Oleg Tolchinsky’s Vision for Data Privacy at Cisco Canada

Oleg Tolchinsky's Vision for Data Privacy at Cisco Canada
Image Courtesy: Cisco Canada

In an insightful discussion with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine, Oleg Tolchinsky, the Head of Solutions Engineering at Cisco Canada, sheds light on the critical intersection of technology, trust, and data privacy. Oleg, who has dedicated over 16 years to mastering the application of technology in solving complex challenges, emphasizes the importance of viewing customer problems through a comprehensive lens before proposing Cisco’s solutions. He articulates the significance of data privacy not just as a compliance requirement but as a cornerstone of customer trust and business success. With the advent of Generative AI technologies and the associated privacy concerns, Oleg highlights Cisco’s balanced approach through its Responsible AI Framework, ensuring innovation does not compromise ethical standards. His philosophy of ‘living to serve’ aligns with Cisco’s commitment to transparency, trust, and the protection of sensitive data, reinforcing the company’s dedication to navigating the future of digital privacy with integrity and foresight.

Oleg Tolchinsky is Head of Solutions Engineering at Cisco Canada. He works with customers, partners, and some of the finest technical sales professionals in the world to deploy the special combination of modern technologies and industry knowledge that help businesses overcome their most pressing challenges. Oleg has spent his life learning how to use technology to solve difficult problems and earning accreditations along the way — knowledge he has applied to various roles in engineering, sales and leadership over 16 years in the industry. Oleg has consistently performed in the top tier of his profession working with some of Canada’s largest companies and garnering numerous awards and accolades, but none more important than the trust from his customers and team that he will deliver results. Oleg is a proud Winnipeger, a mediocre guitarist, a husband and father of two amazing kids.


Can you take us through your professional journey, highlighting how your transition from technologist to sales leadership at Cisco Canada has influenced your approach to addressing today’s data privacy challenges?

As Head of Solutions Engineering at Cisco Canada, I believe in the good that technology can do. My career has shown me the value of looking at customer challenges holistically – considering industry and specific business challenges, organizational nuances, the unique benefits of technologies and only then how Cisco solutions can play a role. When you can combine this knowledge and produce helpful insights, you can make businesses better. 

At Cisco, we recognize that privacy is more than a compliance exercise – it has become a business imperative that is inextricably tied to customer trust. When choosing and doing business, customers have so many factors to consider, but one fundamental question is universal: “Do I trust you?” If they don’t trust how you handle their data, you won’t get or keep their business. That is why we embed security and privacy into everything we do. 

Oleg Tolchinsky's Vision for Data Privacy at Cisco Canada
Image Courtesy: canva

In view of the 2024 Data Privacy Benchmark Report released by Cisco, what are your thoughts on the significant number of organizations banning Generative AI applications like ChatGPT, and how does Cisco Canada navigate these privacy risks?

Cisco’s 2024 Data Privacy Benchmark Study shows that organizations are getting significant value from generative AI (GenAI) applications, but they also have increasing concerns around data privacy. Organizations are navigating a thin line when it comes to adopting GenAI. On one side, organizations realize the fundamental importance of data privacy. In this year’s survey, 95% indicated that privacy’s benefits exceed their costs. But, businesses also understand how transformational GenAI can and are trying to capture this potential. But GenAI and being responsible with data are not mutually exclusive.

Responsible innovation requires an ethical framework by design. Realizing AI’s significant promise while adhering to standards for transparency, fairness, accountability, privacy, security, and reliability is an ongoing mission at Cisco. This is the promise of Cisco’s Responsible AI Framework, which applies to our AI offerings.


Considering that 69% of companies fear AI might infringe on legal and Intellectual Property rights, what strategies do you think are vital for organizations to mitigate these concerns while harnessing the benefits of AI?

The data shows that almost all organizations reported having at least one of the following controls in place to limit their exposure: data limitations, tool restrictions, data verification requirements and GenAI usage restrictions. As this technology evolves, we expect the nature of the controls to also evolve as organizations seek to harness the power of GenAI without risking unauthorized ingestion nor output of data.

Going forward, organizations must continue to prioritize and maintain trust, transparency and accountability. We recommend that organizations be candid in how they apply, manage, and use personal data, as well as involve humans in the process, especially in AI ethics management. By doing so, organizations can work with their employees to bolster education and awareness of the risks and benefits of AI, working together to mitigate risks. Lastly, businesses should continue to invest in privacy. 

Oleg Tolchinsky's Vision for Data Privacy at Cisco Canada
Image Courtesy: canva

The report indicates a disparity between business priorities and consumer expectations in data usage, especially in AI. How do you think businesses, including Cisco, can bridge this gap to build stronger consumer trust?

The report shows that understanding exactly how personal data is being used is the top priority for consumers (37%). While for organizations, their top priority hinges on their ability to comply with privacy laws (25%). Organizations know these issues are important to customer trust, and nearly all organizations (97%) feel they have a responsibility to use data ethically. Businesses will need to provide transparency in how it applies, manages and uses personal data to build and maintain customer trust. Of course compliance with privacy regulations is critical here, and these are seen as a net benefit by businesses seeking to do business responsibly. 

Cisco publishes Privacy Data Sheets and Privacy Data Maps for major products and services, enabling anyone interested to understand what personal data is used, who has access to it, and how long it is retained. Our Responsible AI Principles and Framework show how these principles and practices form our broad AI governance framework. And the Cisco Purpose Report and ESG Reporting Hub offer resources related to how we prioritize trustworthiness, transparency, and accountability. All of these are available on the Cisco Trust Center. 


With the growing emphasis on external privacy certifications and the necessity of protecting sensitive data, how does your philosophy of ‘living to serve’ and understanding customer needs guide Cisco Canada’s approach to ensuring data privacy and security?

My ‘living to serve’ philosophy is rooted in doing what’s right by our customers and our people. Cisco shares this value of doing what’s right. We are open and transparent about the security and privacy approach we take across our solutions portfolio, including our compliance with global standards, certifications, and government regulations. We share our cyber-resilience strategies with organizations around the world with the intention of collectively raising the bar for global cybersecurity and trust.

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