Both Sides of the Table: My Work at Cisco and the National Trust


I'm an Account Systems engineer at Cisco. I work with a wide range of commercial customers across different verticals, supporting our entire product portfolio. I'm always happy to jump in and support wherever possible. If there are existing customers, it's great to understand what's in place first from the account manager and verify with the customer. If it's new to both the AM and me, we will sit down with the customer to get an understanding and appreciation for their business and their unique set of circumstances and requirements.

Often, a client will jump in to request a solution, but I always like to ask why they've already decided on this. I prefer to understand the requirements a customer has, and then confirm or offer some alternative suggestions.

Sometimes the customer is spot on. Other times, we can offer a wider view or different ideas, like sometimes offering a longer-term approach to maximise their return on investment. I've even offered ideas that don't require any further investment.

Often, we are aware of new technologies, upgrades, or roadmap features that allow us to take the conversation in different directions. Therefore, it's important we can have honest and open relationships with our customers. This way, we ensure they are aware of all options.

Sometimes, I get carte blanche. The customer might want to secure their network and understand the latest and greatest way to achieve this. Other times, they will advise us on other products and technologies that their wider strategy needs to work with. These are all great challenges and one of the many reasons why I love this job.

Both Sides of the Table

Having been on both sides of the table, I can say that it helps to work with a partner who understands your long-term vision and serves as a second set of eyes. Customers often come to Cisco with an idea of what they want. Sometimes, they've mapped out the technology that will help them reach their goals, but often they only have some of the plan.

We can help them build the right solution because we've already deployed the same technology for other organisations that do similar or even wholly different work. We know how to fine-tune hardware and software to meet their needs and can also suggest alternatives based on our experience with other customers.

Communication is crucial, and you need a partner who is open and transparent, even if they give you an answer you don't want to hear. Planning for the future means looking beyond immediate costs and fast deployments. It also helps to talk to people who can get you past the hurdles without stumbling, and who will tell you when you have to slow down and when you have to speed up. 

My Past Is My Present

One of my favourite accounts is also my former employer, the National Trust. This organisation works to protect and preserve historical space and places. The beloved charity is the second-largest landowner in the United Kingdom and is funded mainly by the contributions of its 5+ million members.

I started working at the Trust as a network support specialist in 2012, and dealt with our day-to-day operations, identifying and troubleshooting issues. I worked with our internal teams and external partners to resolve these problems and got to know the nitty-gritty of the organisation's IT needs.

In 2016, I was named the National Trust's lead network architect and was charged with rebuilding our network from scratch. Our biggest issue was complexity. We were using equipment from different vendors, and it was next to impossible to get everyone in a room at the same time to resolve our many issues.

At the time, we found ourselves facing numerous network incidents a week, and each of these could result in protracted outages. Our sites across Britain, Wales, and Northern Ireland were interconnected through 2 Mbps DSL circuits, satellite, microwave and everything in between. We couldn't use collaborative tools or implement best of breed applications because the underpinning infrastructure just wasn't an enabler.

Our incoming CIO, Jon Townsend, asked us to come up with a long-term infrastructure plan, and we started to build a new network. We went back to the drawing board and designed what I like to call IT 2.0.

One Partner, One Vision

When we looked at potential partners, we realised that Cisco offered a complete portfolio of products that met our many technical needs. Solutions included routers and switches, IP telephony, and an integrated suite of collaboration hardware and software in the form of Webex Teams, Meetings, and Boards, with security always top of mind throughout.

Simplified IT infrastructure simplifies troubleshooting.

It was a welcome change to get the technology and the support we needed from a single source. Cisco looked at our immediate and future needs and then helped us design an architecture that would take us well into the 2020s.

We'd pretty much rolled out and refreshed most of the network in terms of our WAN and LAN when I left the Trust for Cisco. We had laid out our wireless infrastructure, activated our endpoint security, and had upgraded our core voice platform to Cisco Unified Communications Manager.

