Dedicated cybersecurity professionals from diverse backgrounds and industries work tirelessly to safeguard crucial data and share their expertise with their peers. Cisco is honoring outstanding advocates in each region with the Global Advocate Awards in 2023. At a special event during Cisco Live in Las Vegas, these five exceptional advocates from the Americas region were recognized, and the top prize was awarded to Dr. Christopher P. Mitchel, Chief Information and Security Officer for the City of Houston .

Their unique and compelling stories are a source of inspiration for the wider cybersecurity community.

Nominees for the 2023 Americas Cybersecurity Defender of the Year Award

Mark Rodrigue: Sr. Network Engineer, Room and Board

Room & Board is a modern home furnishings retailer. While the company prides itself with impressive on-site showrooms, its drive to reach customers where they are has led to innovative changes.

Providing exceptional customer service is one of the company’s key pillars. But so are eliminating friction for multi-generational customers, meeting more customers, acquiring top talent, and building better customer relationships at any location. Of course, this led to several technical and security challenges.

Mark Rodrigue is the Senior Network Engineer at Room & Board. His job was to find a solution – and he found it in Cisco’s Integrated Security solutions. “All of our internet traffic — from our branch locations, remote workers, and virtual design associates — go to our cloud-native Umbrella security stack. We don’t backhaul any internet traffic. And we’re still confident that traffic is being reliably put through a security engine as if it was going through our data center.”

Now, Room & Board can hire designers who no longer have to be on-site. The new generation of shoppers can shop on-line. Sales reps can meet customers off-site. And all digital transactions are convenient and secure. “It opened up a way for us to create that experience by meeting new customers where they were, even in cities without a Room & Board showroom,” says Rodrigue. “Having the virtual component now allows our customers to see the design in the store or virtually, then think through the process, access their shopping cart at home, and be entirely comfortable before making that buying decision,” he adds.

Mark gladly shares his insights, being a featured speaker during several internal Cisco events.

Dr. Christopher Mitchell: Chief Information Security Officer, City of Houston

Dr. Chris Mitchell is on a mission: to protect America’s 4th largest city against global cyber-attacks. And with good reason. Mitchell is Chief Information and Security Officer for the city of Houston, Texas.

Houston is an attractive target for cyber adversaries. The city is home to the Johnson Space Center, the nation’s largest hospital, one of the nation’s largest ports, and will be one of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup. “There are sixteen critical infrastructure sectors defined by the Department of Homeland Security, and Houston is the only city where all sixteen sectors are represented. So, we have a very large security footprint. We are continually targeted by adversaries around the globe.”

Mitchell not only need cybersecurity on the highest level, he needed a partner – not a series of vendors – but a trusted partner to work side-by-side with, in order to protect critical infrastructure. He found that partner in Cisco. “I have vendors, and then I have partners. Cisco is a valued partner. I really like their solutions, but I also like that they listen and collaborate with us,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell has an impressive cybersecurity resume and experience. Some of it stems from his time in the U.S. Navy and his work in aerospace. He now shares what he has learned and what his strategies are featured as a speaker for Cisco Live 2023 in Las Vegas and during this recent Cybersecurity Summit event

Jacob Lorz: Director of IT security, Cintas, Corp.

When it comes to cybersecurity you might say Cintas Corporation is driven. Literally.

Cintas provides products and services to businesses and their employees. They supply everything from uniforms to fire extinguishers – from first aid kits to restroom supplies. They even provide safety and compliance training. Cintas operates across 450 sites but has 14 thousand service vehicles – all equipped with onboard technology data.  They needed a superior security plan.

“Our service personnel carry devices that store customer data. As an organization, we must protect not only the intellectual property associated with the data but also its confidentiality. The risks to our data compound over time with different threats,” says Jacob Lorz, Director of IT Security.

Lorz partnered with the Cisco Security Team to develop a game plan, and in the end, went all in with everything from Cisco Cloud Umbrella, Cisco Secure Firewall, Talos, and more. It was an easy-to-deploy, seamless, secure, top to bottom solution. “We are pleased with how well Cisco security solutions have reduced our cyber risk and improved our security posture. Pulling a holistic solution from the Cisco security portfolio helps remove our burden by ensuring the technology we put in place can be implemented more efficiently and effectively,” Lorz adds.

Lorz has been an advocate ever since and actively expresses interest to speak and be involved in Cisco security events.

Marcelo Morais: Collaboration and Security Specialist at 4XPERT TI

You might say 4XPERT TI is in the business of helping people and companies succeed, especially when it comes to complex issues like cybersecurity. For more than a decade it has been teaching and training customers about Cisco technologies, especially in the areas of Service Provider, Security, Data Center, and Unified Communications.

Marcelo Morais is a Collaboration & Security Specialist at 4Expert TI, and when it comes to security, Morais is the go-to guy. Perhaps his most notable success came during the project that had national implications in Brazil. He leveraged Cisco ISE during and after COVID-19, which helped the customer to continue operations and provide services to all its clients in a secure way, whether in person or remotely. “Cisco Secure gives me the tools to protect my customer in their day-to-day operations, leaving them more focused on their Core Business,” Morais says.

Morais does not hesitate to share his ideas and experience when it comes to his two technological passions – Collaboration & Security.

He is such a passionate advocate of Cisco cybersecurity that in recent years he actively participated in Cisco Community, Cisco Insider User Group, and Comunidade da Cisco em Português. He has been honored by Cisco before too. He was the Cisco Designated VIP in 2022 & 2023, English Community Question Answered, English Community Member’s Choice and English Community CCP Member of the Month. And if you want specifics around any of the topics Morais champions, details are not hard to find. He has authored several Knowledge Base articles, posting more than 30 ideas to enhance Cisco ISE.

Gary Burgess: Director, Infrastructure and Security, Qdoba Restaurant Corp.

When it came to improving and fundamentally altering cybersecurity, Qdoba wanted the whole enchilada. The fast, casual Mexican restaurant chain based out of San Diego, California is popular and expanding – with more than 740 franchises in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico.

“The biggest value we’re receiving from Umbrella is the uptime of our network which correlates to the uptime of our restaurant. When our restaurants are up, available and secure, our guests can feel comfortable coming and purchasing food from QDOBA.” – Gary Burgess, Director, Infrastructure and Security

Qdoba replaced antiquated systems with full secure access service edge (SASE) solution to connect and protect all 700+ restaurants in North America. By converging networking and security functionality and delivering it from the cloud, Qdoba was able to centralize and streamline their operations and enhance their security and visibility.  “The complexity in that original solution was huge. With Meraki, that goes out the window. When we couple that with SASE, we get the benefit of having more modern network security, SSL inspection, DLP, and other pieces that we never had before,” Burgess explains.

Burgess is now a Cisco Security Advocate, sharing Qdoba’s success story with its peers via written case studies, and appearing in a video.

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