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Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins: “We are going to invest $100 million in Italy in the next three years”

by Carmine Fotina

With a $100 million commitment for the next three years, Cisco is making a deal with the government for Italy’s digitalization. Yesterday Chuck Robbins, CEO of the American multinational, met at Palazzo Chigi the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in order to announce his new investments in Italy. In this interview with Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy24, Robbins explains his strategy.

FOTINA: In which sectors are you investing?

ROBBINS: We can identify three different areas. Through Invitalia Ventures we will provide venture capital to develop the Italian start-ups sector, like we are already doing in the UK and France. Concerning digital skills, in accordance with a deal we have with the Ministry of Education, we will increase the number of students admitted to the Cisco Network Academy and the list of schools providing this program. In the meanwhile, we will organize events related to Research and development, as we are already doing in the Photonics labs in Vimercate, right here in Italy.

FOTINA: Will you spread through Europe the lesson of Silicon Valley’s start-ups?

ROBBINS: We are talking about two different contexts. But there are various interesting things going on in Europe in the last two years. The new generation is injecting new energy into the economy and very lively communities are arising, like the 5,000 start-ups founded in your country.

But we can’t ignore what’s still missing: in Italy venture capital is around €150 million, compared to the billions available in other countries. And there is no “go to market,” yet, meaning the way to bring new technologies on the market. We can enter the game by either contributing with capital (and Invitalia is just a first step) or making available for innovative ideas hundreds of thousands of our partners in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, the ones we are more interested in concerning Italy.

FOTINA: Italy is confronting a “double challenge”: the digitalization of both Public Administration and industry. Which was your advice to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi?

ROBBINS: I have to say that your Prime Minister’s staff already has a holistic vision of technology. After all, the technology needed for the digitalization of a country (big data and analytics, cloud, Internet of things, advanced robotics) must be developed at the same time in order to reach the best results. And it seems to me that the government’s plan is going in this direction. The next step will be not to miss the “competence train.”

FOTINA: What does the market need?

ROBBINS: I am just heading to Davos, where the main subject will be the so-called “Fourth industrial revolution” dictated by digitalization. And from this viewpoint we will also talk about education: it is our duty to make young people able to finish their studies with indispensable skills which are consistent with new technologies. Cisco, for example, is already active offering educational programs all over the world for 1 million students. And in the last months we have done our best to increase this number of another million by the next 2-3 years.

FOTINA: Will you cooperate with the government also on cybersecurity?

ROBBINS: We have discussed the issue with Renzi just this morning. This is a crucial theme in every country. As we did for Industry 4.0, we will introduce specific modules in the Cisco Network Academy program. And there is the possibility of closer cooperation at a second stage.

FOTINA: Do you see a winning implementation for digital manufacturing?

ROBBINS: If we look at the ’Internet explosion,’ when, in the ’90s, e-commerce was the ’killer application,’ I think that something similar could happen with predictive maintenance. By connecting robots and the Internet it is possible to optimize the production chain. Just think that the consequence of every minute of malfunctioning is a $18,000 loss.