Cisco is the second largest IT certification provider, after Microsoft, and it is about to celebrate its two millionth certification, a feat it accomplished in just five years, after taking 13 years to get to 650,000, said Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, VP and GM of Learning@Cisco. “That was three times the growth in one-third the time. We had to do some pretty aggressive things to make that happen.”
The need for accelerated training and certification was recognized by the company 7-8 years ago, she said. Their customers and partners needed a workforce that understood networking, or Cisco would suffer. The networking giant had been prominent in education before, but it had never taken a strategic approach to create more talent.
When Beliveau-Dunn took over the certification and education programs, she had to determine where they were in terms of talent, and where the gaps were in technology and the places in the world it expected to grow. “We mapped out plans… how much talent needed to get in front of that gap… because the gaps were severely acute!”
There were extreme gaps, especially when considered on a global basis, she said. “We went after them with a vengeance.”
Today, Cisco’s talent pool exceeds two million, with 582,000 in North America. At 1.9 million, routing and switching tops the certification hit list, followed by: design 97,000; security 70,000; collaboration 68,000; wireless 36,000; data center 21,000; and service provider 20,000. The Cisco Learning Network, a social learning community focused on the IT industry, has more than 700,000 registered members globally.
The company’s strategy had to be global and scalable, and had to remove the barriers of time, space and location. It also had to be affordable, she said.
“Social and collaborative became the way to scale, the ability to remove those barriers,” said Beliveau-Dunn. That led to the creation of the Cisco Learning Network.
In addition to social and collaboration learning, another recent trend with significant education implications is the Shadow IT revolution, where IT resources are acquired outside of the control – and budgets – of IT. “If you looked at the total budgets of IT, within and without IT, they’re actually rising.”
While CIO budgets may be experiencing small growth, the IT-related budgets outside for things like mobility and file sharing, storage and collaboration are growing, she said. “The money is just being held in different ways, consumed in different ways.”
At the end of day people are going to consume the way they want to, said Beliveau-Dunn, and IT has to deal with this new reality. “IT is no longer a closed domain. It’s now an open domain, with many people participating, not just IT staff.”
This makes it more challenging for IT, as they have to become more consultative. “They have to pick and choose their bets where they need to build and where they need to buy.”
The skills volume gap has been largely addressed, she said, so Cisco won’t need to grow its training side as fast. However, the emergence of new areas like cloud, mobility, virtualization and software defined networking mean training will have to cover new technologies and applications.
“A lot of money is going to exist in non-IT domains. We still want to be part of it, making sure that whatever the business chooses doesn’t compromise the data… is integrated properly.”
There are new industry domains, software automation capabilities, the Internet of Things, that require new kinds of talent. “IT can play a very strong role in that but they have to speak the language.”
Disclaimer: Cisco is in my investment portfolio.