than the exception; perhaps by making efforts like this more visible, we can collectively make that happen.
Rob Enderle has been a Quinstreet columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.