Ruma Balasubramanian’s role as Chief Transformation Officer focuses on how Cisco can embrace market transitions and successfully transform its business to thrive in an application-centered, multi-cloud world. She and her team are responsible for shaping and accelerating initiatives that support the largest enterprises in the world on their transformation journey to digital.
Ruma’s role spans four programs of work. First, Ruma leads the Digital Transformation Organization that works with customers to bring their infrastructure, applications, and business teams together through Cisco’s multi-domain solutions, building on proven industry points-of-view. She also leads Cisco’s global customer accounts for APJC. In this role, Ruma is responsible for developing and executing Cisco’s growth strategy for the region’s largest customers, driving a consistent experience across every location. Connecting these two areas, Ruma also leads Cisco APJC’s Services Sales, a core part of the Customer Experience business.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
How critical is the role of technology for the post-COVID-19 world?
Digital transformation has taken on a new meaning during the COVID-19 global crisis. We’ve seen that across industry sectors, companies are leveraging technology to future-proof organizations and to ensure that their business is able to handle the challenges of an overnight Work from Home employee base. IT is at the heart of every company’s business resilience imperative, but its role has evolved, from helping the company run better and faster, and ultimately to transform. Equally important is technology’s contribution to the customer and employee experience. As our customers take this journey in a post-pandemic world, we are prioritizing and partnering with them on what they aspire to do most, and address what challenges them most. In fact, many of our customers are envisioning wholesale changes to their business models.
Many companies have had to adapt to a post-COVID-19 world. Healthcare is one industry where we have seen seismic shifts. Recent studies have indicated that “demand for virtual care visits are expected to surge beyond 1 billion visits in 20201” alone. Healthcare is adapting to change quickly, and here at Cisco, we strive to enable healthcare providers with the tools they need to extend quality care in conjunction with these changes. As a result of the crisis, we’re also seeing shifts in the delivery of care, including the transition to telehealth, rapid deployment of temporary field hospitals and clinics, and increased call center volumes to triage patients. To reduce physical contact between patients, clinicians and care teams, telehealth is quickly becoming the new normal.
Another industry that has seen significant changes is Banking. The pandemic has shown that trust is more important than ever. According to a recent study by Forester, commissioned by Cisco, customers in some countries say they place an almost equal amount of trust in tech companies to act in the best interest of their financial well-being as they do in their traditional banking providers. The main differentiator for customers is the excellent experience they have when using their apps or websites. This reliance on technology companies like ride-hailing apps that have digital wallets has grown throughout the pandemic and one could argue that the trust dividend is leaning even more in favor of digital banking platforms. Thus, traditional banks emerge into this new normal, they will need to constantly iterate their technology, testing versions of their platforms that work for customers and then quickly discarding products that don’t lead to stellar customer experience. In short, the healthcare crisis has caused traditional banks to completely rethink their business strategy for the future.
The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the IT agenda. Digital transformation is not a 'nice to have' option anymore. What was once deemed as the 'future of work' has turned into a current reality almost overnight
How are businesses fast-tracking their digital agenda amid this crisis? What was not possible in months earlier are now being done in a matter of a day.
For some time, we have been talking about how digital transformation would be an accelerant that would cause companies to rethink old models, customer experiences and the workplace. It was always thought to be a milestone in the future that businesses would take incremental steps towards. But the pandemic changed everything and has dramatically accelerated the IT agenda. Digital transformation is not a “nice to have’ option anymore. What was once deemed as the “future of work” has turned into a current reality almost overnight.
It’s no secret that this has been a difficult transition for CIOs. Our recent CIO Impact study reported that 78 percent of CIOs feel the pandemic has had a severe or major impact on their organizations. Beyond that, some interesting insights emerged. Our survey respondents listed the top stress drivers as security, VPN bandwidth, loss of productivity, and tech outages. The increase in stress from security alone rose by 14 percent since the pandemic began, and half said that their security fears were connected to the sharp increase in remote workers. Another 50 percent said that the move to remote work represented a major cultural shift for their organizations.
As businesses accelerate to a digitized and automated future, many CIOs found themselves accelerating the movement of enterprise applications to the cloud and enlisted multiple public cloud and SaaS companies to provide fast access to employees who were suddenly working from their home offices. These CIOs have found themselves in a complex multi-cloud environment where security becomes the cornerstone to infrastructure resources and access to applications.
With digitization, automation, and security in place, organizations across all sectors, from healthcare to banking to retail to manufacturing, will have the needed flexibility and mobility to scale easily and handle business continuity
There is no doubt that CIOs are navigating change at a pace that is without precedent right now. The shift from offices to remote working has fundamentally changed not only the day-to-day operations of an IT organization but also how CIOs plan for the future.
