by George Nott

CIO50 #26-50: Julie Canepa, Cisco ANZ

Nov 21, 2017
Technology Industry

Julie Canepa
Credit: Cisco

Late last year, Cisco Australia and New Zealand moved into new headquarters in North Sydney.

The culmination of 12 months of planning and design, more than 400 staff moved into their trendy modern home, without any business interruption.

The open-plan workplace was given a homey feel in communal areas, with bookshelves, sofas, plants, Scandinavian-style wood and exposed brickwork. Working areas boast touch point desks, standing desks, quiet rooms and casual meetings places.

The move didn’t simply signify a change of surrounds. The aim was to completely revolutionise the way employees work.

“The project goal was to leverage technology to bring people together to reflect our vision for the future of work. A vision that recognises our employee’s values, including flexibility and choice over how, where, and in some cases when they work,” explains the company’s chief information officer Julie Canepa.

The lofty target needed an innovative use of technology to make it a reality.

“The underlying technology needed to connect people seamlessly as they move throughout the office, as well as extending this same connectivity and user experience beyond the workplace. What made this project innovative, was how we intersected the technology platforms with physical design, and alignment to our people strategy,” says Canepa.

A move to 100 per cent activity based working, no private offices and fewer bookable meeting rooms “challenged the status quo”, Canepa says and required technology solutions so that productivity was not negatively impacted.

“Our job was to provide the right technology for the right needs in each of these areas,” she says.

The technology delivered by Canepa and her team included a unified communications and wireless network, more than 250 video endpoints ranging from video phones to highly immersive Telepresence units, Sparkboards – Cisco’s own digital whiteboard and video conferencing product, hybrid business collaboration platforms integrated into business tools, upgraded internet links, increased security (802.1x enforcement), a BYOD initiative for tablets and phones, extension mobility and personal ‘virtual’ meeting rooms to personalise workspaces, smart lockers, and an IT helpdesk in the form of a ‘Genius Bar’ for technical support.

Additional innovations include bots for finding employees, leveraging CMX data in the office for geolocation, a bot to help find available meeting rooms, bots for integrating document management platforms, smart support for proactive IT troubleshooting, and video analytics for physical security.

A key part of the smooth transition was the use of social platforms like Cisco’s Spark to “keep each other honest, raise concerns and ensure a healthy dialogue along the way”.

But tech is nothing without people. Employees had to be on board with the new ways of working, and eased into using the new technology.

The move meant a reduction of overall space, and demanded a culture of sharing.

“Not all of employees were eager to give up their desks and move to a 100 per cent shared economy. It took careful partnership between IT and business to manage the change, and set expectations on the new norms,” says Canepa.

“Technology decisions were debated early in the design and considered people, process and technology as one.”

The Three Es

As well as technology and tact, an important ingredient in the company’s success over the last year has been positivity and passion for innovation, much of it coming from Canepa herself.

Driving her approach is what she calls the ‘Three E’s’: exposure, experience and education.

“I create Exposure opportunities for the team by connecting them with global efforts, creating visibility with senior staff, rewarding outstanding achievements, and exposure to new areas of the business. I drive Experience opportunities for the team by encouraging employees to take on stretch assignments outside their typical domain, and to get involved with new, cross-functional projects. Finally, I focus on Education initiatives, bringing thought leaders from business and IT to speak with staff, and by creating new learning opportunities in Australia,” she says.

It has had a measurable effect, with the team’s employee satisfaction levels higher than ever before and among the highest in the company.

Canepa is an inspiration to those inside and outside the business. She mentors three women at Cisco, started an internship program which has run the last two years, participates in a STEM mentorship program with CSIRO to support a local primary school in Sydney, is a member of FITT (Femalesin InformationTechnology Telecommunications) and takes part in Cisco’s Empowered Women’s Network.

The last year has also been a period of personal development, as the IT leader role changes.

“When I started my role, it was more internally focused on delivery, when I spoke to customers is was usually to the technical teams. Today, I’m finding I am meeting with more heads of business than ever before. I have had to get comfortable being uncomfortable sharing my experience with customers and peers. I’m now getting on stages, telling our story, connecting with leaders, and speaking about what we at Cisco are learning,” she says.