Straight talk from the top

Straight talk from the top

CEOs talk about what they expect from CIOs - keep the lights on, be a futurist, understand what’s possible and communicate that to the business – top the list: Part 4 of our special report on the 2013 CIO Summit.

“The CIO must keep the lights on; but the really strong role is the futurist role; understanding what’s possible and communicating that to the business,” says Greg Lowe, CEO of engineering consultancy Beca.

“It’s about staying close to the business and not being a back-room provider,” says Naomi Ferguson, IRD commissioner and chief executive. “We’re seeing more demand from businesses to interact with IRD online. IT is about customer delivery, not technology.”

Barry Vryenhoek, CEO of health-Alliance, reinforces the view. “It is about encouraging the district health boards to collaborate and move to patient centric care.”

He says telemedicine tools have already been used by the clinicians in the past 15 to 20 years. “The challenge is us being agile enough to meet those needs.”

Futurist, business technology leader, lead collaborator, and ideas person are just some of the expectations for today’s CIOs, as the three point out in a panel discussion at the CIO Summit.

Ferguson, who is in charge of IRD’s ICT transformation, says the latter is not just an IT project, but an opportunity for New Zealand to think about the tax system it wants for the future.

“We manage a lot of social policy payments, as well as tax; 5 million payments a year, $55 billion a year,” she shares. “We are thinking about how to use some modern technologies, like analytics. We want to develop a system that increases certainty for customers and makes it easier for them to meet their obligations.

“As a CIO or CTO, I want someone who can engage, bring in different ideas, keep us future-focused,” says Ferguson. “Thinking five or 10 years ahead, but also taking care of the business today. Someone who can help manage risk. And with a lot of creativity and a real understanding of what drives our business.”

Lowe says at Beca, which has 3000 people across the Asia Pacific working on projects in about 70 countries, the focus is on working collaboratively, and wherever it needs to be done.

“We need our CIO to be a futurist, but to look through the front window of our organisation,” says Lowe. “The technology team needs to understand our business strategy.”

Health, like all public sector agencies, is under cost pressure. The expenditure for healthAlliance must be approved by its four shareholders.

“So my CIO must keep the lights on; so hospitals can meet ever more demanding targets,” states Vryenhoek.

Strategic conversations Ferguson says it is important for the CIO (Myles Ward) to be on the executive team. “We start with what do we want to achieve; what do we have to safeguard; what are our opportunities. A large part of my conversation is about the future, but a significant part is about how is the system running today.”

Ours is a global conversation, says Lowe of Beca. Our CIO (Robin Johansen) is enabling our businesses all over the Pacific region, but also charting a future course. Development is about enabling collaboration and federation. We didn’t used to own some of our regional operations and they’ve grown up with different technologies. We’re looking to build to a common standard.”

“Our CIO is involved in a difficult conversation with people around the regions with very different needs — a rapidly expanding mining business in Brisbane is very different from a low-cost operation in Myanmar — yet still come to a consistent standard.”

The health sector has its own challenges. Each DHB (district health board) has its own technology departments with their own needs. Trying to balance those is particularly challenging, says Vryenhoek. “You have to have rules to guide these discussions. We have to bring down 700 different systems currently to 100 and it needs to be clinically led.”

As for cloud technology, Ferguson says it has to be considered as part of the future. “We can’t limit ourselves to the technology we use today. We’re transforming a system for the next 20 years; cloud has to be part of that. Other tax administrations are dabbling in it, but we have to be aware of the risk.

We need to be innovative, but shouldn’t put at risk something that’s important to every New Zealander. But there are parts of our business where we could innovate quite easily.”

Lowe says at Beca, the cloud is naturally a factor in forging a global organisation. “We’re taking steps in-house to make information much more portable; to make it less obvious where it’s stored. That eases management of projects with multiple teams in different locations.”

He adds that, “like every IT operation ours is under pressure to supply more for less: IT has been quite good at delivering that. For a similar cost year on year, we’re delivering more.”

“There are security concerns and any outage would have a massive impact. So we have to consider the degree to which we want to control it ourselves. Less mission-critical information could be entrusted to the cloud, but it’s quite a big step. How do you build up confidence and get management and boards comfortable? We’ve taken some small steps into the cloud. We’re an innovative, but at the same time a conservative company.”


Critical conversations

Champions of change

CIO Agenda 2013: Transform, innovate, engage

CIO of the Year Craig Soutar, NZ Transport Agency

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Tags leadershipchange managementCEO and CIOsCIO Summit 2013cloud computingoperationsfuturist

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