The key components of the “new normal” of many business operations now are digitization, automation, and security. With these components, organizations across all sectors, from healthcare to banking to retail to manufacturing, will have the needed flexibility and mobility to scale easily and handle business continuity.
The demands of digital transformation are also significant. Customers need a workforce that is protected anywhere, on any device, a digitized workplace where every part of an infrastructure is safe, and workloads are secured wherever they are running, 24/7. What this pandemic has taught us is that almost any organization will now need to find new ways of operating their business.
When companies face significant changes, leaders may be tempted to focus their attention outward to address upcoming challenges. With COVID-19, the challenges are were both external and internal. At Cisco, we’re already accustomed to remote working even before government mandated work from home measures were put into place, and we have the technology expertise to make it happen on a large scale. But to go from 20,000 to 140,000 remote workers in 10 days was something we’ve never dealt with and it required a great deal of coordination and teaming across the company. We had teams working around the clock and doing whatever it took to make sure Cisco employees could quickly begin working from home.
How do you see the future of remote work and how will technologies evolve to make flexible work easier for employees and employers?
Remote work is here to stay. We are one of the few companies with the technology, people, partners, and global scale to help our customers stay connected, supported, and secure. Our role has never been more important, and our responsibility has never been greater, because much of the world is running on Cisco's technology—from networking to collaboration to security to staying connected, becoming secure, and more productive. We saw, for instance, in the early days of COVID-19, traffic on some of our routes connecting China-based Webex users to their workplaces going up as much as 22 times. We were also seeing 4 to 5 times as many users in Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, with the average time spent on Webex video meetings also doubling among users in those countries. And, free sign-ups in impacted countries were up 7 times over pre-outbreak sign-up rates.
Customers now also want to remain productive and competitive by keeping technology current. For example, tools to help secure remote workers and power productivity in this new normal are top of mind for many CIOs and CTOs. According to our latest CIO Perspectives Survey that was released recently IT teams are finding help through supportive leadership teams and video communication tools. 86 percent of IT teams are using video for regular team meetings, 79 percent leveraging unified communication tools that enable faster collaboration and iteration and 78 percent are using video for 1-1 meetings.
How are you preparing for a post-COVID business? What are your top priorities?
As the world carefully begins to move towards the next important phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, attention is shifting towards reducing restrictions and resuming normal life. After any major event like this, a new normal emerges. We are supporting our customers, partners, suppliers, employees, and communities as we collectively define what’s next. We continue to actively monitor our global services to ensure we are keeping up with the needs of our customers – especially during this critical time and we have a well-established process to coordinate efforts during events that impact normal operations. Technology donations to date are helping hospitals create reliable networks, enabling people to continue working and connecting remotely, and enabling frontline doctors and CDCs to conduct emergency video communication and remote diagnosis.
In a nutshell, we’re working to do our part by providing solutions, technology, tips, and resources to help our communities during this challenging time, including $2.5B in customer/partner financing to support business resiliency, and over $300M in cash, in-kind, and planned to give to support both the global and local response.
What all technologies and digital innovations are you employing to adapt to the new normal?
Cisco has been on a multi-year journey to give customers the industry’s best technology and experience. It started by building the broadest portfolio in the market that spans network, endpoint, data center, cloud, and applications. We then integrated that backend with our market-leading threat intelligence from Cisco Talos so that our products talk to each other and can see and respond to the threats faster. But we knew that in order for customers to feel the value of the integration, they needed a radically different experience on the frontend where they were doing their daily work and making critical decisions.
So, in February, we introduced Cisco SecureX, a cloud-native platform that connects our integrated security portfolio and customers’ security infrastructure to provide a simple and consistent experience across network, endpoint, cloud, and applications.
At Cisco, we're already accustomed to remote working, and we have the technology expertise to make it happen on a large scale. But to go from 20,000 to 1,40,000 remote workers in 10 days was something we've never dealt with and it required a great deal of coordination and teaming across the company
How are you collaborating with all your business leaders including the CEOs/CIOs/CTOs to make sure you have the right digital infrastructure post-COVID?
We have been in a fortunate position that we have had the benefit of cutting edge collaborative and remote work technology. Our workforce has been remote for a long time and we use our in-house technologies to keep our productivity levels up. However, in many other companies, CIOs are navigating change at a pace that is without precedent. The shift from offices to remote working fundamentally changed not only the day-to-day operations of an IT organization but also how CIOs plan for the future.
Read more such stories from the July issue of our e-magazine on 'The Digital Reset at Work'