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Cisco eyes opportunities in AI, sustainability in Australia

Cisco is looking to tap opportunities in sustainability, AI and cyber security as it navigates Australia’s economic headwinds

Cisco is looking to tap opportunities in sustainability, artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber security as it navigates the economic headwinds in Australia, plagued by rising interest rates and slowing GDP growth.

At the recent Cisco Live Melbourne, Ben Dawson, vice-president for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) at Cisco, noted those areas will present the industry with its biggest opportunity since the dotcom boom.

The company aims to achieve net-zero across Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2040, and since 99% of Cisco’s emissions are in Scope 3 – that is, they are its customers’ Scope 1 and 2 emissions – he said there’s an opportunity for Cisco to work with its partners and customers.

Denise Lee, Cisco’s vice-president of engineering sustainability, said achieving net-zero means looking at the entire product lifecycle – manufacturing, transportation, use and recycling or reuse – and “while we don’t have this all fully baked today”, there is a plan for getting there.

For one thing, Cisco will continue to make its products more efficient, and apply its technology to improve sustainability, such as helping to make buildings smarter as part of its Green Pay initiative. It also wants to play a bigger part in recovering equipment at the end of its first life, so the equipment can be reused elsewhere or recycled. Only a very small fraction will go to landfill.

Sustainability considerations have become part of the minimum threshold set by purchasers, alongside issues such as modern slavery. But Cisco has been able to differentiate itself by demonstrating the real and achievable savings that accompany a sustainable approach, said Lee.

On cyber security, Dawson said Cisco will continue to help its customers build architecturally secure systems, with measures to limit the blast radius of any event and help them respond appropriately.

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But he pointed out that the Cisco Talos threat intelligence group has found that most breaches during 2023 involved known vulnerabilities, which shows that organisations are failing to keep their systems updated.

Cisco is no stranger to AI, having been using it in technical design for a decade. But generative AI can be brought to bear in tools, such as Cisco AI Assistant for Security, that make tasks simpler, faster and more easily communicated.

Cisco AI Assistant for Security is trained on over 550 billion security events each day across web, email, endpoints, networks and applications. The first two tools are AI Assistant for Firewall Policy and the AI-powered Encrypted Visibility Engine for all firewall models.

Dave West, president of Cisco in Asia-Pacific, Japan and Greater China, said in addition to formulating rules based on natural language input, the AI Assistant can detect the existence of duplicate or otherwise redundant rules.

AI Assistant is currently in private preview, and West said customers that are using it are seeing good results. According to a company source, some two dozen organisations signed up for the preview during the first two days of Cisco Live. Plans are also afoot for the tool to include a capability that helps determine how easily a vulnerability can be exploited in a customer’s environment.

Range of tasks

Jeetu Patel, Cisco executive vice-president and general manager of security and collaboration, noted that AI assistance expands the range of tasks that workers can handle, leaving the most skilled to take care of the most difficult issues.

However, he did warn that while some AI capabilities will be a standard part of products, others may be extra-cost options. Cisco will watch how customers use these features before it can determine how much it costs to provide them. While there will be some monetisation, Patel said Cisco does not want price to become an impediment to adoption.

According to Cisco’s recent AI readiness index, 97% of respondents said the urgency to deploy AI had increased during the past six months, and 84% said AI will have a significant or very significant effect on their business.

While organisations are accelerating their AI tests and pilot projects, Dawson said they are still concerned about customer information and confidential data, and will apply AI where it’s safe and impactful.

Cisco does not break out its regional results, but its ANZ operation is tracking global performance quite closely, Dawson told Computer Weekly. He said the business is enjoying strong revenue and margins, partly because the orders that were backlogged due to supply chain issues have been delivered during the past three quarters. This has led to a slowdown in demand while customers absorb the equipment they had been waiting for.

Direct year-on-year comparisons are not relevant due to the pandemic-related distortions, but Dawson is “bullish” about 2024 because customers still see technology as an important part of business, and so IT budgets are expected to hold up.

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