Cisco CIO heads for the clouds to deliver IT as a service

Network equipment maker Cisco is moving its IT towards a cloud-based IT-as-a-Service model, using the Innovation Value Institute's IT capability maturity framework (IT-CMF) to manage the transition.

Network equipment maker Cisco is moving its IT towards a cloud-based IT-as-a-Service model, using the Innovation Value Institute's IT capability maturity framework (IT-CMF) to manage the transition.

"It's about how we can increase our revenue and at the same time become more productive," he said. "We've got to become faster and more agile to deliver the right capabilities to internal clients, business partners and external customers," said CIO Robert Kuppens.

Kuppens is one of Cisco's four CIOs and has specific responsibility for the Europe Middle East & Africa region as well as IT innovation and creativity in the firm. He is using the IT-CMF to help manage both Cisco's internal IT as well as the development of the software that drives its network products.

He said Cisco's business unit managers don't really care how their systems are delivered. As a result, Cisco IT is becoming an internal systems and services provider, Kuppens said.

"We will be having our own private clouds, combined with public clouds, to deliver services rather than systems. In the near future a business manager will be have a palette of services that he will be able to pick and chose from. One part of the service catalogue will be a commodity service - you click on it and it's pay-as-you-go and you don't have to talk to IT to get it.

"Then you might mash up different service capabilities where things are a little more customised, but still require very little IT interaction. Then there are the applications which definitely do require IT involvement and require a (fully-argued) business case to justify it."

Business managers' budgets

Kuppens said this will help business unit managers decide more accurately what time, cost and function trade-offs they have to make to get their fully-customised system.

He said Cisco does not separate internal and external software development. "The Cisco IT organisation supports the Cisco R&D organisation to leverage internal quality for external capabilities," he said. "That's why we need something like the IT-CMF."

Cisco assessed its IT capability several years ago. "The view was that we were delivering the right capability at the right cost, but too late," Kuppens said. "What we are trying to do now is almost to predict where the business is heading so that we can deliver the right capability sooner."

This starts with understanding what Cisco's basic delivery capability is today. "You've got to have a predictable operating model. The framework helps me understand where the weakest link and the strong points are," he said.

This helps him in discussions with business unit managers who are eager for new apps. "The conversation is around the four main areas of growth, productivity/profitability, the client's experience level, and IT's capability," he says. This helps both sides understand more precisely what's required to meet expressed goals.

Suppliers' off-the-shelf products

Cisco is also going to its suppliers, such as IBM and Vodafone, asking what they have off-the-shelf that can make its life easier. For example, this means having links between Cisco's purchasing system and IBM's sales order system so that Cisco managers can click to order their laptops, subject to pre-agreed budget and configuration limits.

Similarly, Cisco has asked Vodafone to "pre-populate" the bills it sends Cisco so that staff on a Vodafone contract can see in real time what they owe for personal, company and data calls, and manage their allocated budgets. "For us that's a major challenge because we want to give staff the freedom to use the device, but we don't want unpredictable bills," Kuppens said.

Switching to a service mode of delivering IT requires a huge change in the IT department's skills mix, one that started two years ago, he said. "We call it 'IT as a service organisation'. Some people hate it, but it underlines the change in the mix of skills that we think will be required in future," he said.

Kuppens said the scope for the technically-minded IT worker is vanishing fast. Server farms now auto-populate themselves, provisioning is highly automated, as are other datacentre operations. "Unless the people who like doing these jobs re-educate themselves, their jobs are gone," Kuppens said.

Cisco has also joined Intel, Microsoft, and SAP, among others, as an Innovation Value Institute patron. All are using the framework to get a tighter fit between the overall business strategy and the deployment of their internal IT assets and processes.

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