Zak Zielezinski

This blog is co-authored by Carlos Pignataro and Zak Zielezinski.




What happens when you give your team an uninterrupted and electric 48 hours of freedom to co-create, code, prototype, and test out innovations?

You get game-changing innovations added to the product roadmap, market-opening integrations expanding the portfolio, increased employee engagement and customer-focused success!

Is there a method to our madness? Of course! The recipe…

  • Diverse teams + Executive sponsorship
  • Customer feedback + Strategic alignment
  • Ideation -> Incubation -> Implementation

In Cisco’s Customer and Partner Experience (CPX), we know that innovation comes in different forms, from different sources, and is embedded throughout the technology landscape. We are focused on finding the paths that create value for our customers and align with our business strategy, and then sparking innovation into motion to turn those into measurable market success.

Here is one example. We have 48 hours, customer input, and executive-led sponsorship…Let’s hack!

The center of gravity: CX Cloud. Why CX Cloud? Because customers are looking for a way to simplify and unify their experience across the portfolio.

Diverse teams + Executive sponsorship

Join (or build) a team. Share and innovate.

In driving growth via incubations, hackathons are agile, promote multidisciplinary collaboration and #InclusiveInnovation, and position minimum viable products (MVPs) in much shorter cycles due to their time-bound nature – innovation needs some scarcity. Along with realizing emerging concepts and generating new ideas, hackathons improve employee engagement and collaboration between teams.  They help build and strengthen our diverse community.

“Hackathons are a powerful innovation vehicle. Hackathons make concepts real – a living Proof-Of-Concept. There’s no better way to showcase an idea (or win an argument) than with running code showing a demo.” – Carlos Pignataro, Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

The result:

Tony Colon, SVP, CXP, sponsored the CX Cloud Hackathon to crowdsource ideas from our innovators, the people who are closest to both the product and our customers.  It was an opportunity to match grass-root innovation with strategic alignment. Elevate their expertise and acknowledge how they could benefit all of Cisco’s customers.

Almost 250 innovators of various backgrounds and experience levels formed 39 diverse teams — with 70% of them participating in this, their first hackathon, 30% from a non-technical background, and 60% of them learning another enterprise application for the first time. 48 hours blocked on calendars to step away from deadlines, and be leverage the unconstrained thinking, co-ideating, single-threaded only to the hackathon.

Customer feedback + Strategic alignment

Our customers drive our innovation.

Customer-focused innovation leads to future growth and stronger customer engagement. “We’re driving CX Cloud with the voice of the customer and want to ground our innovation in customer feedback.  This helps strengthen relationships with our customers, shows we are listening and supporting their outcomes.” – Zak Zielezinski, Head of Insights & Innovation, CPX.

We capture customer ideas every day, either in App or via direct engagement, throughout their CX Cloud lifecycle journey. The 800+ customer ideas we’ve collected provided themes and key opportunity areas which helped us identify the 3 categories for our hackathon:

1) Best Third-Party Integration

2) Best Mobile Customer and Partner Experience

3) Anti-Counterfeit Solutions

Our core hackathon team lined up mentors and sponsors to have an event that Engaged, Enabled, and Empowered innovators. We hosted design thinking sessions to help teams brainstorm and begin work on ideas and invited independent software vendors (ISVs) to provide access to their code, APIs and their platforms.  We also had dedicated developer evangelist on standby to answer questions and help teams get as far as they could in the timeframe.

From Ideation to Incubation to Implementation

What a spectacular initiative:

  • 22 submissions in the 3rd party integration category
  • 9 submissions for mobile customer and partner experience
  • 8 submissions for anti-counterfeit solutions

The teams had to go through rigorous rounds of hierarchical judging in their global regions culminating in a live pitch, demo, and Q&A in front of executives to win the coveted top prizes: a panel of judges comprised of Tony Colon, SVP CPX, Fletcher Previn, SVP Chief Digital Officer, Carlos Pignataro, Chief Technology Officer, and Shawn Dawson Troutt, VP Operations TRON.

The winner? Our customers and the pre-product Innovation!!!

Next Steps

Many teams – not just the winners – continue to further develop, refine, and iterate on many of these promising innovations.  Investment and resources have been allocated to help accelerate towards realizing their value as part of CX Cloud.  New relationships and connections have been made across several teams, encouraging inventors to reach out to each other more often to truly practice inclusive innovation.

The hackathon has brought to light just how open and collaborative the CX Cloud ecosystem platform truly is, and highlighted its customer-centric, collaborative, and iterative development approach.

The journey has just begun. We are very encouraged by everyone’s enthusiastic and generous contributions in the CX Cloud hackathon and are already looking forward to continuing to transfer innovation to market.

Hackathons meet strategic pillars: The complementarity of grass-root, expert-driven innovation plus the initiatives stemming from top-down alignment with an overarching corporate strategy, create co-innovation, the engine for sustainable growth.





Carlos Pignataro

Head of Technology and Data

Engineering Sustainability Office