One-line summary: Good comprehensive coverage of issues, but rather data-selective
Cisco is an impressive global Company with an impressive range of achievements. This report, their fourth, is well balanced and has a descriptive style. Cisco has well-developed management systems, and their employee section is riveting – from recruitment videos on Second Life to virtual working and telecommuting arrangements and use of wiki-ology for training employees. One gets the sense that this company is truly exploiting the opportunities of the virtual, networked information age. But of course, that's their business! It does, however, prove that there are alternatives to the 9 to 5 humdrum. Cisco's diversity record is impressive too, and diversity performance indicators are positive. I sense that you have to be below a certain age to work at Cisco. I couldn’t find anything in the report about employee age profile. Wonder if that is included in the diversity framework? I like that fact that in this report, community engagement projects are detailed by country. The problem with global reports is they often don’t connect with local stakeholders. Cisco has, in part, dealt with this well. Materiality is not discussed in any depth, and stakeholder engagement conclusions are flimsy to say the least. If there is a structured process here, it would be relevant to report it. Finally, the report is very light on data. Fairly minimal. If I were a sceptic, I would say that Cisco has selected to report only the good data. Anyway, I now know what networked architectures are and the impacts they can have on society, even if Cisco doesn’t share the numbers.
The report is clearly and logically laid out, and the on-line version is surprisingly easy to navigate. The GRI index is well done, with all references linked to an appropriate page in the on-line report. Language flows well, and context is generally provided. For example, in discussing the issues of supply chain ethics, Cisco says " Cisco has one of the most complex supply chains in the IT industry, with almost 200 product families that require more than 35,000 component parts." That sort of comment gives you perspective and helps you understand the challenges a business like Cisco faces. Performance Indicators are easy to find (possibly because there aren't that many) and clearly presented, for the most part providing data over a four year perspective, which is commendable.
I always try to work out who the report was written for. In this case, it seems to me that Cisco is writing for its employees. 19% of the content, 31 pages, is devoted to the employee section, which appears to be a clear area of leadership for Cisco. As an employee reading this report, I would certainly get the impression that the Cisco working environment is full of attractions.
I often wonder why companies work with the GRI framework but do not select a reporting level. This report by Cisco reports against 78 of the 121 indicators, and so it sort of meets a GRI B level report. Though in some cases a ‘yes’ does not really deliver the goods. I like to check EC1, which is often the indicator that many companies don't report well. In Cisco's case, there is a referral to the annual report. I didn’t delve into the depths of the annual report, but I doubt it provides the analysis of stakeholder added value distribution that is required here, as most annual reports don't cut the data that way. Apologies if I am wrong.
Cisco's report is not externally assured and does not include any comment from renowned experts, as is often used as some form of substitute to assurance. I always expect large, experienced businesses to assure. Aside from providing an external confirmation of the accuracy of the data, the added value of an assurance report is that it should give some perspective as to what is lacking, or what has not been developed well in the report. Cisco's report is, in general, good news. Assurance would help to provide some balance.
1. Be more transparent – report against more indicators
2. Assure the report
3. Provide more depth to reporting of materiality and stakeholder dialogue
Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz, a leading CSR reporting, assurance and consulting firm in Israel, specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses.