Unfazed by rapid change

In part two of our special report on the State of the CIO 2015, New Zealand ICT leaders talk about how the rapid pace of change impacts the role and their teams -- and how CIOs can succeed in the new environment. Read part 1 of the report here.

"In a digital world, the CIO has to look past the technology and really look, for instance, at how marketing and other parts of the organisation want to leverage the technology -- because it is a whole new ecosystem," says Andrew Crabb, former head of enterprise solutions and services at Vodafone, and now a business advisor.

"The CIO of today and the future needs to spend a lot of time living and breathing in that environment, really understand the dynamics about what is happening today, what is possible, what is the potential with the technology and where the business is taking the use of those technologies."

Crabb talks about some of the common themes that emerged from the survey results.

These include the need to respond to speed of change and new customer demands as a result of digitalisation, the security implications of the new platforms and services; and the imperative to improve engagement with other business units and executive peers.

Crabb says there are new imperatives for CIOs in a fast-paced digital environment.

"There are new business models emerging all the time from a social environment, or using a digital product," he adds. "The CIO needs to spend time in the business, not just focusing on the technology and the technology department."

Crabb says CIOs can find value in attending industry events that are aimed at other members of the executive suite. These could be marketing forums, or conferences aimed at chief financial officers.

The demands on CIOs mean the technology group needs to be able to support a lot more than what they used to do, he says. "They are becoming more and more part of the real-time interactive components of the organisation."

"CIOs need to build teams that can understand all of the nuances and aspects of new business models using digital and cloud technologies," he states. These include team members who can implement agile methodologies, as well as architects, business analysts and project managers who can 'engage' or work closely with other business units.

Agenda: Agility

Paymark CIO Dhaya Sivakumar says this new environment for CIOs and their teams "requires very different thinking".

He says an approach he takes is 'bi-modal IT'. The latter is a reference to Gartner's approach to divide IT into two modes -- agile and flexible, and a step by step approach that ensures efficiency and predictability.

"We take existing teams to continue what they have been doing but we invest heavily in the R&D team. It is essentially a team of dev testers developing new products and services in a very modern way," he states.

Sivakumar is using agile methodologies and cloud platforms so he can work on "four or five streams of products at any given time".

"By doing that, we have come up with some really good concepts not just into technology but from the product side as well."

The IT broker and enabler

At the Presbyterian Support Central (PSC), IT manager Alan Lyford says the IT team is moving into becoming a "broker and enabler for the business".

Read more:Taking the lead amidst fast paced changes: Pointers from top NZ CIOs

"Our stance is to not allow IT to be a hindrance to the business, but be a broker that can find the best solutions to help the business do its tasks," says Lyford.

PSC, with headquarters in Wellington, provides residential care and in-home support services for older people, as well as a range of social service support for children and families. The organisation started more than 100 years ago and now has around 1400 staff in 26 locations.

Lyford joined PSC as a systems administrator and his role evolved to IT manager, with another staff member reporting to him.

The two of them worked with Fronde to move PSC's IT infrastructure to Amazon Web Services.

Lyford says the project delivered more than financial benefits (savings of $120,000 over three years), but the ability for the group to trial new ideas at a lower cost.

"Small concepts can be spun up and piloted in a few days," he says, which was critical for the not-for-profit.

Purely using cloud for all our business is our strategy going forward in the next five years, he states.

What works for him is that he has "a very grounded technical background across a lot of systems, but also works closely with the business units".

"Having that combination, that knowledge, is helpful because a lot more of my role now is managing projects and managing tasks and workloads," states Lyford.

The customer focus mindshift

David Havercroft, chief operating officer at Spark, says one of the major concerns for both the company and their customers is the pace of change and security implications as they move services online and to digital platforms.

"With the speed of movement of activities online, you have to be very fast, watching what is going on in those situations, you have to be agile."

He says there is no single bullet answer out there for organisations.

