Sitting Down With Cisco's Solvik

SAN MATEO (01/24/2000) - InfoWorld reporter Cathleen Moore recently interviewed Peter Solvik, senior vice president and CIO of Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif., about CIO career paths.

InfoWorld: What do you do as CIO?

Solvik: I have four major areas of responsibility. First is managing the company's use of information technology -- that would be data and voice networks, personal computing, all data centers, and all the business applications that run the company internally and worldwide.

Second, I am a leader in how we use the Internet. I am very involved in internet strategy, very involved in all application development and management of our Web site. And [I am involved] in the development of new capabilities, whether they be e-commerce or employee self service or supply chain.

The third area of responsibility, is Cisco's Internet business solutions group, which reports to me. That is an organization that does Internet strategy consulting ... for Fortune 500 companies and global 1000 companies around the world.

And lastly, I spend between a quarter and a third of my time out representing the company -- speaking and working with large strategic customers [to] help them develop Internet strategy, and sharing some of the knowledge, expertise, and learning that Cisco's had, starting over five years ago. That's what keeps me busy at work.

InfoWorld: What skills does a CIO need for success?

Solvik: Technology management [is] obviously important: the ability to oversee both operational and strategic technology functions and being able to understand when things are in good shape, not in good shape, and manage them and oversee them and hire and manage people to operate them.

[The CIO] has to be a visionary and an extremely good communicator and very adept at really not managing technology for technology's sake but understanding, visioning, and implementing how technology can support business transformation, especially in the new Internet economy.

InfoWorld: Do you have a technology or business background?

Solvik: I started out going to business school and also taking computer science courses. I saw that [computer science] people didn't under business and weren't great communicators and business people did not understand technology.

Therefore, I approached the dean of the college and said I would like to have a special major in information technology, and I became the first graduate of the university I went to that had a major in information technology. So that is how I started and from then on I've had roles in the business interfacing with IT, in IT interfacing with the business, and I've had business roles managing technology-related functions. I've had primarily an IT background, but I'm not particularly technical, and I really look at myself as a business person.

InfoWorld: How important is educational background in the role of CIO?

Solvik: For some people, a solid foundation in education -- bachelors, graduate level -- is certainly extremely important. On the other hand, there are many people that have been very successful [who] have not required that. For most people, [education] is clearly very important, and [it is] something I would encourage strongly. But there are many exceptions of people that have foregone that and ended up very successful in business and technology careers.

InfoWorld: What advice would you give to an aspiring CIO?

Solvik: I think that the major trend in technology is the Internet. So, I think for a person to rapidly ascend in their career right now it is a matter of being able to strategically look at the Internet and creatively develop and implement strategies on how a company can be more competitive, satisfy their customers, be more efficient internally, interface more with their supply chain and their distribution channel using technology.

InfoWorld: How has the Internet changed your job?

Solvik: The Internet is changing the way people work, the way they learn, the way they live and play. But there are still many other parts of a CIO's job in terms of managing the infrastructure appropriately, managing the proliferation of PCs, and keeping cost of ownership low. And extremely high on the list is recruiting and retention of talent.

Businesses, in particular brick-and-mortar businesses, really need to focus on developing a comprehensive Internet strategy. And many brick-and-mortar businesses have left that to the marketing organization. I would encourage CIOs to look at their role as integral as a partnership role: co-leading the development of the Internet strategy for large corporations. I think that the CIO not only has all the existing systems that the Internet strategy needs to look into, but also has the experience and the capability to really help make that Internet strategy successful.

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