Kicked upstairs, Brad Boston takes charge
Former Cisco Systems CIO draws on his experience in managing large enterprises
- By David Hubler
- Feb 12, 2007
Brad Boston was promoted in an unusual way in 2006 when he moved from chief information officer, a position he had held for five years, to senior vice president of the Global Government Solutions Group at Cisco Systems.
Boston was going about his business one day in April when the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, John Chambers, rushed into Boston’s office.
“He grabs me by the neck and drags me down the hall and introduces me to Ron Nakamoto of Lockheed Martin,” Boston said. Cisco Systems was a partner of the giant defense contractor on a $2.02 billion Defense Department contract to build a ground-based mission operations system component for DOD’s Transformational Satellite Communications System.
“Brad’s now in charge, and he’ll fix everything” Chambers said. Nakamoto was then vice president of intelligence systems at Lockheed Martin. He is now chief operating officer at Lockheed’s subsidiary Savi Technology.
The job changeover didn’t happen immediately. Boston continued to serve as CIO while he took on the new duties until his replacement, Rebecca Jacoby, filled that position in October.
The CIO job was fun and satisfying, Boston said. But, he added, “five years is an eternity for the expected life of a CIO.”
Boston said being CIO of a large company helped him understand the information technology issues that major clients such as DOD face because they share many of the same problems.
John Garing, CIO and director of strategic planning and information at the Defense Information Systems Agency, said he often turns to Boston for advice.
“He’s willing to talk to me as a peer and not with the implication that there is a sale around the corner,” Garing said.
Boston said he believes the military services are collaborating better than ever on IT programs because many of the officers are more knowledgeable about technology than their predecessors were. “They are innovators in how they use technology because of their needs and because their enemy has changed,” he said.
But Boston also said it’s rare to find CIOs in government and private industry who have business expertise and technical knowledge. “There aren’t a lot of people who have that unique blend of skills,” he said. Nevertheless, Boston said he’s known several high-ranking military leaders who became CIOs with little or no business experience and were outstanding in the job.
One of Boston’s goals in the next few years is to ensure that Cisco’s products are suited to the military and the civilian mobile marketplace. “The services that we can put into our wireless technology, for example, to facilitate what the military wants to do, we believe, have direct applications back to some of our commercial offerings,” he said.
Cisco would like to maintain its leadership in networking and be sought as an adviser on networking issues, particularly as the federal government begins a mandatory migration to IPv6.
Boston spent a good deal of time in his new job asking questions and listening to customers and Cisco employees “to get a lay of the land as to what things are working and what aren’t working,” he said.
One of his primary challenges is to improve communications within the company. “I have a lot of really smart people with a lot of passion to do the right thing,” Boston said. But coordinating all those smart people and orchestrating their activities are difficult tasks that could be done better, he said.
Boston’s experiences as CIO and as a top industry executive have given him an understanding of the challenges facing government organizations, said Pat Ryan, director of defense initiatives, global defense, space and security at Cisco.
“In just six months, Brad has made a real impact in his ability to translate the benefits of Cisco’s products and best practices to customers that need them the most,” Ryan said.
Boston said the government-contracting sector has become a more difficult market in which to succeed because of budget reductions that have affected procurement activity and financial resources. But none of those factors has diminished his interest. “If you’re looking for how to help a government…when they need it the most, this is a most exciting time.”
David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.