Had things gone just a bit differently, Rachael McBrearty could be known for her work as a painter instead of an expert designer of technology-enabled experiences. Born to an artistic family, McBrearty learned to paint when most children are still drawing stick figures with crayons. At 14, she was awarded a scholarship to the Woodstock School of Art and later earned a degree in Fine Art at State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY-New Paltz).
McBrearty first began to use computers for book design and illustration. But despite her success in book publishing (McBrearty won several awards for her work), the new interactive world of the Internet beckoned. She left publishing to start her own company focused on web design with customers such as J. Walter Thompson, Martha Stewart, and IBM.
McBrearty went to IconNicholson, starting as director of information architecture, and ending as vice president, creative strategy. Here, McBrearty truly dug into the ability of ICT to transform how businesses operate, people collaborate, and companies interact with customers. Working at the highest levels of the Prada haute couture design house and with the world-renowned architect Rem Koolhaus, McBrearty and her team created the software for Prada's flagship store in New York. As the first implementation of item-level RFID, the store is a complete, interactive shopping experience. The New York store was such a success that Prada asked McBrearty to work on other stores in Tokyo and Los Angeles.
RFID became a passion for McBrearty. She designed a RFID Center of Excellence that demonstrated how to use RFID and associated technologies to cut costs, boost productivity, and increase sales. Executives from companies as diverse as Saks Fifth Avenue and Apple Computer visited McBrearty and her demonstration room for briefings. She served as the chief creative officer of the RFID Business Association.
McBrearty gained a high profile with C-level executives across many industries by launching an concept called "social retailing," which provided a vision of how retailers can reach the audience in the heart of the social-computing craze by connecting in-store shopping with the online world in a way that was new and entertaining. McBrearty designed an "interactive mirror" for fashion designer Nanette Lepore, enabling customers to get instant feedback from their friends anywhere in the world. Shoppers stand before an interactive mirror and their image is broadcast on the Internet. Feedback from friends is displayed directly on the mirror. The shopper can try on virtual versions of suggested items in different styles and colors.
The success of the project was enormous and the interactive mirror was named one of Time Magazine's "Top 100 Inventions" that year.
While in the midst of the mirror launch, McBrearty drew the interest of the Cisco® Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) and was invited to join the team. When asked why she was willing to abandon the bright lights of the interactive design agency scene in New York City, McBrearty says, "Working for a small company, I didn't have the resources to scale my ideas. You need to do this to effect an impact at the C-level. IBSG has the resources, it has the understanding of customer-centricity and the importance of collaboration on business transformation, and it has the C-level contacts to make it a reality. The people here are just brilliant thinkers. I don't know of any other opportunity to make the kind of business transformation impact I wanted to make."
During her tenure at Cisco IBSG, McBrearty has realized her agenda of transforming businesses through collaboration and customer experience, working with companies to determine how to leverage collaboration technologies to enhance productivity and connect with customers, and writing about where collaboration can have the greatest impact within organizations. McBrearty specializes in the next-generation customer experience of using technology to connect customers to employees and enabling real-time interactions throughout the customer journey, as well as building cross-functional collaborative teams focused on customer experience design.
Under her direction, McBrearty's team has achieved some milestone accomplishments, including the creation of Cisco's collaboration strategy, co-leading a collaboration consortium of Cisco's customers to build best practices, applying collaboration to transform R&D organizations to enable "open innovation," and exploring new ways of leveraging technology to enable virtual white boarding and brainstorming.
Despite her busy schedule, McBrearty makes ample time for her family and three small children. And while she is dedicated to her goal of effecting business transformation through technology and equally devoted to her family, somehow, McBrearty still finds time to paint. You can transform an artist into a brilliant business transformation consultant, but you can never destroy the creative drive.