Brad Boston: No Paper

Position: Senior Vice-President and Chief Information Officer, Cisco Systems

Contribution: He's spearheading the latest round of Web-related improvements at Cisco, directed at offering staff and customers the most up-to-date information

Challenge: Getting customers and suppliers in Asia to use the Web

When Brad Boston came on-board Cisco a year ago, he was most surprised by the lack of paperwork. At the San Jose (Calif.) networking giant, most of the purchasing and sales contracts are completed electronically. In fact, in the past year, the 48-year-old Boston has signed only three documents: His offer letter, his tax return, and a contract with a Cisco supplier that insisted on having a hard copy. Boston's job is to keep it that way. And now he's pushing even deeper into the all-electronic future.

Since the 1990s, Cisco has led the way in online selling of routers used to direct traffic within communications networks. But after so many years in e-business, Boston discovered that most of Cisco's online product information was outdated. Of about 30,000 pages he found on its Web site, 29,300 were irrelevant, he says.

Boston also noticed that Cisco's customer-order data didn't update quickly enough. When sales reps dipped into a database to check an order's status, they didn't always get the most current information. Boston knew that wouldn't cut it anymore and went to work. After all, "the way we run our business, the Web is the key to everything," he says.


  Boston and his team have been cleaning up some of the junk found on the site manually. Eventually, "we'll be able to guarantee that all the information employees and customers are looking at is most relevant," he says.

He's also trying to cut Cisco's procurement costs by encouraging suppliers worldwide to do business electronically. Cisco already completes more than 90% of its procurement online, and it recently added European suppliers to the electronic ranks. The next frontier is Middle East and Asia.

"[People at Cisco] have long talked about this Internet stuff and how it can change your business, and they actually use it," says Jim Slaby, an analyst with tech consultancy Giga Information Group.

The CIO is also encouraging Cisco's customers in Asia to buy their products online. Today about 10% of total bookings come from the region, but most of the sales have to be completed over the phone or in person. Since language is generally the chief obstacle, Cisco is developing an electronic translator -- it already has a prototype -- that would automatically convert its Web pages from English into Japanese, Korean, or Chinese.

Another project keeping Boston busy is a redesign of Cisco's site, to be launched this fall, that offers easier navigation. "We're not at a loss for ideas," Boston says. "There's still a lot for us to do."

By Olga Kharif in Portland, Ore.

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