Cisco Group CIO on why simplification of operating model and collaboration with smaller players are key to being future-ready

In a conversation with YourStory, Jacqueline Guichelaar, who was recently appointed Group CIO of Cisco, spells out her plans to spur the global tech giant’s digital strategy and fuel growth in the wake of its revamped focus on software and services.

Jacqueline Guichelaar is only six months into her new role as Group Chief Information Officer at Cisco, but the head honcho entrusted with spearheading the global tech giant’s digital transformation strategy believes, among other things, that her two-decade-long experience as a loyal Cisco customer makes her the ideal person for the job.

As Cisco’s new CIO, Guichelaar is keen on driving growth by ramping up collaboration with smaller, leaner enterprises, investing in talent, and simplifying and standardising Cisco’s IT platforms, Guichelaar tells YourStory in an exclusive interaction.

Jacqueline Guichelaar, Group CIO, Cisco

The former CIO of financial solutions and information company Thomson Reuters, who has a three-decade-long work experience in firms across sectors, breaks down what her role at Cisco means, 

“How do we have a standard platform that stays current and agile without having to do too much manual work? Many CIOs undergo these struggles, and these are some of the areas I am starting to address.”

In the last three decades, Jacqueline has donned several hats, having worked in various roles, including that of Chief Information Officer, Head of Transformation, Chief Operations Officer, and Chief Technology Officer. 

Her illustrious career spans across sectors such as finance, telecom, media, and technology, in companies like Thomson Reuters, Deutsche Bank, National Australia Bank, Computer Science Corporation, and IBM.

Now, as Cisco’s Group CIO, Guichelaar is looking to build key functions and programs that can be driven from India to lead Cisco’s digital transformation amid the company’s revamped strategy to focus on software and services. 

Guichelaar tells YourStory, “If there are those skills here in India that can help digitise platforms and lead my transformation, I will build it here. I believe that others who are not doing this will miss out.”

In this in-depth interview with YourStory, Guichelaar also outlines her strategy to build a global team structure that simplifies not only how Cisco delivers but also how it empowers people at different levels and countries.

Here are the edited excerpts of the interview.

YourStory: Your role in Cisco cements your foray into an entirely different industry, what are the value-added changes you want to bring to Cisco?

Jacqueline Guichelaar: I was a Cisco customer for two decades and during this time, I developed a great relationship with the organisation. As a customer, I was already aware of the company -- from the networking and switching points of view, firewalls, collaboration, WebEx technologies, etc.

I think I need to help simplify and standardise the IT platforms at Cisco. How do we have a standard platform that stays current and agile without having to do too much manual work? Many CIOs undergo these struggles, and these are some of the areas I am starting to address.

One of the other areas I want to invest in is talent. I am also looking at how to set up global and regional structures to support Cisco’s human resources.

YourStory: To your point on investing in talent, there is this broad understanding that US and China-based tech companies look at India as a talent pool. Your views?

Jacqueline Guichelaar: I want to develop critical programs and key functions that can be driven from India itself. It means that management and leadership roles, not just engineering roles, would move to India. That's how I would like to build global teams, where I have centres of competency and leadership distributed as equally as possible.

If there are those skills here in India that can help digitise platforms and lead my transformation, I will build it here. I believe that others who are not doing this will miss out. 

I have been talking to some of the younger generations about whether they are going to be at Cisco two years from now and what can be done to retain them. Part of what they said was that they wanted more opportunities to take primary roles in projects, which is what I want to facilitate as well.

YourStory: How do you intend to manage these teams and what is the kind of structure you are looking at?

Jacqueline Guichelaar: I usually like to follow a simple organisational structure with clear accountability, which is easier said than done. 

For example, if I want to have a digital workplace strategy for Cisco, I would like everything in the digital workplace to be in one function. But some companies have them in various functions for various reasons. 

Part of my new operating model will be ensuring more simplification.

What I hear from around the world is that too many decisions go back to the headquarters, which causes latency in execution. I want to create a simple model where there is functional accountability. Within certain guidelines, managers in various regions and countries should be able to justify their decisions locally, and with some autonomy. 

I am trying to build a structure that simplifies not only how we deliver but also empowers people at different levels and different countries.

YourStory: How important is it for organisations to adopt the culture of having a CIO? What do you think of the CIO-CTO-CDO conundrum?

Jacqueline Guichelaar: Technology platforms and applications should be built with data inside them. I think the birth of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) was the industry's attempt in combining technology and business. I think real tech-savvy companies have not tried to split it. 

When you divide it, unless you know what you are doing and you put the right people in the right place, you end up with duplication. I have seen this closely at the companies that I worked with.

The difference between a Chief Digital Officer and a Chief Information Officer? The way I look at it, every business process, whether it is with a bank, a Thomson Reuters, or a Cisco, has to be fully digitised and automated by joint efforts between operations and technology. If you put a CDO in the middle, there are three of you. 

Companies tend to do that because they think the CTO or CIO is too busy, and CDOs eventually end up becoming translators. 

YourStory: Do you see a significant intersectional disruption with IT, technology, and banking in the future? Especially banking, and how technology infrastructure could be on top of it.

Jacqueline Guichelaar: We have just seen the beginning of the disruption that technology and digitisation will cause in banking and some of it is happening already. For example, millions of UK’s Lloyds Banking customers are now on an entirely digitised platform, forcing the bank to close down branches. 

The world will radically change, and India is at the forefront of that because it has hundreds of millions of people on the internet via the phone for the first time. They've skipped computers and laptops and have gone straight to the new world of supercomputers in their hands, which is an advantage. There will be a significant disruption.

YourStory: Do rapid technological advancements overwhelm you? How do you intend to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancements we’re seeing today?

Jacqueline Guichelaar: It does not overwhelm me but rather, it excites me - this is what gets me out of bed. 

About 10-15 years ago, I used to say that I am always doing the most challenging and complicated jobs that no one else wants. Then I realised that I went looking for them, subconsciously.

These days, technology runs companies. It takes them out, and it is changing the world like never before. I know that I cannot keep up - it is impossible for any CIO to keep up with that. 

Cisco is very good at acquiring and partnering, and we have to increase that pace. CIOs only have to simplify things better. For example, they should identify teams who need not run two projects simultaneously. Instead, we should streamline one and redirect the second team to partner with a new company we can collaborate with. This will help us stay abreast with where our competitors are going. 

Collaboration is the new competition. After all, sometimes smaller competitors are faster than we are, and they will take a piece of our pie if we are not careful, and there is a chance for that piece to get bigger.

YourStory: How can you sum up your career’s cumulative learnings, and how can they be integrated with Cisco’s vision?

Jacqueline Guichelaar: After the 2008 financial crisis, it was harder to get investments to upgrade platforms in IT. That was a great learning I got from IBM - to have a cost-conscious mind. 

It is imperative to have a business standpoint while investing, but that does not mean you should not try for fear of failing. If you fail, move your money somewhere else to make sure you are investing in the right places. 

I have learned through my career that being cost-conscious and having a commercial awareness in a technology role is essential. It is one of the learnings I have carried forward in my career.

You need commercial awareness to decide and be smart about the money you are investing because we will not have lots of investments all the time. At the back of our minds, we should make decisions from a financial point of view. 

That would be a lesson I will continue to carry this into my role as I can bring value to the way we think about our investments in Cisco.

(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta and Tenzin Pema)


Updates from around the world