Interview of Nicola Villa, Managing Director, Global Analytics Practice at CISCO and speaker at Sustainable Brands Barcelona

– We have passed from the concept of the “smart city” to the “internet of things”. What different opportunities and advantages brings this revolution for enterprises, society and the planet?

– We are now on the 4th phase of the internet revolution (after the initial communication, commerce and social media phases) which we call The Internet of Everything. In this phase things, data, people and processes are coming together, allowing us to rethink not only entire business process, but especially entire industries. Through a unique combination of cloud computing, pervasive mobile communication, analytics carved out from big data and social media engagement, we are now able to look at the mayor sustainability challenges of our time, and redefine the way we can address them.

– How can companies take advantage of this revolution to combine breakthrough innovation and sustainability?

– Cisco has been at the forefront of sustainable innovation. Through a number of globally relevant, strategic programs we realized that solving the societal challenges of our time – from education to sustainable urbanization, from jobs creation to innovation acceleration – is the basis for running a sustainable and profitable business. Smart and Connected communities, which we help create around the world through the use of digital technology, are an example of this.

– What systems and processes should businesses have in mind or launch in order to rethink and redesign existing products and services, so that they can take advantage of this opportunity at the same time they pursue economic, social and environmental benefits?

– From a process perspective, open innovation and rapid prototyping are the guiding principles. The apparently intractable challenges of our time, be them economic, social or environmental, cannot be solved in isolation by any organization. Collaborative thinking based on rapid prototyping of technology solutions that enable disruptive new business models is the way forward.

– Are there concrete examples of companies or organizations that are already using the “internet of things” to achieve breakthrough innovation and sustainability?

– The examples are already numerous today. From cities like Barcelona redefining the relationship with their citizens by developing remote service capabilities (‘remote advisors”), into large retailers transforming their supply chains by building an integrated , real time view of their customers in a store and predicting what demand will be like, connecting straight to their suppliers.

– The term “big data” usually generates a certain controversy, considering that it may be violating the privacy of individuals while it depersonalizes behaviors to obtain predictive patterns. How is data handled in a company in order to be completely safe?

– From a technology perspective, data needs to be made both accessible and secure at the same time. Innovative and secure technology solutions enable this, already today. Companies tend to anonimize data and still be able to effectively extract insights related. The issue of privacy however needs to be addresses in my opinion at policy level. Policy and regulatory frameworks – which have been build in the past century – are being adapted to today’s rapidly evolving environment, enabling at the same time innovation as well as security and privacy.

– What city in the world currently believes that it has the best integration of “the internet of things” in their daily management? What benefits brings this for the citizenship?

– Amongst many, the city of Songdo in Korea is a leading example. Not only efficient city management (traffic, lighting, environmental sensing, etc), but also effective citizens interactions are being enabled by a hyper-connected environment, supported by pervasive broadband connectivity. Barcelona is the European counterpart of Songdo, where digital integration between different urban infrastructures (starting from lighting) becomes a key element of the city’s sustainability strategy

– We read that Cisco will launch in Barcelona next year the “Global IoE Innovation Center in Barcelona” Why in Barcelona? What will be the mission and the contributions of this facility?

– Barcelona is a tremendous living lab for the world. A combination of a very progressive government, innovating research centers, dynamic start ups and the presence of mayor key industry players, makes of Barcelona a unique playground for developing the future of our communities. Cisco wants to be at the forefront of this innovation and to partner with the city government and many other ecosystem partners in this journey.

– We almost always talk about applying these technologies in countries with a high GDP (gross domestic product) and quality of life of Western standards. But economic growth is being much stronger in developing countries. What can a company like Cisco do to improve the level of efficiency and sustainability of these countries in growth?

– We are focused both at he developing and developed world. Both worlds can learn from each other. We should first of all move away from the assumption that innovation is happening in the developed world which can be then transported in the developing one: We innovate countries like India, China and Brazil and bring products and services not only to the developing world, but also to the developed.

– Sensors, “internet of things”, mobile technology, what is the next step, which is the technology that comes next?

– Many technologies will come next. Wearable computing being for example one, 3D printing enabling distributed manufacturing is another one. With the billions of sensors deployed today becoming more context aware, energy efficient and CPU-strong, we will witness the emergence of new business models, fuelled a fully distributed data architecture. Instead of bringing data to a central wharehouse, we will start managing data and taking decisions at the edge of the network, enabling effective decision making, in real time. This is to me the next big market transition, where the Network will become our new Database.

– Is there any prediction about the profile of professionals and companies that will be needed in the coming years in the development of these technologies?

– The need will be to acquire, develop and retain top talent that focuses at the intersection between data science, design thinking and enterprise management.

– History does not always go forward, in a straight line. Sometimes there are setbacks. Is it possible to have a technological regress after decades of progress?

– Progress will keep happening as long as people keep understanding and ripping the benefits – individual and social – that technology revolutions bring..

– Why do you think events such as Sustainable Brands Barcelona are important?

– Technology, design and branding is a unique combination that can really change the world. Sustaianble Brands Barcelona represents to me one a mayor meeting of the world’s brightest minds in this space

– What would you like as an outcome of this international event, what would you wish to see as a result?

– I would like to see a number of global, relevant, large scale “demonstration projects” being implemented as result of the discussions at the event. The time for discussing and debating what the mayor causes and solutions to the challenges of our time is gone. The time for taking action, at large scale, is now.