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IT As Business Strategist

Poll us—any of us, whether customers, partners, or Cisco. We’re all experiencing the same thing: We’re at a point where technology is enabling a pervasive computing and collaboration experience for end users. It’s the “era of engagement”—and it’s fundamentally changing expectations for the end-user experience, just as it’s  changing expectations for business – how we do business, operate business and grow business.

Big End User Demands

Recently a customer CIO described how he delivers IT to his company: “When it comes to technology, we have to go where the users are. Technology must be intuitive, user friendly. Our employees choose technology based on what works. I run behind them and try and plug in the support they need to use it.”

Today, employees want their Sunday experience at work on Monday. They’re much more mobile in how they run their lives, communicate, share information and collaborate—and they expect the same on the job.

Consider these facts:

  • 61% of employees globally believe they don’t need to be in an office to be productive
  • 2/3 or employees globally place a higher value on workplace flexibility than on salary
  • About 2/3 of end users globally agree that company issued devices should be available for both work and play
  • 58% of young employees cite a mobile device as “the most important technology in their lives”
  • 41% of young employees say their companies marketed a flexible device and social media policy to recruit and attract them

SOURCE: Cisco Connected World Technology Report, 2010 and 2011

Critical Business Objectives


At the same time that our customer CIOs are delivering the level of engagement their IT “consumers” need, they’re playing a larger role as key business partners. Many CIOs now report into the EVP of Business Strategy, or a similar position, rather than into Finance or Operations. And that’s because business decision-makers are looking to CIOs to recommend technology solutions that will deliver high business value—for greater innovation, faster time to market, and overall competitive differentiation.

In recent conversations with the IT leadership of two of Cisco’s largest and very different customers—one in global manufacturing and the other in financial services—I heard almost identical comments: “We’re focused on evolving the business—and IT is a critical enabler.”

More and more, customers ask how they can use IT to:

  • Shift the model for retail
  • Move their support functions to mobile and social engagement platforms for increased responsiveness
  • Mine rich customer insights from huge amounts of unstructured data in the social Cloud
  • Support secure access to data and applications from different categories of users in a business ecosystem
  • Use the Cloud to maximize startup capital
  • Cut travel costs and still deliver something that feels like a face-to-face meeting
  • Allow employees to use their personal iPads (or other tablets) securely on the company network

Problem-Solving Partnerships

Today, when our customers come to us, they expect IT efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness.  But those are table stakes. Increasingly, they come to us for technology solutions that will position them well for what’s to come in the future. As one CIO said to me last week, “We need Cisco to know and understand our business well, and we need to know that you will continue to innovate to deliver the technology that will keep us competitive in the market.”

It’s a journey; one that starts with that critical partnership between business leadership and IT to formulate the business strategy. Together, this partnership must decide what the vision is for the business—and how technology will help the company achieve that vision.

Where is your company in that journey?

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