From CIO to CX SVP, Cisco’s Jacqueline Guichelaar takes a road less travelled

Throughout her more than 30-year career in the tech industry, Jacqueline Guichelaar has been a staunch advocate for leaning in and genuinely listening to customers in order to provide them with better experiences.

It’s one of the many attributes that led her to eventually becoming global CIO with Cisco, where she charted a path that combined leading the company’s strategy for digital transformation – including migrating 140,000 staff to remote working during COVID – focussed on ‘simplification’, while consulting on actual product design and development.

Yet after four “amazing” years in the role, Guichelaar has taken up the position of SVP and general manager, customer experience overseeing APAC, Japan and Greater China.

The Australian bred – albeit Uruguayan-born – executive has also moved slightly closer to home, relocating from California to Singapore.

Speaking exclusively to CIO Australia, she recalls how her earliest roles working in technology, be it for IBM Global Services Australia or one of several systems integrators, saw her assume a central role in liaising with and managing customers, including some of Australia’s biggest companies.

“I’ve always been about putting myself in customer’s shoes, so now it feels right to be moving from CIO to a CX role.”

CIOs can’t build everything

While she may well be best remembered for leading Cisco’s response to COVID – including leading a WFH exodus that would crush many a CIO – Guichelaar hopes that her legacy as the company’s CIO will be seen more in terms of her work in massively simplifying technology, and of course helping to lift user and customer experiences.

During her four-year tenure, Guichelaar and her team managed to slash IT spend by a whopping $US200 million. This was achieved largely by shifting the tech department’s mindset to one of ‘buy before you build’.

“We didn’t need all these homegrown applications, so we rationalised them,” she explains. “In some business units, we had 11 legacy apps. We replaced them with one out-of-the-box SAS application”. Finance. Legal and HR were three departments that were slimmed down the most in terms of applications.

This also meant dealing with less vendors, which helped to further reduce costs, with Cisco now limited to dealing with a handful of ‘strategic partners’.

Data centres, networks and other tech infrastructure were all rationalised on Guichelaar’s watch. “We were very clear and intentional about what workloads would sit where”.

She stresses that all companies have things that they excel at, and that during her time as Cisco CIO she argued that if the company was to build anything, it should be where its strengths are.

“Focus on the areas that matter the most, the areas where you have competitive advantage and / or the areas where maybe there is no solution in the market where you believe that if you build something you will help your company move forward”.

She’s seen many inhouse built applications that have delivered enormous value to the company. “But companies move and industries change”.

“In this new world, it is not possible for a CIO to build everything,” she says.

“There’s just not enough money. There’s just not enough time. It’s just not possible”. Systems engineers can also become heavily invested in applications they’ve developed, meaning that scuttling them often presents certain “cultural challenges”.

Guichelaar stresses that being able to “pull back” from such a place requires “experience, foresight and governance”.

“You have to put some frameworks in place, otherwise you just end up with a flavour of everything and high complexity and no one wants that.”

She says it’s something many CIOs still get wrong, investing large amounts of time, energy and money building things they could easily buy for vastly cheaper and greater overall value.

“I’ve seen it time and time again in my career, in financial services, in telecommunications, even in banking”.

Yet getting it right is key to delivering better experiences, whether for customers or staff, Guichelaar notes, as it all comes down to “simplicity”.

It’s one of the many lessons she’s bringing from Cisco’s top tech job to charting her new course in CX in Singapore.

One of her customers there is a large American bank struggling with sprawling legacy systems across its entire international operations.

“It might sound basic but it’s difficult, and something many companies around the world are grappling with.”

“I feel for the team, because it’s really hard when you’ve got to figure out how to refresh. How do you get the investment? How do you support, how do you get the change window time? How do you get enough engineers?”

Technology needs to deliver value in the form of outcomes

When Guichelaar and her team went in and met with executives in the network space they soon discovered – much to the bank’s surprise – that it wasn’t utilising much of the value it had actually bought from Cisco. This prompted her to send in a “bunch” of CX engineers to help get everything back on track.

Another major bank Guichelaar is working with is transitioning to a hybrid cloud environment.

“They’re wanting to move out of their own data centres because it’s too costly and to figure out what workloads do [they want to] put on public cloud versus their own private data centre versus SaaS,” she says, adding that challenges like these are where great CX teams can really shine.

Ultimately, today perhaps more so than any time before, the raison d’etre of all technology projects – be they customer or staff facing – has to be delivering value in the form of ‘outcomes’.

“I was a customer of Cisco for decades so I know also what it feels to be on the other side,” Guichelaar says.

“And one of the things our [Cisco] customers are saying to us is ‘we want to see value from the hardware we buy, we want to know that the software is making an impact’.

“We want to be happy and we want to have a long term relationship with you”.

With decades of senior technology leadership under her belt, Guichelaar understands as well as any CIO that this is often simply a pipe dream, though, especially once the realities of deploying large-scale solutions set in.

Yet with competition in the tech sector as fierce as ever, and with the cloud driving prices and margins down to new lows, Guichelaar understands that her new CX role may end up being as challenging– if not more – than her four years as Cisco’s top tech executive.

“Time will tell the impact I will have with customers, but does it feel right?”

“It definitely feels like the right move for me and I’m glad I’ve taken all my tech background and experience and am doing something for our customers. And I do like to be with customers.”

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