Future IT: The Who, How, What, and Why

February 12, 2018 - 37 Comments

What comes to mind when you hear “Future IT”? Your answer probably depends on your role. If you’re in IT, you might think of the technologies you’re researching or starting to deploy: cloud-native, artificial intelligence, machine learning, bots, Internet of Things, and—always top of mind—security.

If you sit in a different part of the business, you might think about Future IT in terms of speed (time to market and innovation), or security for compliance and data protection. And things like robo-advisors, connected workspaces, virtual assistants, cognitive computing, or digital supply chains. In this view, Future IT is an enabler for innovation. But at the same time, we need to make the business faster and keep it secure. Many IT organizations struggle to find a balance between helping the business innovate and just keeping operations running smoothly.  Some say they can’t!

Well, what if you could strike that balance and become a fine-tuned machine of continuous innovation?

As the CIO of a technology company, I’m constantly thinking about the next mind-blowing technologies that will help us and our customers reach new heights. And I feel blessed for frequent opportunities to bounce ideas off my peers in other industries, as well. I’ve been listening and brainstorming around Future IT since last year and I’ve come to think that it’s more than just technology. In my mind, it’s also about culture and a connected operating model—not just the “what,” but also the “who,” “how,” and “why.” Here’s my definition of Future IT:

Future IT brings together the best people and teams, who work in a dynamic and agile way to drive continuous innovation and deliver unprecedented outcomes.

Each one of the bold elements is a real thing in our company, not an abstract concept. And the connection point between them is the network. Not just any network, but a network that’s intuitive, secure, simple to manage, and makes it much easier to innovate. Let me explain.

Who: The Best People for the Job, Wherever They Are

The best team contains the people with the best skills (cloud, data insights, agile, security, business acumen, etc.)—regardless of their geographic location or organization. We look for talented people everywhere, not just in Silicon Valley and other technology meccas. And if the person with the best skills for the next sprint happens to be in another organization in the company, we want those folks engaged. We recognize that the best talent may come from outside our direct teams. In fact, more co-creation is happening with our business and engineering organizations than ever before. The desired expertise might not even be at Cisco.  So in some cases, we are co-creating with our customers and partners.

But collaborating across locations and organizations only works if you have the right capabilities—and even more important, the right culture. That’s why I constantly remind myself and my teams that Future IT is enabled by technology, but it’s powered by culture. In fact, I’ve heard from many of my peers that cultural change is their biggest hurdle to digitizing their businesses.

How: Agile and Dynamic Teams

Static teams, in my opinion, don’t have a place in Future IT. We’ve shifted to dynamic teams that come together for the duration of achieving their goal, often for just a few weeks or months. Dynamic teams make it much easier to innovate because we don’t have the hassle of constantly changing the org chart.

Once together, our teams utilize a continuous development (CD) model and toolchain. We call this Continuous Delivery as a Service, CDaaS.  They also collaborate very closely, often across time zones. To connect team members from different locations and organizations, we use technologies like Cisco Spark to see each other via video, chat, share documents, and see the latest notifications from our continuous delivery toolchain.

It’s not enough to say the words, “Let’s have an Agile mindset.” We give those words teeth by rewarding dynamic teams that can shift their thinking and then we make sure they have the education, collaboration tools, and support they need to be successful.

What: Continuous Innovation and Improvement

The payoff for bringing the best people and teams together to work in agile and dynamic ways is continuous innovation and improvement. Value in minutes.

To make more time for innovation (as opposed to, say, infrastructure or application management), we’re working on making our architecture “self-operating”: self-provisioning, self-learning, self-healing, and self-defending. We’re using cloud-native development, AI and machine learning, software-defined everything, Internet of Things, APIs everywhere, and advanced security (application visibility and control, next-gen IPS, advanced malware protection).

The common thread in everything I’ve mentioned is an intent-based network. A network that is constantly learning and evolving—harnessing the power of intent, context, and intuition.

