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A CIO’s game plan for leading through digital disruption

A CIO’s game plan for leading through digital disruption

“We are an IT shop just like anybody else, but we happen to be doing it for one of the world's largest tech companies,” says Julie Canepa, CIO for Cisco in Australia and New Zealand.

We have this notion of continuous delivery, making our teams move fast, with a security mindset embedded throughout the entire process

Julie Canepa, Cisco

It is not uncommon for CIOs and their team to join field staff and sales representatives, to get a close-up view of how their customers are using the systems they have invested in and developed.

These people, after all, are the ICT function’s real customers, as Forrester analyst Tim Sheedy called the external consumer of the company’s products and services.


Julie Canepa, CIO for Cisco in Australia and New Zealand, takes on the concept of getting to know their customers a step further.

“We are an IT shop just like anybody else, but we happen to be doing it for one of the world's largest tech companies,” she says. “So oftentimes, we are the first to get our hands on these technologies. We are early adopters.

“We are learning, we are way in front and we want to share that learning with our customers."

Early this year, her IT team organised a roundtable discussion with 15 of their customers in New Zealand. It was designed to talk about the digital transformation that was happening at Cisco and some of her staff's experiences in working on new technologies.

Canepa says she invited two other speakers from Silicon Valley - an expert on datacentre and in security - who joined the roundtable discussion via telepresence.

She also invited colleagues from Australia, who talked about collaboration and running IT as a service.

These are all components of digital transformation, she states.

Training tomorrow’s IT leaders

Canepa has a special interest in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) education and women in technology initiatives.

“IT is a great career path for women,” says Canepa.

But when she looks at CVs coming through, “I do not see many women and I am concerned about that.

“When I got into the industry, I think there were more women than there are today.”

In the workplace, she says sponsorship and pay parity will make more women want to stay in the sector.

“It is important to have sponsors, these include advocates throughout your career. Not just mentors, but also advocates.”

Canepa is active in the group FITT (Females in IT and Telecommunications), a not-for-profit network that provides peer networking and support for female ICT professionals across all levels.

Canepa lives with her husband and children in Sydney.

“You want to have flexible working and you need to have an employer that should help support that,” she says on her own experience at Cisco.

“A lot of it is about having role models, it is about getting out there, showing the younger generation this is what IT is all about.”

She and members of her team at Cisco speak in schools, encouraging both boys and girls to pursue a career in STEM.

Canepa is also involved in a programme that pairs IT professionals with schools, providing ICT-related advice. She chose the school where her children are enrolled.

“It is really a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in your community and directly impact children’s lives.”

She says every quarter, she and her team work on a community-based project as a way of “giving back” beyond the ICT sector.

We have cooked meals for the homeless, helped clean up the environment, and packed books for donations, she says.

“It is good for team building.”

Julie Canepa is active in the group FITT (Females in IT and Telecommunications), a not-for-profit network that provides peer networking and support for female ICT professionals across all levels.
Julie Canepa is active in the group FITT (Females in IT and Telecommunications), a not-for-profit network that provides peer networking and support for female ICT professionals across all levels.

'In this era, we have to change our game'

Canepa has been in the IT industry for 20 years and has held several IT leadership positions at Cisco in sales, commerce, supply chain systems and operations.

“Digital transformation means a lot for us at Cisco,” she says.

"We are digitally transforming our offers to customers," she says. "These include Cisco’s internal processes, supply chain, how they develop and create products, and software engineering.

“What I talk to customers about is, how we are digitally transforming IT,” says Canepa.

“In this era, we have to change our game. The IT organisation needs to step up and think about IT in a different way.”

Thus, at the recent forum with New Zealand CIOs that her team organised, she did not need to go far for case studies.

She says the transformation of Cisco’s ICT operations started eight years ago.

“We realised now what we did was the foundation of the digital transformation that we are doing today.

Part of the digital vision is about data...How you govern data in your environment is really important.

Julie Canepa, Cisco

“What had happened to us being a technology company, we let our IT grow a bit organically all over the world.

"We had duplications, and several procurement systems," she says. “We did not have a full understanding of the total cost of running the IT services we were providing.”

The company had an application portfolio that was growing 25 per cent per year and was chewing up data centre capacity 50 per cent, year on year.”

“We realised we need to change, we could not afford to run IT that way anymore.”

Canepa says this started the global initiative to move to a services model. We started to look at virtualisation, IaaS and Paa as a way to get more capacity, she says.

“It is really about simplification, automation, using data and analytics to iterate and drive further automation and simplification.

“We have this notion of continuous delivery, making our teams move fast, with a security mindset embedded throughout the entire process,” she states.

They also ensured they had the skills needed for this new environment. These included using data in a whole new way, as part of the process to become a much more streamlined organisation, Canepa states.

“We had to create new job roles and career tracks for data scientists,” she adds. “We focused on digital competencies of cloud, security, agile, design and UX.”

She says employees also need to take on a continuous learning mindset, “willing to try new skills and reinvent themselves and keep evolving as the technology evolves''.

Her team did not get additional budget to do this transformation.

“We drove down our operating costs. We looked at doing IT smarter and differently, and we looked at saving money by moving to a services framework.

Canepa says the automation of some of the configuration of manual tasks got the team to look at things differently, to look at things from a data metric perspective and to further automate our portfolio.

“In two years, we realised we saved 32 per cent of our IT spend just by reorganising ourselves in this manner, while using the savings to invest back in cool, new digital things.

“These are the things people really want to do, which is looking at the latest technology, bringing those into our environment and skilling up our staff.”

She says when she discussed this with the New Zealand CIOs, “there were a lot of heads nodding."

“I know our customers in New Zealand are feeling and experiencing the same challenges.”

We also talked about the shift to cloud services, she says.

“What do we keep in house, what do we procure? If you are a true services organisation, you are providing a service to your employees and you are competing against other services.”

Data management is another topic they discuss with their CIO customers.

“How do you make sure data integrates so you can make this dream of a digital everything? Part of the digital vision is about data,” she says. “How you govern data in your environment is really important.

“How do we do more with less, how do we do things smarter, how do we do things more securely as we continue to connect things to the internet to the tune of 50 billion by year 2020?

“You are increasing the attack surface. So how do we make sure we can do that in a secure manner, because without security there is no digital transformation.”

For Canepa discussions like these are important, as “we have to take the mindset of continuous learning.”

“We are the first generation that had to go through this,” she says, of the massive changes brought about by digitisation.

“There is no textbook out there [on this topic], you can't get this off the shelf."

“We need to be confident and take risks... we have to be able to lead our teams to do that.”

Julie Canepa, CIO, Cisco Australia and New Zealand
Julie Canepa, CIO, Cisco Australia and New Zealand

Julie Canepa is one of the ICT leaders interviewed for the 2017 State of the CIO report, held in conjunction with the CIO Executive Council.

Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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