Mar 31 2021

Cisco Live 2021: Hybrid Work and the Need for Agility Reshape the Role of the CIO

The pandemic ushered in a need for faster changes within IT organizations, and CIOs have had to adapt to new expectations.

CIOs aren’t just in charge of technology anymore — they’re agents of change within businesses. “We are expected to know the business in depth. In order for us to do the IT systems and the data properly, we have to really understand the business in detail,” said Jacqui Guichelaar, Cisco’s CIO. “IT leaders have always been in the middle of change because, by default, technology is changing something every day. The challenge comes with making changes quickly and still being able to bring the masses with you.”

Guichelaar was speaking as part of a roundtable discussion with Sam Amirfar, CIO of The Brooklyn Hospital Center, at Cisco Live 2021, the company’s digital user conference taking place through March 31.

Amirfar spoke about his experiences at the hospital at the onset of the pandemic, citing the need to make changes and implement them quickly.

“I feel like the modern CIO has to be a psychologist for change management,” he said. “The quicker you can adapt to change, the more likely you are to survive and thrive.”

Guichelaar agreed, saying that change management will never be the same because there isn’t enough time to wait for perfection.

“The most important thing to remember is that the perfect can’t be the enemy of the pretty good,” Amirfar said. Decision-makers might not always have the luxury of waiting for perfection, he said. Sometimes it becomes necessary to implement change that’s “pretty good.”

Guichelaar echoed his sentiments, noting that Cisco is releasing new features on Webex every week. Acknowledging the potential for glitches or performance issues, as well as the change management factor, she said, “Sometimes you just have to make that technology change and then let the organization catch up with it.”

CIOs Report Increased Focus on the Cloud

Citing a recent survey Cisco released, called “Accelerating Digital Agility,” Guichelaar reported that more than 50 percent of CIOs are focusing their budgets on security, the cloud and the future of work.

“The key is that acceleration, and where we invest and how we make fast decisions leveraging the technology we have,” she said.

Guichelaar stressed the need for the role of the IT leader to change. She emphasized the need to reimagine the technology experience; reinvent applications; leverage the future of the internet; and simplify processes, systems and data. “We have to think differently about how we execute compared to the past,” she said. “How do you make fast decisions and still take people with you?” 

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How Cisco Will Enable Hybrid Work

Last year, building out remote work environments overnight was the big challenge for CIOs. This year, those environments will shift from all-remote to hybrid environments, where some workers are onsite while others are still remote. “The pandemic has clearly accelerated the trend of hybrid work. There’s no doubt,” she said.

When it comes to a safe return to the workplace, Cisco offers DNA Spaces, which Guichelaar says “is about digitizing the safe return to the office experience.”

Using Cisco Meraki cameras, DNA Spaces allows businesses to monitor building and room capacity and to maintain social distancing requirements. The physical location of employees’ devices can be periodically tracked by Wi-Fi access points. The data can then be aggregated to determine if there have been too many people gathered in a specific area for an extended period of time.

Guichelaar pointed out that nearly everything has changed since the onset of the pandemic, but a CIO’s priorities should remain the same: “We were focused on the cloud before. Now we’re accelerating our focus on the cloud. We were focused on the digital workforce before. Now the future of work is fundamentally different. The speed at which we have to make choices and implement those technology solutions to deal with those challenges is tough.”

But as the world approaches the “next normal” and embraces hybrid work, she said, CIOs must embody the qualities of leadership, decisiveness, courage and conviction to stay the course. “Leadership will be the key,” she said.

To keep up with our coverage of Cisco Live 2021, bookmark this page, follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine or the official conference Twitter account, @CiscoLive, and join the conversation using hashtag #CLUS.

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