by Jennifer O'Brien

CIO50 2019: #26-50 Julie Canepa, Cisco A/NZ

Nov 14, 2019
Technology Industry

Julie Canepa
Credit: Cisco

Cisco A/NZ CIO Julie Canepa will tell you her biggest lesson learned is that CIOs need “to be the first to pilot new technologies” and “be ruthless about innovation “ and stay closer than ever to the business.

Her advice? To focus on talent and remember that every company is now a technology company.

“It’s now a given that IT is constantly changing and we need to keep pace with this change. As CIO’s, we have a responsibility to focus on evolving ourselves and our teams. We have to stay on top of the transformation,” she says.

In that vein, Canepa said it’s imperative companies focus on talent, have a pioneering spirit and foster a team that’s open to innovation.

“As CIOs, we have to transform and develop our wider industry. It’s important that we work together to keep the evolution moving forward and working on IT careers in the future.

“Regarding diversity, we still have a long way to go. We have made progress in our organisation but there’s still room for improvement and we need to continue to develop and nurture the pipeline of young talent,” she said.

“Automation is a reality so we need to stay ahead of it and continuously transform our skill sets. We have to have a spirit for reinvention all the time. We must focus on talent transformation, positively influence the work culture and have fun. It’s essential we foster our innovation ecosystem and align to our country impact goals.”

On the networking front, Canepa said networking has become ever more sophisticated (thanks to advanced security, intent-based networking), therefore networking switch configuration required more expertise and more time.

“The inevitable mistakes affect performance and security. Engineering teams have less time to complete high-value activities because they’re busy with manual configuration. To deliver new capabilities with cloud, drive automation and enable technologies such as Wi-Fi 6, we need to use the latest technologies,” she explained.

In Sydney, she said the team has been experimenting with centrally configuring Catalyst 9000 switches through Cisco DNA Center.

“We’ve started in our North Sydney sales office, where we operate a special test network for new Catalyst 9000 family devices. We’re the first site in the world to run this pilot, allowing us here in Australia to be global pioneers for implementing the latest networking technologies.

Canepa said the company is gradually transitioning to centralised switch configuration.

“Our central engineering team is learning what we like and what options we need. We fine-tuned the configuration for all 22 switches in the North Sydney test network in less than 15 minutes. Over time, the default configuration will get closer and closer and require even less onsite tuning, giving our site engineers more time for higher-value activities.

“Trying out new features in a production network is risky, so we built a parallel network in our North Sydney office to experiment with the new switches. The existing network (Catalyst 3850 and 4500 switches) continued to operate during our early trials. The new network combines our wired and wireless LANs into a single fabric.”

She said it consists of 22 Catalyst 9300 switches on three floors – two stacks on each floor.

“We plan to run this parallel network for some time, trying out new switch features as soon as they’re available so we can share our experiences with customers. Lessons learned here in Australia are guiding our global migration to Catalyst 9000 switches in our other branch offices across the world.”

Reflecting on the experience, Canepa said using new technologies requires a new skill set.

“We have to constantly reinvent ourselves. It requires continuous innovation and continuous evolution of ourselves and our teams. There is no rule book and no training course. We just have to learn quickly and push ourselves forward.”

This experience has enabled IT to gain a new relevance, Canepa said, explaining IT has moved from the back office to being a co-innovator and helping to improve products before they reach the market.

No doubt Canepa wears many hats. She not only has to understand the business strategy for Cisco in region and align this with the strategic initiatives for the company, but she’s a big proponent of driving a positive work culture across Australia and New Zealand and promoting various diversity and inclusion programs.

As the executive sponsor of one of Cisco’s inclusion and diversity programs titled Women of Cisco ANZ, Canepa is leading initiatives around personal development, attracting and hiring more female employees and inspiring the future workforce through mentoring.

One example of this is Cisco’s partnership with CSIRO, which involves going out to schools and mentoring primary school students and exposing them to the wonderful opportunities in technology.

She’s also part of the organising committee for the Empowered Women’s Network at Cisco Live 2019, launching the ‘Women in IT Awards’ for the first time and inviting customers to nominate for the awards.

Canepa also manages and hosts the annual Cisco Live IT Management Program, developed exclusively for IT leaders in Australia and New Zealand. It’s designed to give IT managers, directors, VPs and CIOs the knowledge and skills to transform their IT organisations and drive positive change in their careers.

She has also been instrumental in growing the Cisco Live program – considered ANZ’s largest industry event – from 120 delegates in 2016 to 411 delegates in 2019 with customer satisfaction score of 4.7, company numbers show.

Asked what CIOs need to do to be successful, Canepa said IT leaders need to be closer to the business than ever before.

“We need to be business savvy, be prepared to take risks, speak the language of the business and run our IT organisations like a business. We have considerable influence now that every organisation must have a strong technology focus, regardless of the industry and this brings a new relevance to the CIO role.

“Being close to the business is the secret sauce for a successful CIO. We need to put security and privacy in everything we do. There is a large ethics component to automation and AI, and we need to be diverse and think about ethics when implementing automation and AI projects.

“We cannot sit still. As current leaders it is up to us to bring things forward. There’s no guidebook so we must be bold and courageous leaders. This is how a regional IT department differentiates ourselves and puts Australia on the map.”

Jennifer O’Brien