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John Chambers

05 July 2010
John Chambers
  • Briefly, what have been the key successes of the Connected Urban Development (CUD) initiative over the past four years?

When you look at what’s occurring across the world, we see a number of fundamental changes to our society: urbanization, demographic shifts, increasing globalization, an imperative to promote economic growth and of course, to address climate change.

The Connected Urban Development (CUD) initiative began in 2006 as part of Cisco’s commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, a project developed by the William J. Clinton Foundation to solve global problems that affect the quality of human life.

Through a range of pilot projects in cities like Amsterdam, San Francisco and Seoul, CUD was able to show how information and communication technologies (ICT) and broadband connectivity can reduce carbon emissions in urban environments, while stimulating economic development. These projects included: Smart Transportation Pricing, Urban EcoMap, Personal Travel Assistant, Smart UrbanEnergy for Homes and Schools, Smart Work Centers and the Connected Bus.

As a result of these successes, the CUD program was recognized by the European Commission, Metropolis, and the UN as a leading program in the area of ICT for sustainable development in cities.

Another important area in which CUD has been successful is the development of a global community of urban thought leaders, influencers and experts who regularly engage in discussions, conferences with partner cities, and most recently last month in Shanghai at the Partnership for Urban Innovation Conference during the World Expo.

A Public-Private-People model is required in order for us to meet the challenges of urbanization, globalization and climate change and I am very pleased with the progress thus far.

  • Why have you handed over leadership of the CUD program to The Climate Group?

We have had the honor of working closely with The Climate Group, an impressive community of urban thought leaders, influencers and experts. We see a lot of potential in the Smart 2020 initiative and felt that the CUD program was now at a critical juncture which required broader, cross-sectoral execution. It made sense to hand over stewardship to The Climate Group under Smart 2020. We are now on an exciting new leg of our journey that will take us on a path to a sustainable future. In many ways the progress so far serves as a catalyst to a wider innovation network, with economic, social and common environmental benefits.

  • You have just launched an initiative called Smart+Connected Communities. What is this?

Smart+Connected Communities was actually developed out of the work we did in CUD. As the community around CUD grew and we started seeing progress around the pilot projects, we wanted to create a business unit within Cisco that could bring the solutions we envisioned to market. So under the leadership of Wim Elfrink, Chief Globalisation Officer, and the Globalisation Center East team in Bangalore, we developed Smart+Connected Communities, a global initiative which uses the network as the platform for integrated city management, better quality of life for citizens, and economic development. Through this initiative, Cisco believes that the network can be the platform for transforming communities, cities and countries to drive overall sustainability – economic, social and environmental. The S+CC initiative has helped us turn many of the concepts from CUD into a solution roadmap for our customers.

S+CC is now a key market adjacency for Cisco, but more than that, this initiative provides us with a platform to engage with government leaders, urban planners, city managers, policy makers, developers, industry players and leading individual experts and practitioners around the world.

  • What information and communication technologies are you seeing the greatest demand for from cities?

Innovative information and communications technologies can be used to help cities improve energy efficiency; reduce carbon emissions from cars, trains, buses, and other forms of transportation; transform urban design, city management and operational practices; and transform the way residents of a city work and interact with each other. The foundation for the city of the future will be the network and the information it carries, enabling the delivery of vital services.

We’ve seen a lot of interest around the energy technologies such as Smart Grid as well as solutions that transform public services such as transportation, education and healthcare. In addition, collaboration technologies such as TelePresence are also garnering interest as they help create a high level of virtual interaction and improve the end user experience.

  • Are global cities becoming more competitive in utilizing low carbon technologies?

If I had to name one emergent trend from all the macro changes in our world, it is that cities are becoming more powerful politically, economically and in their ability to drive the global agenda. We are seeing cities across the world driving clean, low carbon technology adoption. And like companies, cities can reduce carbon emissions by bringing information to users via technologies such as TelePresence and Unified Communications instead of bringing users to the sources of information. I firmly believe that our focus on the Smart2020: Cities and Regions agenda, and the Cisco Smart+Connected Communities solutions will play a critical role in helping to provide a better quality of life for citizens and economic development of cities.

In our own business we have seen tremendous interest and scaled adoption of integrated transportation systems, smart grid, cloud computing, building management systems, and collaboration platforms.

  • The strap line of the Shanghai World Expo is ‘Better City, Better Life’. What is Cisco doing in China and in Shanghai to deliver this ‘better city’ vision?

The expo theme 'Better City, Better Life' aligns to Cisco’s vision for connected cities of the future and how network-based technologies, like our S+CC solutions, can enhance the quality of life for future generations. Over the next fifteen years, 350 million people will move to China’s large urban centers. As a result, 221 cities in China will have a population of 1 million or larger. Today, of the whole of Europe, only 35 cities are this big.

Planning for this unprecedented rapid urbanization requires new tools and strategies, topics which we addressed at World Expo 2010. One area  of focus is the role of technology in building socially, economically and environmentally sustainable cities of the future.

The Cisco Pavilion is a showcase for how those technologies can come together.

This type of connected city architecture is already being put into place in both established cities and brand new communities in China. In Sichuan, Cisco has made the Wenchuan hospital fully WiFi enabled, with digital signs and IP phones in every room, enabling many types of communication.

The city of Chengdu is building the Tianfu High-Tech Zone with Cisco, which when completed, will benefit from smart city management and smart public and social services, as well as support energy conservation and emissions reduction.

  • What advice would you give to other technology companies wanting to work in this space?

I sincerely believe that technology is the key to the future and will help the world manage its environmental and energy challenges – but no one company can address these issues alone. Partnerships are key, especially public-private partnerships, and even better if you can involve the people in the communities. I would encourage other companies looking to enter this industry to work collaboratively with local governments and organizations and actively engage in The Climate Group’s Smart 2020: Cities and Regions initiative.


John Chambers is Chairman and CEO of Cisco. He joined Cisco in 1991 as Senior Vice President, Worldwide Sales and Operations, and assumed the role of President and CEO in 1995. He was later appointed Chairman of the Board in 2006. Chambers has received numerous awards for his leadership over his past 14 years at the helm of Cisco, including: Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” and one of BusinessWeek’s “Top 25 Executives Worldwide.”

In addition, Chambers has been widely recognized for his and Cisco’s philanthropic leadership, recently receiving the first-ever Clinton Global Citizen Award from former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and the U.S. State Department’s top corporate social responsibility award from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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