CIO Rebecca Jacoby steers Cisco’s IT ship

Running the internal IT operations of Cisco Systems is a big job not just because of the size of the company — more than 70,000 employees worldwide and a market capitalization in the range of US$100 billion — but also because Cisco is continually developing new IT products across a broad range of technologies and is known for rapidly adopting those products for its own use.
Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby spoke with IDG News Service on the sidelines of the NetWork conference last week and shared some insights into the legendary enterprise IT company’s own enterprise IT.

IDGNS: What is the scope of Cisco’s IT operations?

Jacoby: We’re headquartered in San Jose, but less than 50 percent of the IT organization is located in California. A large percentage is in Bangalore. I also have about the same amount in Raleigh, North Carolina, and we have a substantial number of employees in a couple of sites in Europe, and a few in Shanghai. We service most of the globe mostly from those sites, but there are also a number of employees that are distributed globally to various places. It’s a little bit over 3,100 employees that are Cisco employees. Depending on what initiatives are going on, we employ probably 6,000 to 8,000 employees [from outside Cisco].

IDGNS: What’s the best way for an enterprise to manage employees’ mobile devices?

Jacoby: We went through this as a big question … a couple of years ago. What we’ve learned is that if you give them no choice whatsoever, that isn’t what works for people. We need to be able to give the individuals choice. And to do that, you have to take a shared responsibility to how you address the total cost of ownership of these devices. We actually have applied a certain amount of that cost to the individual, where they’re making certain types of choices, but we absorb a certain amount of it within the company as well, in terms of support costs and those types of things.

IDGNS: How do you get employees to use new technologies such as Cisco’s Quad collaboration platform?

Jacoby: It’s sort of an interesting dynamic in our company, and I think this is true in most forward-thinking companies: I have more of a challenge in terms of getting it to scale to the level people want to use it, versus getting people to use it.

IDGNS: What’s the best way for a CIO to deal with growth in an organization?

Jacoby: We review, quarterly, 100 percent of the dollars we’re investing in IT. We actually divide all the investment into three categories.

The foundational level is, what are we doing to run the business? These are services that IT is committed to offering, and that we need to use to run the business every day. We have specific programs every year, as an IT staff, to go after productivity in those numbers.

The second level of investment is what we call business capabilities. It’s either optimizing or adding incremental business capabilities to various functions in the business. Working with the marketing department, for example, to bring more business intelligence capabilities based on our current architecture — bringing them a specific business value.

The top level is growth. This is where we invest to drive a growth strategy for the business. In our case, because we’re a technology company, that could be a technology strategy. For example, in the development of Quad (Cisco’s collaboration portal), even though Cisco has productized that, some of the work we did, to decide what to productize, is actually done in Cisco IT: How could you really scale a collaborative environment for an enterprise? It could be technology like that, or it could be a new geography.

What you invest in growth now, within a few quarters becomes run-the-business cost. Three years ago, we would have called TelePresence a growth strategy. Today it’s a run-the-business cost.

IDGNS: What are the demands on Cisco’s own network and how is the company addressing those?

Jacoby: There are two things that the network is critically important for and we need to make sure that we’ve designed it to be ready for. First of all, video. We’ve seen a big increase in terms of the percentage of our bandwidth that is used on video.

The other thing is Web services. The way that’s going to look in the future — and we already do this at Cisco — is that I’m going to procure services from multiple places. When I’m delivering a capability to our sales force, I’m going to deliver that with services from plus some services that are from my own private cloud, and in some instances, I may be procuring services from other vendors as well. How do I actually get all these services together and coordinate them, and how do I move them around the network effectively, reliably, and how can I monitor that? That’s an issue for our architecture as we move forward.

IDGNS: What percentage of your server resources are on the UCS platform?

Jacoby: We revamped our entire data center strategy about three years ago, and we’ve been in the process of building out data centers around the world. In the process, we actually have moved to the UCS technology. We already have some major Oracle applications deployed on this, but over the next 18 months we’ll be deploying all of our core ERP systems on UCS as well. So within 18 months, I’d say 100 percent of our production environment is going to be UCS, with the exception of legacy stuff that the ultimate plan will be to decommission.

IDGNS: How do you prevent burnout and micromanagement when employees always have access to work through mobile technology?

Jacoby: As technologies change and they enable something different, everyone sort of learns their way through it together. It’s really a convergence of what an individual’s learning and how they live their life, and then how the company culture works. When we all first got e-mail, everyone had to learn that it wasn’t really appropriate to type everything out in caps. We’re learning as corporations, too, that the current technology has some big implications for us. For example, at Cisco, we’ve been really conscious early on about, what do we have to change in our code of conduct? But we’ve also tried to learn from individuals coming in on what they want.

“Do you ever get away from work?” is one way of viewing it, and the other way of viewing it is, “I don’t have to worry about it because I always have my hands on it.” It starts to boil down to the individual and how they manage that. In my position you can’t really just say, hey, for two weeks I’m completely out of touch, but I can have vacations where all I take with me is my mobile device. And I can have other times when I say, given what’s going on at work right now, and where I’m going, I’m going to take my PC with me. So I’m balancing that on a personal level, and that’s what we try to put out there for the individual employees. There’s a way to stay balanced. We find people are more productive and more effective by being able to do it the way they need to do it.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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