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Strategic shift

Divina Paredes | April 5, 2011
A number of CIOs have been tapped on the shoulder recently to reprise their role -- but in another industry, or in another country. We talk to CIOs who accepted this challenge.

NEW ZEALAND, 5 APRIL 2011 - A number of CIOs have been tapped on the shoulder recently to reprise their role -- but in another industry, or in another country. We talk to CIOs who accepted this challenge.

Colin Smith, CIO, Fisher & Paykel Finance

Originally from the UK, Colin Smith was the CIO of Manukau City Council before it became part of the Auckland Council. From there he moved to his current role in November 2010. In an interview at the tail-end of his first 100 days at F & P Finance, Smith outlines the key steps for CIOs during the first three months on the job, as well as dissecting the similarities from an ICT management perspective of the seemingly disparate sectors of local government and financial services.

"My advice to CIOs moving sectors is very similar to when you move into any new role. That is, to focus on the 100-day honeymoon period to establish what is really needed, identify the expectations of the new sector and the organisation. Accountability of the new role is a key to being sure you are doing the right things, as assumptions can be risky.

The key, really, to getting your feet under the table is to learn the new business model. So get out from behind your desk and into the business. Spend time with your peers and the business managers who understand how the business is operating and really map out the business processes so that as a CIO you understand what the business is doing and equally understand how that business is operating relative to the sector.

Understand the competition and analyse where the challenges may be coming from, and don't just focus on the immediate IT challenges that will be out waiting for you when you join the business.

There are differences between the local council and the financial service sector, although both are very similar from a services point of view. Currently the councils are diverse and complex service providers in terms of public health, safety requirements, rates and so on. Financial services are a focused vertical, generally centred around a discreet number of product offerings.

Local governments usually have IT teams that are large and diverse. Finance teams by their very nature tend to be smaller, lean and more focused on a closer defined set of products and technologies. Business cases in local governments may have a significant factor of social benefits involved in them, so the intangible element is fairly large. In financial services, the business cases are largely centred on improving organisational performance and raising profitability and shareholder return. However, both rely on people and skills to deliver them.

So, get to know your new team and I mean all of them. Get up from your desk and spend time with them. Target quick wins and grow your own credibility, addressing any burning issues. Get to know the business by forging strategic relationships with key stakeholders and then make sure you build an IT plan that aligns to the needs of the organisation, and the future direction of the sector.

Do your action plan, deliver it and look fabulous. That is where the fun comes in."

Bradley de Souza, technology and transformation executive

Bradley de Souza has tackled ICT executive roles in more than 14 countries, in a range of industries including media (BBC Online and Reed Elsevier), technology vendor (Computer Associates now CA Technologies) and telecommunications (Telecom New Zealand of which he was general manager technology operations). One of his recent assignments was interim CIO at global gaming firm Betfair in the UK.

"The first thing I do is look at the organisation I am inheriting. I look at the organisational structure. Is it typical, does it need to be reorganised? I can say confidently that in most cases, the structures are not typical and need to be reorganised. I look at the responsibilities and accountabilities of the team members and see if they are appropriate. Again, most organisations are not mature in this space.

A lot of the time the power is concentrated in the hands of a few and that means decision-making and financial responsibility is not spread, so you get a lot of ineffective decision-making.

If you look at companies like Telecom New Zealand and Fonterra, they have very good devolved responsibilities for headcount and budget.

Most companies don't have devolved responsibilities and that means it is hard to make change because the power is concentrated in the hands of too few. The CIO and CTO know that because of the way things change so quickly, it is very difficult for a few individuals to direct policy. You really need a lot of people looking everywhere for the best possible advantage, because technology does change.

One of the things I would say is that in most organisations, as I have moved from one organisation to another, [is that] the emphasis on stakeholder management is undervalued. By that, I mean the internal customer. When you are moving from one industry to another and one country to another, they are critically important especially if you are being brought on board to make change.

My tip to CIOs moving industries is try to understand quickly who the internal customers are. They will be the ones giving you the ideas for your 100-day plan.

If you are moving from one industry to another, a lot of the issues that you have will be around industry specific vocabulary. While everything else is the same in terms of day-to-day applications -- 80 to 90 percent of the technology will be the same as you go from one end of the industry to another be it email, the corporate desktop, CRM, ERP, etc. The 10 percent difference is what you need to learn.

So if you move from a telecommunications company to an insurance company, for instance, the systems that are specific to insurance like security and credit checking systems are where you need to focus on. Understand what those systems do, how they are managed and how they are maintained.

Betfair has just floated on the stock market and they needed someone senior like me to come in and help them make that transition. As interim CIO, my role was to run all of the systems that keep the core business -- online gambling -- going, everything from the key platforms through to the internal office systems through to the customer care. Basically, the same kind of scope I had at Telecom New Zealand.

In general, the adjustments were really around the actual business itself.

The technology is similar. When you get to the high transaction volumes, the technology platforms are similar. The adjustment has to be made when you are talking about the business model.

For instance, online gambling is critical around events, like football and rugby games. It is time-focused. During key events you cannot afford downtime. The final of a football game, the final of a rugby game, an important horse race; those are critical times for the business and it is important that you get ready. It is almost like show time -- the show must go on.

When it is show time in these types of environments, you cannot miss.

One challenge around moving to another country is if it is a place where they don't speak English. You have got to be aware of the cultural and language barriers of working in another country. I have worked in Asia, the Middle East and most of Europe. It doesn't matter how good a CIO you are. If you don't appreciate the cultural and language barriers or differences, you won't succeed."

Gerard Keenan, CIO, Healthscope New Zealand

Gerard Keenan was service delivery manager at KiwiRail before moving to Healthscope nearly a year ago. His resume includes IS leadership roles at Thomas Cook, British Rail, Tranzrail, Toll NZ and Tegel Foods.

"Moving between industries is really good; I would actually suggest that to anybody. I did it because I wanted a new challenge. I have been in transportation for eight years. It is not so much [about] typecasting, but you don't want to be doing the same thing for too long. I picked health because I have got a bit of a soft spot for community type services.

Technology is technology. It is really about how you apply it. So what you really have to do is get a grip on the sector or the industry and understand how it works, what the key bodies are. Particularly in health, there are a number of national and regional bodies that you have to interact with. Understand the key players, understand the politics of the industry.

The differences are around privacy obligations and privacy rights for patients. Security is a very big thing, of course, and from specific nuances around the technology. In Healthscope's case, that is around the laboratory instruments and how they interface with the core applications.

But realistically, the technology knowledge that I had in transportation is just carried over. It is just technology; it is not about PCs and servers. It is all about how you pull them together to get the outcome you need. And being a new sector, there are some nuances. It makes it a bit more interesting, a little bit more exciting.

More things stay the same than change -- leadership, strategic work, governance, methodologies. How you engage with the business and turn yourself into a value proposition, how you manage the programme or the work for the projects. The projects and people, of course, are different, but the methodologies are the same. It is people skills, the way you talk to people -- communication with the business and the key stakeholders, to understand their challenges and their drivers and communicating the value proposition for IT."

 

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