If someone asked you how to build a new IT organization from the ground up, what would you advise? A Cisco Sales employee asked me that very question last week. Her global customer had recently spun off a new regional group which was planning to do just that –build a completely new IT enterprise organization, with new IT infrastructure, new IT architecture, and new IT processes. She asked me if there were any Cisco IT best practices I could recommend to their newly-named CIO.

And that’s where you come in. I’ve already responded with some advice based on my 30 years’ IT experience (15 with Cisco IT) – see below, but I realize that you command a great deal more of valuable experience. If you have any ideas, reply with your advice to a new medium-sized enterprise IT organization just starting out. I will forward the blog link to the customer CIO with your suggestions. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

Below are the four recommendations I’ve already passed on to the CIO. Two relate to the opportunity around beginning a new IT organization, and two more related to best practice sharing from Cisco IT. I suggested that they should be taken in the following order.


  1. Re-define the governing structure. Any new beginning – before processes and attitudes harden – offers a huge opportunity to re-invent an entire new IT department. What works best at Cisco IT for new beginnings, and new milestones, is to create a VSEM – a set of 4 statements, each building on the previous one. VSEM stands for “Vision, Strategy, Execution, and Metrics.” The VSEM statement for IT provides direction and defines what drives our IT team to do their best for the business. While each VSEM is specific to an organization, I recommended that the new CIO meet with Cisco IT leaders to talk about what a VSEM is, how to create, communicate it through the ranks, and manage this governing backbone.
  2. Use strengths and avoid problems from ‘last time.’ The new company would most likely use a lot of IT people and experience from their parent corporation, if they could. The good news and bad news of this is that they will bring with them their process strengths, and their weaknesses. Beginnings are a great time to identify what they did very well, but not to lose site of the processes that enabled those best practices. It’s also the best time to identify the unsolved problems they had (even though these are much harder to identify). Is there a way to solve these issues before these same problems are ‘baked in’ to the new organization? Since problems are probably hard to identify, the best way I can think of is some formal benchmarking stats and process against other IT organizations, and some informal swapping of process stories with other IT organizations. Cisco IT is happy to do both for a customer.

Best Practice Sharing

Apologies in advance, I realize that the following sounds a lot like Cisco IT bragging. These are areas where, based on working with a lot of other customers’ IT organizations, I think that Cisco IT does rather well. We’re also happy to share this information with customer IT organizations. IT is a hard enough job; I think sharing best practices makes it a little easier for all of us.

  1. IT as a Service: If the new organization’s VSEM leads them to any IT goal resembling “provide IT as a Service enabling the business to clearly drive IT direction through architecture, and understand the IT costs of each business decision,” then Cisco IT has 5 years of experience in our transformation to this new model. We can share our best practices in this process. You can find a description of Cisco IT’s Operating Model, and ITaaS service roles if you’re interested, as well as an interim report from our Customer Care services team on the process.
  2. Other areas of IT best practice: After talking and working with a lot of other IT organizations, there are some Cisco IT processes that I think of as exceptional best practices. Some top of mind sharing points from how Cisco IT:
  • Manages to keep the IT infrastructure up-to-date, in a flexible, future-directed, and business-directed way, while keeping IT capital budget very predictable and flat from quarter to quarter. (Inside IT we call this Fleet Management, and here’s a case study if you’re interested.).
  • Outsources work to partners while motivating them to deploy, manage, and support a continuously improved network, rather than freezing the architecture and sweating the assets. (Here’s a case study on IT Vendor Management if you’re interested.)
  • Saves money and improves productivity and resilience by enabling a very mobile, collaborative workforce. (Here’s a short description.)
  • Builds, owns, and operates a highly flexible, fast, private data center cloud that significantly increases developer speed and capability (Inside Cisco IT we call it CITEIS. Here’s a case study and there’s a lot more information in our data center case study area.)

Call to Action: If you have suggestions for this new CIO, please post a comment. If you have some of your own IT Best Practices to suggest, please describe them. And if you would like to hear more about any of these Cisco IT best practices, let me know and I will get you some more information. Thank you for your help!