Cisco Scrambled To Deliver Products Through War In Lebanon

Cisco has 12 employees based in downtown Beirut, and when the bombing started, they relocated to a temporary space at a hotel in the mountains north of the city and allowed some employees to work from home, said Nabil Rizkallah, regional channel sales manager for North Africa and the Levant (an eastern Mediterranean region of the Middle East).

"Mainly, we focused on the well-being of the human beings. War is always a challenge, to the partners, to the people, to anyone," Rizkallah said.

Cisco used its unified communications technology, including softphones, to ensure that employees could communicate with partners and each other, according to Rizkallah. "We were always reachable everywhere. Nobody can tell that you were in a hotel in the mountains, answering the calls and giving support," he said.

Cisco has two Gold partners in Lebanon, BMB Group and Data Consult, as well as a distributor, Logicom, which ties Cisco to numerous two-tier solution providers in the Middle East, Rizkallah said.

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The conflict created unique logistical problems to get products into Lebanon. Beirut's airport closed when the bombing began, and a blockade prevented products from arriving by sea. Cisco worked with local transportation carriers to find a solution, Rizkallah said.

For example, air shipments were rerouted to Amman, Jordan, and then trucked north to Beirut through Damascus, Syria. It was a risky and complex process because more than 200 bridges were destroyed in Lebanon. In many cases, the extra shipping time only delayed delivery by one day, Rizkallah said.

Cisco's partners did an outstanding job helping customers through the conflict, he noted. "I'm very proud of those partners. They deserve to be Gold-certified, mainly just for the service they provided in those difficult situations. You can be a Gold partner everywhere, but to be able to serve in those difficult situations is remarkable," he said.

For instance, Beirut's banks could have been overwhelmed by the amount of customers and money coming into the city when almost a million people left their homes in the southern part of the country to seek shelter in the north from the bombing. Cisco and its partners worked on several redundancy and backup solutions to ensure there was no disruption, Rizkallah said.

"That [trucking route] was very vital. The [IT] network is one of the most important tools for the economy -- for banks, financial services companies, airports, hospitals," Rizkallah said. "Those customers were able to keep running."

Last September, Cisco President and CEO John Chambers was one of several business leaders appointed by President George W. Bush to develop and lead the U.S.-Lebanon Partnership Fund to help rebuild the country.

As part of the Partnership Fund, Cisco has pledged $10 million in equity investment and venture-capital funds for Lebanon, with a focus on small businesses. In addition, the vendor is undertaking several job creation and skills development programs in the area.

"We are a global company. We used our global status to help. We don't think of ourselves as Cisco Lebanon, Cisco U.S., or Cisco Europe. We think of ourselves as a global company," Rizkallah said. "Our partners are part of the Cisco family. We view them just as we would our own employees."

Cisco also extended payment terms for partners and waived certification audits for engineers and other staff who may be temporarily working from other countries, Rizkallah said.

"We recognized those partners as certified in other countries where they can serve Cisco customers. Even if there is a war in Lebanon, our partners need to pay their [engineers'] salaries. We made it very easy to relocate those engineers in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, so they could keep working," he said.