Cisco CIO a smooth operator

Rebecca Jacoby, unlike many of her CIO peers, lives in the thick of her company’s IT operations.

It’s not a place where most senior IT executives spend a great deal of time. Many CIOs today wouldn’t describe themselves as technologists and certainly not the people who are primarily focused on IT operations. Consider the results of research conducted by IT World Canada earlier this year. It showed that only three per cent of 235 respondents to a State-of-the-CIO survey say IT proficiency is pivotal to their success as CIOs. Only five per cent say managing IT crisis is their most important job activity. This despite the fact that 73 per cent said IT was their primary area of experience.

CIOs focus on IT strategy and spend the bulk of their time conferring with business professionals, developing strategy and the overall IT vision. There aren’t enough hours in the day for aligning business and IT goals or for strategic planning and thinking, according to IT World Canada’s research.

But Jacoby, the CIO of networking giant Cisco Systems, keeps a close eye on the operational side of things. Her forte is process rather than technology and since taking on the CIO job some months ago, Jacoby has been working to assess the IT operation. Her quest is to streamline and consolidate in order to drive even more efficiency within a company that’s already pretty darn efficient. Jacoby considers how data moves throughout the company and what can be done to enhance IT operations in order to do it better. That means spending a great deal of time in the weeds, so to speak.

Her preoccupation with process admittedly has a whole lot to do with her approach to the job and why she’s had to bone up on the operations side.

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“I’m not a technologist,” Jacoby admits, explaining she previously worked in supply chain management and retail – an area of experience, she says, that makes her uniquely qualified to manage information.

“I think the smartest CIOs I talk to come from a supply chain background,” Jacoby adds. “My theory is that IT is all about moving around data.”

Achieving sound operations lets you discover the possibilities that can be built from IT, she says. “You need a sound operational base in order to launch innovative projects,” she adds. “I need to know about it.”

Jacoby describes a progressive IT organization as one that synchronizes. Cisco through IT strives to enrich and enable the ability to collaborate among various business units and organization parts. The IT infrastructure must provide the organized means to support and capture the flow and communication of ideas, suggestions and thoughts throughout the company, she says. “We’re looking for innovative ways to have that participation happen in a structured fashion,” she says. “Our role (as an IT organization) is to focus it and scale it and enable it.”

Jacoby shares one thing in common with her peers — the skill that’s most important to a CIO.

“I think the No. 1 skill for CIOs today is to be a communicator,” she says. “You have to be the best communicator in the business…able to talk to many different professionals in the company and speak in their language.

“You need to bring them all together.”

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