Read more:Across the board

"The old world used to be about building walls, firewalls, or protection and so on. Now, you can't build a wall for every case, so it is all about how do you react, spot, monitor and correlate behaviours and watch for things," he says.

Another area where he has seen a big shift in his 30 years in the telecommunications and information technology industry is the customer centric focus for today's IT teams.

"We used to all hide behind the language of technology," says Havercroft. "The reality is we have to come out of that and we have to look very much at what is the service we are offering to customers."

"Frankly, if CIOs want to be relevant in their organisation, that is what they have to do," says Havercroft. "They have to get themselves, and their workforce and their teams to be able to communicate in terms of the customer, not in terms of which servers are down, which nodes are working or what the latest software versions are."

The undercover CIO

Alin Ungureanu, managing director of TYDY Group, always goes a step further in making sure the IT team is in sync with the needs of the customers.

"In all my roles, I have always believed in the interactions with customers being at the centre of the business," says Ungureanu, who has been CIO at Oceania Healthcare and Icebreaker, and director at KPMG New Zealand.

He says one of the highlights of his CIO role at Oceania was the time he went 'undercover' and worked as business and care manager for one of their rest homes for six weeks.

"The focus for me was 'do our employees have the right tools'" says Ungureanu."Do we provide them with the process effective and efficient processes to be able to undertake the job every single day"

"It was a very challenging role and gave me the opportunity to understand a little bit more of what Oceania does for its residents every day. I believe that it is important to understand that the facilities are not only a place where residents live but it is place for them to call home."

"Doing that has given me an insight into watching what is important for our customers, how our customers interact with our workforce, and what is important to employees," he says.

"I learnt a lot of things, and have been privy to experiences only you as a frontline staff experience every day," says Ungureanu.

Read more:The State of the CIO 2015: The digital mindshift

His non-CIO stint also allowed him to understand the things the IT team does very well, and what they need to improve on.

When asked whether he recommends other CIOs to undertake a similar assignment, he says, "Definitely, absolutely".

"You will have a deep understanding of how the business operates."

Pilot a project

Thomas Salmen has moved from CTO to general manager of the venture enablement team at Spark Ventures.

"The digital transformation area is the thing that is happening more and more," says Salmen, who was previously CTO of Kordia and Orcon.

"Getting into the mind-set on digital transformation is pretty critical," says Salmen.

But, he adds, "You have got to get past the discussion and actually make it happen; demonstrating capability is really key."

He asks, "Is there a process or platform that is crying to be transformed, or reinvented"

He suggests doing a pilot project on this, and then demonstrate or talk about its value to key executive peers.

Salmen takes a leaf from advice he read somewhere to "find a user and make him or her happy".

"It could be a single user or a group of users, it could be an entire company.

"Have a conversation with the board or CEO and say, 'This is the sort of stuff we need to be doing more often. I can lead that transformation or I can make that happen.'"

Mark Baker, principal of MIH Consulting, also shares his experience on how best to engage with different business units.

"You have to start with the proposition that the people you work with don't care," says Baker who has held CIO and COO roles in major New Zealand enterprises.

"You engage with people by telling them a story that is relevant to their role." .

Baker recalls the time he was working at a supermarket chain. He says one of the biggest turn offs for customers is the waiting time at the checkout lane.

So he talked to the operators about how many people per hour they are putting through the checkout, the scan rate per checkout operator, and how many checkout lanes are open. A checkout lane needs to have trained and capable operators as well as having all the associated technology like Eftpos or thescanner/scales working.

Read more:How I became a CIO: Jason Millett and Kevin Angland share their journey

"We stopped talking about whether Eftpos or the scales were working or not and focused on what was needed to ensure the checkout lane was open or available to be open when needed. If it is not open, why not And then [we] fix that."

Baker says other than providing an application or tool, ICT cannot help specifically with the staff roster. "What it can do, though, is ensure that the relevant input data (like number of customers per hour) to enable effective rostering is possible."


Divina Paredes

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