We were two-thirds done with our upgrade and had already started deploying Webex and Stealthwatch when I left the Trust. I then began helping my former colleagues as a member of the Cisco team.

Taking It to the Other Side

It was a smooth and natural transition. I had switched from the client to the vendor side, but I still had the Trust's best interests in mind, and I wanted to see my old employer and my strategy succeed. I knew the environment and was very much up to speed, but now I had access to Cisco's vast resources from the inside. It was a winning proposition for both organisations.

Both organisations were supportive of my move and helped to make the transition a success for me.

One of my first projects with Cisco was a day-long training exercise on Webex at the National Trust's main office. We'd installed the hardware and the software, the Webex rooms were ready to go, and people had already started using the Webex Boards. Instead of sitting everyone down to a presentation, we set up a ‘collaboration genius clinic.’ Users were free to drop in, ask questions, and learn through hands-on product demos.

Learning materials are great, but sometimes the best onboarding is open office hours.

My next project was helping deploy Stealthwatch, our industry-leading visibility and cyber threat protection tool. The foundations were already in place, it was just a case of working smarter and letting the technology do the heavy lifting. Integration was one of the core principles behind National Trust choosing Cisco. Our routers, switches, and endpoints were the building blocks. Everything they needed was already in place, so we worked closely with my former colleagues and implemented and activated Stealthwatch in trial mode.

We turned it on everywhere possible and let my former colleagues play with it. They had end-to-end network visibility and security analytics across their entire core infrastructure. Next, I started working with select members of the Trust's IT team to configure and fine-tune Stealthwatch. A lot of the work was done over Webex Teams. We could easily loop in the relevant experts from the Stealthwatch team to assist and ensure everybody’s time was maximised.

The proof was in the pudding. My old employer was using the collaborative tools I'd helped deploy to complete the transformation of its infrastructure. I couldn't have been prouder of everything I'd accomplished in my six years at the National Trust and in my short time at Cisco.

This Is the 21st Century

Over the last three years, the National Trust has used technology to update its mission and activities for the 21st Century. In partnership with Cisco, the organisation put a lot of time and effort into building a network that will serve as the bedrock of its future initiatives. Now, they're looking at new technologies that will help them better protect rare species, threatened landscapes, heritage buildings, and precious artefacts.

The new platform has made it easier than ever to collect, carry, and process data, and technologies such as SD-WAN and IoT are very much on the horizon. With its sites now connected by fibre, the Trust can use sensors to monitor the movement of artefacts, heat, and humidity levels at its properties, and even how long paintings have been exposed to sunlight.

The organisation also uses Cisco Webex Meetings and Teams to help meet its goal of becoming carbon net neutral by 2030. Our collaboration platform is helping to lower greenhouse gases generated by travel to and from meetings. Paired with initiatives that include using renewable energy sources at historical sites and planting 20 million trees, Cisco is helping the National Trust build a greener future.

The Trust is also looking at ways that technology can help visitors overcome access barriers at historical buildings. It is often impractical or impossible to install lifts and other assistive devices in older buildings for architectural, historical, and economic reasons.

VR may help resolve this dilemma by allowing persons with disabilities to tour inaccessible areas at heritage buildings using immersive technology. The possibilities are endless.

A Hope for the Future

At Cisco, we never say, "Thanks, we're done." When we wrap up a project, we ask our customers if there's anything else they need from us, and we encourage them to call us for additional assistance in the future. There is no black-and-white deadline. We don't sign on the dotted line and then move on.

Like the National Trust, we're in it for the long haul. We ask our clients where they'd like to be in three, seven, or even 10 years, and then we build a foundation that will help them get there.

Technology isn't slowing down. Keeping on top of it takes tremendous effort, but I love learning and bringing the latest and greatest tools to the table when I sit down with our customers.

I'm proud of my work with the National Trust, both as a past employee and as a current member of the Cisco team. The organisation is using cutting-edge IT tools to conserve nature and history for future generations. It is helping us see where we're going by showing us where we've been.