Molding IT into a Business Enabler

By Stan Gibson  |  Posted 2009-09-29 Print this article Print

The ultimate goal of Cisco’s IT organization is to enable business growth and capabilities that range from faster time to market to identity management.

Molding IT into a Business Enabler

Many of the business benefits of virtualization and collaboration seem self-evident, but Cisco leaves nothing to chance. It employs strategic investment management to mold IT into a business enabler. Cisco’s overall IT strategy is implemented according to a road map that calls for specific capabilities to be delivered at specific times.

“The road map takes into account everything you have to do when you deliver something—from when you acquire it to the point of change management when you implement it,” Jacoby says.

Cisco follows up implementations with stringent evaluations. The Connected Business Operations Council, in consultation with other committees, sets the overall direction, and a second board, the Operations Transformation Board, ensures that road maps are being implemented according to plan. Every member of both boards is a senior vice president, and Jacoby sits on both boards.

Results are tracked differently for different projects, whether it’s a new data center in Bangalore, a new HR system or new collaboration technology. Regardless of the project, Jacoby and her team focus on results.

“People measure themselves according to program life cycles—Did I get this done on time?—but we measure ourselves according to the business requirements and business results,” Jacoby explains. The key questions are these: Was a growth opportunity enabled? Was the experience of a customer or partner enabled? Did the company gain scalable productivity? What was the time to capability?

One strategy that the IT organization is enabling is the company’s push into the consumer products market. Building on such brands as Linksys, Cisco has added set-top boxes, camcorders and Eos social-entertainment software to its product line. Manufacturing, distribution and retailing of consumer products is essentially an exercise in supporting a global supply chain and a global distribution channel.

That requires cultivating partnerships with suppliers and retailers, and the video collaboration tools are coming in handy for this purpose, Jacoby says. Being able to go face to face with prospective partners is crucial to expanding into new markets such as India and China, the CIO adds.

For many years, Cisco has grown through acquisitions. Since 1993, the company has assimilated more than 130 smaller firms, including five in 2008 and three so far in 2009. IT’s role is to leverage the virtualized architecture and collaboration technology to quickly support each acquired company’s business processes. If all goes well, IT will lower the acquired company’s costs, while enabling it to add value to Cisco.

“Each acquisition is different, so you handle each one a bit differently,” says Jacoby. Though the acquisitions are all different, one thing is always the same: Jacoby and her team’s laser-like focus on business value.


Company: Cisco Systems

Headquarters: San Jose, Calif.

2008 Sales: $39.5 billion

Total Employees: 65,545

IT Employees: Nearly 3,000

Business: Data, voice and video networking

Business Challenge: Maintain an agile enterprise, assimilate acquired companies, operate globally and move into new markets

Key IT Projects: Implement virtualization and enterprise collaboration technologies

IT Infrastructure: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and

Sun servers: Linux 61%, Windows 25%, Solaris 13% and HP-UX 1%. 23% of servers are virtual. Projected locations: two data centers in Richardson, Texas; two in Europe; one in Asia.

Read more “Boeing: Supporting a Global Enterprise”.

Stan Gibson is Executive Editor of eWEEK. In addition to taking part in Ziff Davis eSeminars and taking charge of special editorial projects, his columns and editorials appear regularly in both the print and online editions of eWEEK. He is chairman of eWEEK's Editorial Board, which received the 1999 Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press. In ten years at eWEEK, Gibson has served eWEEK (formerly PC Week) as Executive Editor/eBiz Strategies, Deputy News Editor, Networking Editor, Assignment Editor and Department Editor. His Webcast program, 'Take Down,' appeared on Zcast.tv. He has appeared on many radio and television programs including TechTV, CNBC, PBS, WBZ-Boston, WEVD New York and New England Cable News. Gibson has appeared as keynoter at many conferences, including CAMP Expo, Society for Information Management, and the Technology Managers Forum. A 19-year veteran covering information technology, he was previously News Editor at Communications Week and was Software Editor and Systems Editor at Computerworld.

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