Why: It’s All About Results

Future IT innovations are measured by their results. Although we’re still early in our journey to Future IT, we’ve already seen some unprecedented outcomes in IT and in partnership with other functions within Cisco. A few of these include:

  • 97% faster pace of new feature releases, which improves the velocity to business value
  • 60% drop in security vulnerabilities
  • 50% decrease in cost to resolve customer issues
  • 35-40% reduction in application and infrastructure footprint in key data centers
  • 10x faster fault detection and repair of priority-1 applications

In my next blog, I’ll dive into the “who” (Best People & Teams) – and share more about the Future IT culture—my favorite topic. People are our most valuable asset, and we work hard to keep our skills sharp, job satisfaction high, and focus on business outcomes.

What other Future IT topics are impacting your organization? I invite you to comment below.


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  1. Leading future of IT

  2. well stated!

  3. "The Best People for the Job, Wherever They Are" I really like the attitude which you have for a healthy competiton

  4. Great perspective G and alignment with business outcomes. Proud to be supporting Cisco IT's transformation to the Future State of IT.

  5. Thank you for sharing G! It's amazing to see how you define Future IT, and the elements through which we can constantly take it to the next level. What's even more amazing is to see more and more people from our IT organization started to embed this in their daily work and think through these elements in how they drive changes. We are thriving not only to lead the way of Future Cisco IT, but also Future IT in the industry! Looking forward to the next blog!

  6. Great blog G!! Love how you takes us through the journey and thread all of this together on how we impact this innovation. The people and culture at the heart of it all!

  7. Totally agree. I think that "continuous" is the secret sauce keyword here. And to have something that is just not static people (and their creativity) play the main role. Spot on, Guillermo.

  8. Spot on, G! Not only is this the future of IT, but by building agile and dynamic teams you're also building the future of how we work.

  9. Great way to frame this area. 100% agree that people and culture are the first thing to address. Our team works with businesses across many industries and it is striking how often there is an 'enabling' IT solution in place that is unused and so unproductive for clients.

    So much of this is mindset: people are often open to experimenting with technologies in their personal life (social media/messaging/video calling)… but there is often a belief that different rules/social norms exist in the business world.

    If I look at how many businesses communicate with their customers, it's often the case that they use the same three 'technologies' that they've been using for the last 20 years: phone, email, and face-to-face meetings. There's so much opportunity to break those chains and work more effectively together.

  10. Hi Guillermo,
    I always thought I was the only crazy guy saying things like this. Thank you for sharing this well-thought-through blog. My favorite line is "Future IT is enabled by technology, but it’s powered by culture".

    And, extremely subtle, but i picked up on it as it is my pet peeve, you don't talk about IT and the business, as two opposites. You used the phrase: "If you sit in a *different* part of the business". Thank you for that.

    Technology is much less a department, and much more just a set of capabilities permeated throughout the complete business. There are no internal customers, just the customers out there, and the organization is a set of capabilities when combined delivering value.


  11. I like this idea that continuous innovation starts with the people coming together into dynamic teams. We all benefit from this because as humans we want to be together doing great stuff, and don't want to be pigeon holed into doing the same thing all the time ! What a better way to fuel the innovation of a company… Future IT

  12. Future IT has big table stakes in the digital economy. This continuous innovation is required of every company because that is what we as consumers, expect now ! As every company is becoming an IT company, what better way than with a model like Future IT

  13. Thank you, G. When I think of Future IT, I think more automation and digitization – faster access to data. I am working with Supply Chain Ops now on the digital supply chains.

    On another note, it would be great if IT would look at our learning pathways in Degreed on agile, security, business acumen.

