CIO Spotlight: Jacqueline Guichelaar, Cisco

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? "Good culture fits for me are people in IT who are open-minded and not afraid to take a leap of faith..."

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What was your first job? My first job was a tape operator in Australia. My first "real job" was at IBM when I was 21.

Did you always want to work in IT? Not at all. I didn't start my life or my career thinking I would work in IT. Thirty years later - here I am!

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? When I got my first job, I just wanted to make a little bit of money, buy a car, and go to school to study law. I never actually made it to university. I have loads of tech and leadership courses under my belt, but in terms of an IT degree, I've learned everything on the job.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. As mentioned above, I wanted to study law and be a lawyer. Fight against all the evils, be on the winning team - the best lawyer in the world, doing right by the world. When I started working as a tape operator in Australia, I worked my way up to a mainframe operator and became interested in IT, joining IBM when I was 21 (managing four people!).

The biggest detour my career took me was into different industries around the world, and that's one of the things I love most about my career. At 32, I ended up in Germany, which wasn't part of my plan at all. Then there were London, New York, London again and now California. Different industries and different cultures define my career path.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? I want to optimise IT as much as possible, and my plan is to free up a significant number of people and dollars in order to re-invest in transforming in our employee and customer experience to make it easier to purchase and deploy Cisco solutions.

In the coming year, there are three key initiatives I am optimising for, and those are:

  • Transforming IT
  • Transforming the Employee Experience
  • Transforming the Experience for Our Customers and Partners

While this has been part of my plan, the second and third are especially important today, with COVID-19 putting more employees in the position of working remotely. I want to invest more in that remote work, increasing productivity and enabling employees to do what's best for our customers.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? One of the main objectives for our CEO, Chuck Robbins, is to evolve the way we're delivering our technology to customers. For Cisco, that meant changing from selling hardware to selling software and subscriptions. While that may sound simple, we needed to fundamentally transform IT in order to provide the flexibility to deliver products-as-a-service or consumption-based networking, or hardware-as-a-service.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The CIO is evolving, I would say, and has toyed with a number of different models in the past.

I believe tech should sit in one organisation. Some organisations have previously appointed a CIO for Digital and a CIO for Technology, but for me they are one in the same. Having said that, you definitely need to ensure you are focused on building new systems and technologies for the future.

One thing we may start to see over time, however, is moving some responsibility out of the CIO's purview. For example, customer experience - we are moving some capabilities to the customer experience organisation. On the front line, this organisation is more closely in touch with the customers and can react quickly to make changes through a secure portal. Our focus is always on how we can make something better or easier for our customers.  

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes, all of the above. You must be working on my team! I am definitely leading a digital transformation, absolutely. I am focused on how we free up capacity in terms of people, capability and investment dollars in order to improve that customer experience. That can be in terms of quality of products to the way our customers interface and buy from us.

Right now, we are doing a lot of thinking on what the next gen core platform looks like - how do we sell Meraki and Duo and traditional hardware switching and cloud in a much more seamless way for our customers. Now more than ever, everything that we are seeing today with COVID-19 - less human touch and more self-service - will become more important in all of our interactions.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Yes, we definitely have KPIs. We are on a journey to plan all programs in such a way that every single investment we make has outcomes and KPIs that show improvement, and that every investment dollar is delivering on benefits.

Having KPIs focused on delivering the outcomes and customer change - these are hard to do, but the leadership team at Cisco is focusing on that to ensure the customer experience is better than it was before with every dollar spent. And we are making great progress.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Someone who is not afraid to say no. Good culture fits for me are people in IT who are open-minded and not afraid to take a leap of faith, who are willing to take risks and move in new directions to embrace the art of what possible is.

If you are in IT, it would be bizarre to think that your job is not going to change. If the industry hasn't shown us that in the last three months, three years, three decades … I don't know what could convince you!

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Cisco has an amazing culture, and while we want fresh perspective, we don't want to lose that core culture. For me, areas like digital workplace and security are two roles that had taken longer to fill than I originally thought. It's difficult to find one person with the right skillset, experience AND who can lead a transformation.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Take Risks. I had a mentor when I was at IBM, who used to say that when you have an opportunity, even when it doesn't look perfect, you have to move forward.

When a job came up for me in Frankfurt, Germany, I wasn't necessarily sure if it was the dream next step I wanted, but I took it. I took a leap of faith, took one of the toughest jobs of my career. And I'm glad I did. If I hadn't taken that risk, I would not be sitting here today.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I have a succession plan, and this is even more important than ever with the COVID-19 situation today. I have analysed throughout the entire organisation, putting backups in place as necessary.

In terms of my plan, that's one of the things I'm most proud of. I always strive to build capability in my team, to hire people better than myself. Eventually in a few years' time, they can step into my role and I can change the world somewhere else.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Take a leap of faith. A constant thread throughout my career. If you are an aspiring IT leader, push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you stay in your comfort zone, IT is probably not for you.

If a project is not the right thing for Cisco or its customers, then it is probably best to stop the project. Be clear on what Cisco needs vs. what you may think and figure out how you and your team support the overall objectives for your company, and the rewards will come.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Probably Germany, funnily enough. It was the role in my career that I was probably the most out of my depth. I joined as a COO reporting into the CTO, and within 12 months was offered my boss' job, running Germany and all of continental Europe.

I wasn't ready for that job, but somehow I faced it, built a great team. It was the time in my career that I realised I might be a people-leader and be able to transform things that no one thought would be possible.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? In my career, I'm not sure I would have done anything differently. I can tell you, I probably took roles I shouldn't have, probably worked for certain cultures that didn't quite fit what I was looking for at the time. They weren't the right career moves for me at the time, but I am a big believer in those moments, even when you feel like you haven't made the right choice - those are the periods in your career that allow you to grow the most.

On a personal note, one thing I wish I had done differently was keeping in touch with my family better and more consistently. There are periods where I have been great and times I have been less great. Now more than ever, keeping up with my family is so important!

What are you reading now? WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink. It discusses why there's some art and science in everything we do, even when things might seem like an accident or the wrong choice.

Most people don't know that I… Was involved in a high-speed car police chase.

In my spare time, I like to…Cook, cook, cook and dance, dance, dance! I also play golf on occasion.

Ask me to do anything but… Iron clothes, jump out of a plane or hang out with spiders.

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