When Peter Fletcher left New Zealand in 2006 to work overseas, it was always in the back of his mind that he and his family would return to the country at some point.
His overseas stint, with Barclays Bank, encompassed a range of business technology roles that took him and his young family to London and Singapore.
"I was deliberately trying to broaden myself out," says Fletcher, who returned to New Zealand last year. "I was very conscious that New Zealand is quite a small market."
Today, he is chief information officer at Westpac. He had held the same role at rival Bank of New Zealand for just over three years before he left New Zealand.
A year on, he is in the thick of a range of projects, as Westpac expands its services across digital platforms.
"There are only four or five people who do what I do here, to a scale that I do," he says of his current job at Westpac. "I am very fortunate."
What stood out from his overseas experience was the scale and international nature of the activity of Barclays Bank.
"I have learned a lot about around how IT operations from my time there that I am now looking to employ here, on top of my understanding of the New Zealand market and the way things get done."
In the UK, Fletcher started as an interim technology partner, human resources and pensions, before moving up to become chief operating officer, central support technology, and chief operating officer, global infrastructure and service delivery. He then relocated to Singapore as co-chief operating officer, global technology infrastructure and service, and side lead, Changi, for Barclays Technology Centre.
At Westpac, he says, most of the executives and board members have had experience with big transformation projects with significant IT investments. Fletcher says there is always an advantage in having senior executives who have a "broader understanding of technology and the value it brings".
"The conversation is richer, and the challenge is greater," he says on working with the Westpac executive team. "I have raised a lot of things that have had a lot of good healthy debate, I see it all as pretty positive," says Fletcher, who reports to chief operating officer Jim Stabback, himself a former CIO (see sidebar: In for the long haul)
Fletcher is part of the group's global IT leadership team, which meets once a week, either by phone or video conference. He also travels to Australia regularly with his colleagues there.
"The thing that I that I enjoy most about that relationship is that it is a good mature healthy relationship, where I am encouraged to get on and run the business here in New Zealand.
"We work together as colleagues as opposed to taking instructions," he says. "We are very independent and that is important because we have a different market. We have different competitive pressures, we have different scale and at different points our companies have been in different stages of the economic cycle. So that is very important that we can operate independently."
"We certainly have done some things which Australia has picked up on and I think increasingly Australia sees the opportunity that it has here because we can do things quickly because of our scale," he adds. "We can share best practice, we can share skills."
Fletcher says the involvement of IT early on in business projects is very important. Happily, this is the norm at Westpac, he says.
"More often than not we are involved right upfront and certainly if you look back at the pieces of work that have been most successful that is a very common factor. We have been together right at the start."
Meeting new and emerging demands
Fletcher says Westpac is involved in a range of projects around the digital space. One of these is a contactless mobile wallet trial using near field communications.
The mobile wallet system will allow people to use their mobile phone to pay for public transport in Auckland and purchases at various retailers.
"It is important that we are in at the ground level on a lot of new developments in the payment space because I think that is an area that will move quickly in the next few years," says Fletcher.
Keeping abreast of how the younger generation is making use of technology is important for the bank.
"What is really important for us as a financial institution is to understand the next generation of our customers. Their expectations of their technology experience are so far beyond our existing customer group and our customers from years ago," he says. "We really need to challenge ourselves to be able to meet that demand."
Looking back over his career, he says, one key insight he can share is "to have people who have quite different skills and approaches to your own."
Look for "people who can challenge you, who can look at things differently to yourself." Fletcher finds value in forging "very strong partnerships" with major IT suppliers to get insights on business technology trends.
"These are companies that are spending billions every year on research and development and so it is important that we are working really hand and glove with those companies to make sure that where trends they are seeing world of opportunities they can bring to us both individually and together to make things happen," he says.
Fletcher says one of the programmes that emerged from these conversations with key suppliers is having Westpac as the anchor customer for New Zealand's first IBM Delivery Centre at Unitec.
"Make sure you make best use of what they can bring to the table with all the partners," he says.
Sidebar: In for the long-haul
"In a world where technologies are changing pretty rapidly, the ability for us to continue to tap into the limited resources market in New Zealand, for capable and competent resources to meet demands around mobile and online development around process management tools and capabilities around middleware is always a bit of a challenge," says Jim Stabback, chief operating officer at Westpac New Zealand.
He says this is especially true when the demand is coming not just from Westpac but other organisations that are growing rapidly.
Stabback says this is one of the prime reasons why Westpac became the anchor customer for the IBM Delivery Centre at the Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland.
Under this venture, the first of its kind in New Zealand, around 100 post-graduate and undergraduate computer science students will be supervised by IBM developers and managers to provide Westpac with technical and IT support.
Stabback explains that IBM brought the idea to the bank following conversations with Unitec. IBM runs a similar programme in Australia with a tertiary institution in Geelong. The five-year IBM-Unitec contract means Westpac has access to 50 full-time equivalent roles.
He says an "appealing part" of the project is that it taps into an emerging labour market and keeps jobs in New Zealand.
"It is always difficult to get enough of the right people at the right time," he says, and the project gives Westpac the ability to scale its workforce up and down.
"It doesn't mean we won't hire people to Westpac to do certain things that might be strategically important or where we can see long term demand for certain types of people and resources."
Stabback's advice to other organisations which might be contemplating a similar arrangement with a provider is to "be open minded on the possibilities of how to make that work."
"You have to leverage the opportunity for the benefit of all of the stakeholders not just for our organisation, Westpac, but also for IBM and students of Unitec."
Stabback joined Westpac from the Bank of Queensland where he was the CIO and group executive, IT and operations.
"There is a very strong alignment between the operational responsibility with the technology role because in the end, technology enables almost everything that we do as a bank," he says.
"Leveraging technology to enable customer differentiation or enable productivity improvement is really the essence of the effectiveness of chief operating officer's role."
Divina Paredes (@divinap) is editor of CIO New Zealand.
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