  14. Guillermo, Outstanding blog!

    You're spot on that the future of digital is actually analog. It’s people. It’s culture. IT must stop trying to be business aligned, and become business embedded. This means that the operating model (OM) and organizational design (OD) must radically shift to support the business. Plan-Build-Run needs to be supplanted with Listen-Engage-Curate. We must move from Technology and Services thinking to Platform thinking. Extreme automation through APIs (software-defined), with AI and ML will scale humans by attacking complexity and allow us to add more value to the business 🙂

    Dave Russell | Vice President and Distinguished Analyst, Storage Technologies and Strategies | Gartner

  15. Can't wait to hear more about the Future of IT culture, Guillermo! Understanding the human aspects of technology and business transformation has always set Cisco apart. I love how you're thinking about the way that IT is transforming, with people at the heart of it all.

    As one of my former leaders used to say: "All of my IP gets on the elevator and goes home each night." By respecting the way individuals and culture drive IT, we have a much better chance of retaining the top talent that will help us move forward.

  16. I am so proud of our partnership G. Your vision and team has been pivotal in transforming Marketing here at CISCO

  17. Forward thinking perspectives as Cisco continues to lead.
    Great technology wisdom Guillermo!!!.

  18. Great to see the focus on results, and the numbers to quantitatively describe the benefits of Future IT.

  19. Well said. Leaders are people of competence and character who shape, foster, and maintain progressive culture in an organization. Agility is great but not instant gratification. Need to be careful there for over zealous decision makers……

  20. "That’s why I constantly remind myself and my teams that Future IT is enabled by technology, but it’s powered by culture. In fact, I’ve heard from many of my peers that cultural change is their biggest hurdle to digitizing their businesses."

    Love this .. at the end of the day future IT is powered by culture and it takes a village of people to adopt culture from the top of the organization to the middle and the bottom. Great blog post G!

  21. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this and invoking a dialogue G! I absolutely agree that each one of the bold elements is a real thing at Cisco. In the digitization and orchestration of the fulfilment supply chain planning, we have put together a strong team of experts to solve a broad problem statement where the exact requirements are unknown but evolving as we go, we are applying the agile and continous delivery mindset and innovating with calculated risks to deliver tremendous value to the business. The future is here now in Cisco IT and excited to be part of it!

  22. G., thanks for such a thought-provoking post. As the CEO of NPower, I especially appreciate how you and the Cisco team are extending the idea of "The Best People for the Job" to communities often overlooked when searching for great new talent: military veterans and young adults from under-resourced neighborhoods. The priority to provide skills training and opportunity to these two communities runs deep in the Cisco culture and is just one of many organizational assets that fuels your position as an industry leader. Look forward to your next post!

  23. Thanks for sharing your insights. This is a great framework for leaders to think about what future entails and what to focus on. It also provides managers and individual contributors what to look to when it comes to next iterations when building strategies, projects or teams.
    My personal insight is specific and something I've been thinking, discussing and even working for some time has to do with context and collective team intelligence management.
    We spend majority of our time interacting with people via tools such as e-mail, messaging, meetings with presentations, video, audio. We are making great steps to have artificial intelligence assists us to collaborate better. This assistance often generates additional intelligence (that I call team intelligence or simply Context). As we continue using more and more these technologies, we would be required to manage this collective new insights, knowledge that spread across multiple teams, tools and (virtual) assistants, and use it for the benefit of the corporation, and even society. Companies who are able to progress on gathering and using this collective context, will have enormous advantages in their respective industries.

  24. Future IT means that human experience becomes the data, the data becomes the beauty, and the beauty reshapes the experience. And the cycle starts again.

  25. Where to start… So important to restart the IT of the future discussion and continue further. Essentially when you communicate out an update to internal and external stakeholders, you are saying (IMHO) "Hey, I'm proud of the work we're doing, want you to know how and here's how we're innovating and guess what we are still focused on continual improvement."

    Internally as an employee, I love to see updates from those appointed to Executive Leadership positions; good or bad. What makes me proud to be an employee is when I see updates like the one above showcasing the value IT brings to Cisco and the world, the measurements your are taking to show the value and the vision for the future and you explain how. I love that our culture and leadership encourage us to innovate and provide opportunities for our voices and ideas to be heard in our own org's and cross functionally.

