by Divina Paredes

A clarion call to ‘learn, unlearn and relearn’

Jun 10, 2019
CareersDigital TransformationIT Leadership

You need to continually introduce new skills, and be someone who can move into different parts of the organisationGuillermo Diaz Jr, Cisco

Just over two years ago, Guillermo Diaz Jr, shared Cisco IT’s Blueprint for Digital Transformation.

Diaz, who was then global CIO at Cisco, says the same principles can help their customers transform their own business:

  • Enable new business models

  • Simplify everything – IT as a service

  • Modular IT and automate

  • Deliver data to drive business decisions

  • Continuous delivery

  • Security everywhere

“These principles still apply,” says Diaz, who moved to a new role, in March, as senior vice president, customer transformation at Cisco.

“Initiatives and priorities would change, but you have to live with the set of principles that you are not willing to compromise.”

Today, however, Diaz says he would “reorder” the principles.

“I would say, security should be principle number one.”

He adds that, “It is a board level conversation and in every conversation not just in our company, but in every company.”

“We are going to shift left,meaning security needs to be towards the front end in our process,” he says in an interview with CIO New Zealand on leadership capabilities for the digital era.

Diaz, or ‘G’ as he is called by his colleagues in the ICT industry, joined Cisco in 2000 after holding senior leadership positions in Silicon Valley.

From global CIO to SVP of Customer Transformation: Guillermo Diaz Jr takes on inaugural role at Cisco

His previous roles include director of global network services for Silicon Graphics, senior director of IT for Intelligent Electronics (Ingram Micro), and manager of telecommunications for Alza Corporation.

He began his career in telecommunications with the US Navy, where a military scholarship led to his bachelor of science degree in business administration from the Regis University in Colorado.

Diversity is also bringing people together that think differently, to be able to drive better outcomes and innovation Guillermo Diaz Jr, Cisco

“There are lots of times we think of technology as the hardest part of transformation,” states Diaz.

“The hardest part of any transformation is culture and people, and bringing them along the journey is important.”

“We have to set an environment where people can change,” he declares.

He says in a recent study of Cisco among 600 executives, 57 per cent believe that IT can help them in their business transformation, but 93 per cent said there is a skills gap.

“It is not technology,” he says and explains that, “it is about business acumen, about critical skills, problem solving, communication and soft skills. How do I articulate this technology into business outcomes?”

For instance, when the technology team says, “We are going to be data driven, what does that mean?

“For us, it means, we are using data to help us make better decisions. But business wants action, action is the outcome. How do I make the decision into action?”

Diaz is also emphatic about a key challenge of CIOs – attracting and retaining talent.

He discloses that this is a particular challenge in Silicon Valley, where within a 20-mile radius they would be competing for talent with the likes of Google, Facebook, and other startups.

“We have to have a workforce plan that is agile and diverse. We make sure we bring the right people on board as best as we can,” he states.

“You have to continue to provide them an environment to transform, and also to build a pipeline for upcoming talent.”

According to Diaz, Cisco has a Cohort Programme wherein members come from different parts of the organisation.

“We bring them together; the cohort leader will pick a topic of change, such as driving agile. What are the things we have to shift in our culture as it relates to agile?”

He says a key programme of Cisco is connecting with universities, not only in the United States but around the world.

“We are building that university pipeline, bringing these folks into the organisation, and then putting them in roles where they can shine.”

He cites the case of one student, who came in as an intern and then quickly learned basic programming skills, and then worked as a network engineer.

“He went to learn beyond the network, how to orchestrate the full stack, adding some other capabilities in his portfolio.”

“Now, he is not only learning, but he is also mentoring and teaching others through the [Cisco] Network Academy.”

He says, “It is about how do you continue to bring up the next generation? It is a cycle of talent.”

Diaz is one of the leaders of the Cisco Diversity Council and the executive sponsor of Conexi?n, Cisco’s Hispanic/Latino employee resource network.

I am Latino by birth, and one of the things I say frequently is ’always remember where you came from to know where you are going’.”

“I come from a small town, it is very Latino, in Southern Colorado, and one of the things I am proud of is being from that place. I come from humble beginnings. We did not have a lot of money to go to university,” he shares.

He joined the US Navy, where he started working on networking and telecommunication. “All I knew was that there was a job that hopefully would help me get a degree.”

Diaz worked with people from different cultures, “from other places that I have to connect with. ”

Diversity, he adds, “is also bringing people together that think differently, to be able to drive better outcomes and innovation.”

At the recent Cisco Live in Melbourne, Paul Bassett, senior IT advisor, APJ at Cisco, serves Guillermo Diaz Jr a plate of TimTams and a vegemite sandwich. Diaz bites into the sandwich, and says ‘Oh gosh’. He smiles when he eats the TimTams. “Somewhere, we agree, maybe if I do not eat that [vegemite], I will eat TimTams,” says Diaz. That, adds Bassett, “is diversity in action.”

‘We all have to reinvent ourselves’

This transformation also applies to the CIO role itself.

“You need to continually introduce new skills, and be someone who can move into different parts of the organisation,” he advises.

He applies this thinking to his own experience as he moved from the technology to the business side of Cisco.

“I am at my core a network person. That is my foundation.I have that foundation in networking and telecommunications but what I needed is,what are the drivers on the other side of the bridge?”

“I wanted to take a step up, because I still remember when I was in infrastructure, they always tell me, ‘You need to go to the business side.’”

“I asked, ‘Why would I do that? I am an infrastructure guy. I can see everything from here, I am connecting with all the different business groups’.”

He says he finally decided to go to the business side, a sideways role with less people than he had in infrastructure.

“You get different perspectives,” he says. “In any role, take the mindset of ‘you are going to learn more.’”

He adds that, “We all have to reinvent ourselves, we have to transform ourselves constantly, especially as technology shifts.”

“IT is at the heart of every business. All of your business is undergoing some transformation.You learn, unlearn and relearn some things.”

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If you aren’t learning, then you should do something elseGuillermo Diaz Jr, Cisco

“What are the things that you are going to add to your portfolio… to help you learn more?”

He explains how this is linked to his move to his current role.

Diaz shares that the senior vice president of customer transformation transformation post allows him to help customers be successful in digital transformation, based on what he and his team are doing at Cisco.

“We have figured out a lot of things and maybe we can help our customers about all of this stuff, help accelerate their digital transformation.”

He adds further that, “We will be hearing from customers and bring those together back to our engineering organisations to bring a better product, to better support organisations.”

“It is a two-way learning.”

Most CIOs are doing things beyond their day job, says Diaz.

“Hopefully, those stretch assignments and extended roles will inspire them to add to their base of knowledge, beyond monetary things.”

“Whenever you see CIO roles changing, taking on additional digital transformation or other business transformation roles, it is not about getting locked into whether it is a title or whatever. As long as you are learning, it is part of your transformation.”

“That is the cycle of talent,” he stresses.

“You have to continually transform. If you aren’t learning, then you should do something else.”

Guillermo Diaz Jr at the 2019 Cisco Live Melbourne

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