Premier 100: Cisco's CIO discusses changes, challenges

Companies that want an e-business presence won't succeed by plastering a thin Web veneer onto an existing brick-and-mortar infrastructure. To be successful in the Internet economy, every department in the corporation must have an e-business strategy, measurable to best-of-class benchmarks set by senior managers.

That was the message delivered by Cisco Systems vice president and CIO Peter Solvik in his keynote address on Tuesday at Computerworld's Premier 100 conference in Palm Springs, California.

But while information technology managers attending the conference gobbled up Solvik's remarks like the sticky buns on the refreshment tables, they didn't learn a lot about Solvik the CIO.

Computerworld US senior writer James Cope caught up with Solvik after his speech to find out what it's like to be the top IT manager at Cisco.

Q: Describe your work week.

A: A typical week for me? Well, every other week I do a presentation in front of an audience, much like the one I did here today. I usually have three customer meetings a week, mostly with senior executives - CIOs, CEOs. I meet with a couple of start-ups to look at new technologies. I also get involved in recruitment.

Q: You're a busy guy. How do you balance work and your personal life?

A: I have a pretty reasonable balance. But you have to make that happen. I've lived in Silicon Valley for about 20 years. You learn to get things done in short amounts of time. And you are what your team is. I have an exceptional leadership team.

Q: How many people report directly to you?

A: I have eight line direct reports and three or four staff direct reports. We generally have a pretty high reporting ratio. It's about 10 to 1. That way, we don't get too hierarchical.

Q: What are your biggest challenges - the things you worry about?

A: We're a very paranoid company. We spend a lot of time worrying about what we don't know . . . focusing on competitors. We're always looking at customer satisfaction.

Q: Who are your major competitors?

A: Nortel, Lucent, some others overseas. And, of course, start-ups.

Q: What about operations? What are your concerns there?

A: Scaling the company is a very big focus. We've been growing at 50% a year. Not many companies this large grow that fast. We're constantly working on how to scale without hitting the wall or going off the track.

Q: Seldom does a week go by without Cisco acquiring another company. How do you bring a new company into the fold?

A: We have a repeatable process for doing acquisition integration. The way those companies become part of Cisco is through connectivity. They hook into our systems and become part of our culture in a natural way.

Q: When will the idea of e-business become business as usual?

A: That's evolving now. It'll be a five to 10 year transition. The Internet economy is still very young.

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