    For our team we have a current struggle; we have multiple software applications where we are inputting data and we need more visibility cross-functionally like Smartsheets for multiple participation and information management, with the ability to share roadmap updates like a Power point presentation but need it to be automated so we can save time and work efforts recreating and essentially duplicating work, communicate more efficiently and we need it to be secure. I'm excited for the future of IT and hope that in this new era, will continue to provide IT solutions that are more intuitive, scientifically catching trends for insights and user friendly so we the people can continue to innovate.

    Thanks for the update G!

    Looking forward to what's next, the People equation.

  26. This post is right on Guillermo! I remember when IT used to be a cost burden and it has now evolved into a valuable business growth enabler. Without a doubt technology has transformed the way we operate and conduct business. I would offer three key areas for continual success in IT: Workforce agility, security and efficiency (speed)

  27. This post is right on Guillermo! I remember when IT used to be a cost burden and it has now evolved into a valuable business growth enabler. Without a doubt technology has transformed the way we operate and conduct business. I would offer three key areas for continual success in IT: Workforce agility, security and efficiency (speed).

  28. Great blog G! Connecting the unconnected! Automation, simplicity, and security are a must especially with all the people and devices Cisco hopes to connect. AI and automation will undoubtedly transform how we do business but human ingenuity must finish the job! #ciscooncisco

  29. Awesome post! Very interesting to see how Cisco is approaching dynamic teams and accomplishing better productivity. I’d imagine that has positive implications for employees feeling like they can impact a variety of areas, beyond just a standard day to day project. Solid results as well! Love to see these efforts driving business outcomes and setting the standard for IT orgs across the globe!

  30. There used to be a time where an IT organization would offer to the business team's the following saying "You can have it faster, better and cheaper, pick any two". Thanks to your leadership, Cisco can deliver all three and demonstrate a Future IT vision paving a path for better strategic business decisions working within a great culture made by great people. Very impressive G!

  31. Future IT can help solve environmental issues on this planet in so many ways

  32. Amazing blog! This fully aligns with what we heard from our customer surveys at the IT Management Program at Cisco Live Barcelona; the Future of IT depends not on technology, but on people, the people of IT! IT employees who through their close alignment and understanding of their stakeholders needs, will drive the cultural shifts needed to propel the business forward. It's exactly what you've been teaching us for years Guillermo, it's all about RoI, Relationships over Issues! I feel so fortunate to be a part of the Cisco IT engine where we get to empower the Cisco user base with the mind blowing solutions and technologies that transform their user experiences and propel our business forward.

  33. This goes hand in hand with what you are always saying, that leaders can never stop learning. It is more critical now than ever in order to lead our teams thru major shifts. And the focus on culture is imperative.

  34. "Future IT brings together the best people and teams, who work in a DYNAMIC and agile way to drive continuous innovation and deliver UNPRECEDENTED OUTCOMES". The three words resonated with me, G!. Thanks

  35. You said "As the CIO of a technology company, I’m constantly thinking about the next mind-blowing technologies that will help us and our customers reach new heights." — Consider the perspective of your internal user (i.e. Cisco employees), and the expectations become much easier to comprehend – it's not mind-blowing at all. Put simply, they can't understand why it's often easy to find a 'free' service from a consumer SaaS provider that meets their need, yet the corp IT team can't deliver a similar service. Is that an unreal expectation? You decide. FYI, your competition isn't another corp CIO at peer large tech companies, it's the creative and agile startup teams that can deliver online services quickly.

    • agree that simplicity is everything. having that ITunes or Amazon simple shopping experience. Underlying technologies will transform the end experience but the bottom line is the end user couldn't care less, they just want a good experience.

  36. I like the idea of "self operating" and "self learning", Intuitive IT. When I think of the future of IT, I think of people always having the right information, the right connections, the right communication, effortlessly and exactly when we need it to conduct our business. Future IT should be so simple, it's as invisible as thought. Thank you for building the Cisco IT that's moving us in that direction!