When educational institutions, state and local governments, and federal agencies reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift in their IT strategy was vital to adapting successfully. And like their private enterprise counterparts, these public organizations were forced to act rapidly and with innovation throughout 2020. Recently, Scott Frielander, vice president of Insight Public Sector, and Nick Michaelides, Cisco’s senior vice president for U.S. Public Sector, discussed how Cisco technology helped clients transition to new ways of serving the public during that time.

SCOTT: From providing remote access to protecting data during an unprecedented time, how can customers ensure they’re making smart choices for IT? Any examples of where you helped customers innovate their way through the crisis. 

NICK:  The first example that comes to mind is our Buffalo 311 weekend in March of 2020. We had a 48 hour turnaround with the city of Buffalo, the University of Buffalo and Cisco.

We came together to plan, implement and stand up Buffalo’s 311 call-in resolution center in just one weekend, right as the pandemic hit. Thankfully, the University of Buffalo had a 311 call system that was already modernized and scalable. Once the pandemic hit they were able to quickly join the city of Buffalo and Cisco and — literally over the weekend — complete a plan. They were taking calls by Monday morning. This was truly phenomenon.

Another one that I like to call out is the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine. They’re using Cisco technology to deliver healthcare services to patients in very rural areas across North Carolina. They wanted to ensure that their students and the patients were able to stay connected when the pandemic hit, and leveraged telehealth solutions based on Cisco technology to deliver remote dentistry in ways that, prior to the pandemic, they themselves would tell you they had no idea they ever could have imagined.

SCOTT: What about security? With the expansion of telehealth, distance-learning, and secure remote work, how can customers ensure their data is safe?

NICK: Our U.S. Public Sector team at Cisco feel leveraging technologies like Umbrella, Duo and SD-WAN are key to maintaining end-to-end security. Whether you’re a remote user, a remote branch or just doing a video conference like you and I are doing today from our houses, we need to make sure that security is inherently built into everything that we do.

We want all of our customers, partners, and the citizens we all serve to know that when they leverage Cisco technology and platforms like Webex, whether they’re working in their office or homes or somewhere in between, we’ve built those platforms or those products with security as a foundation and at the forefront. This includes many that have meet stringent FedRAMP Authorized requirements. The confidence that we all want to have when we’re leveraging technology is there. Data privacy and protection is paramount for our customers and our citizens, as it should be.

SCOTT: Many of us had to adjust and embrace the remote setting and specifically in Education it has been an adjustment for learning. How can teachers leverage technology to create engaging distance-learning experiences?

NICK: When the pandemic hit, the pivot was to quickly figure out how to do distance learning, or move to a longer-term hybrid learning environment. It’s not just remote. It depends on the school and some of the school districts right now, in the K through 12 space, you’ll have some kids in school one day and some kids will be remote in certain other days. I would venture to bet that in the future, whether it’s a K through 12 school or even a higher educational institution, that a hybrid approach will prevail for learning.

I think earlier on the problem we saw was that the schools did not have the proper infrastructure and limited and/or outdated collaboration tools. Schools in the past were hiring teachers to teach not hiring technologists to teach, but that’s what kind of played out post pandemic. Teachers woke up and had to use technology to connect with their students and parents which was much different than what they’ve done in the past.

A good example is the Shawnee Mission School District. They implemented Cisco collaboration technology like Webex in their classrooms, offices and their STEM buildings. Faculty, student and parent engagement increased like never before. And some of the outcomes that they saw were because they now had a collaborative platform that enabled change management programs for their employees, their faculty, their students, their parents that enabled interaction using video during and outside of school hours. 

SCOTT:  Final thoughts, as organizations review the investments and trends from this year to adjust to a physically distanced world, what advice do you have for these groups? Where should they continue to invest?

NICK: The first thing to do is ensure that you have a strategy for transforming and modernizing your business, and have a digital transformation plan in place that you do not end up on the wrong side of the digital divide. I will tell you technology is the enabler to rapid digitization, but people and processes are just as important. So, employee engagement all the way with leadership and culture will absolutely make a difference.

Quality leadership matters. We’ve got to stay close to our people. I think empathy and compassion are a must in how we should lead. I think that life-work integration is really important going forward. And we collectively, whether it’s your company, Cisco, or the government, you need to figure out how to make work fun.

I think the last thing I’d like to touch on is culture is the real differentiator and why I love working here at Cisco ever since the pandemic hit, and well . . . before that Cisco showed up in such a big way for its people in our communities, ensuring that the people within Cisco and around us knew about what we were doing and the positive impact that was having on our culture. This truly propelled us to be the number one best place to work for now, the second year in a row. And trust me, we are still laser focused on world changing technologies, but our strong culture and creating an inclusive future for all is really resonating with our employees our partners, and our communities around the world.

I think people around the world are struggling and I really do believe that people want to know that there’s more to work than just a paycheck. Yes, technology is on the front end of this discussion, but I also strongly believe that our people, leadership, and culture matters just as much. So, make sure you invest in a flexible elastic infrastructure. That you can handle where people will work from home in the future, as well as equal investments in people, leadership and culture.

Watch the entire Insight TechTalk event



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Learn more about Buffalo’s weekend 311 event and how it all came together

Take a deeper dive into Shawnee Mission Schools next-generation of learning




Nick Michaelides

Senior Vice President

US Public Sector