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Memoirs of a CIO

Memoirs of a CIO

Ten years, 10 IT directors, 10 divergent paths.

It wasn't easy to choose 10 representatives from the hundreds of IT executives interviewed in the magazine for this special feature on the 100th issue of CIO New Zealand magazine (formerly MIS).

There was no question, however, that the IT director who graced the cover of the first ever issue of MIS magazine had to be in there. Had this issue come out a year earlier, we would have had to interview John Elliott from McDonalds' headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. But Elliot is back in New Zealand, enjoying a new role far removed from his responsibilities as a vice president at the global fast-food chain.

Another panelist, New Zealand Statistics chief executive Brian Pink, is a long-time member of the magazine's editorial advisory board. He is going back to his home country, Australia, to head the Bureau of Statistics -- of which he was the ICT chief five years ago.

Then there is Tony Crewdson, who resigned as project director of INCIS. Nine years later, he says his experience proves "there is life after death". Crewdson is now chief executive of a project and portfolio management software provider with clients across the globe.

Indeed, taking on new roles, even in non-ICT areas, moving on and enjoying life, are common themes that emerged from the stories of these past and present CIOs -- leaders all.

John Elliott, director, Opus Group

Former general manager technology and store operations, Progressive Enterprises and vice president, strategic support officer for McDonalds Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa The cover of the first ever issue of MIS New Zealand in November 1997 had a picture of John Elliott standing behind a globe.

Elliott was then general manager, operations and technology for Progressive Enterprises and the photo was to be a harbinger for the direction his career would take in the next decade.

By the time the article appeared, he had relinquished his responsibilities for all supermarket operations, and became general manager, finance and technology, effectively working as both CFO and CIO.

Elliott joined McDonalds in 1998 as director of finance and planning. In early 2000, he was assigned to a global ERP project as the representative for Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa. As the project evolved, it consumed more and more of his time. Elliott relinquished his New Zealand responsibilities when he became global deployment lead for the project in June 2002. He and his family moved to the home office of McDonalds in Chicago, Illinois.

In July last year, Elliott resigned from McDonalds and moved back to Auckland.

"I have taken the opportunity to completely change my work context and have joined very good friends of mine in a small enterprise," says Elliot, who is now director of Opus Group, which runs the chain of The CD and DVD Store and Marbecks across New Zealand.

Prior to Opus Group, Elliott hadn't worked for himself. "The upside is, it is a self-determining organization where we can set our own priorities, our own balance," he says. "We have set about growing this successful music retail business, building on an organization that is (and it already is) a great place to work and that creates opportunities for everyone involved in the business. "It was the right time to come home. I loved the work [at McDonalds], the travel was just tedious."

Elliott estimates spending half of the time during those four years travelling, mainly to Asia. He travelled to Japan at least 50 times during that period. This is one of the reasons he has not seen the movie Lost in Translation in its entirety. "That mood [of the movie], tedious and disconnected, was very much what business travel could be like."

He notes with a laugh, "I moved from New Zealand to Chicago to travel around Asia. But oddly enough, Chicago is closer to most of Asia than New Zealand."

If at all, what he misses from his corporate past was "the scale of the business". The ERP project for McDonalds, for instance, had 400 staff. When he left, he was vice president, strategic support officer for McDonalds Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. As a geographical unit, it consisted of 34 countries with 8000 restaurants and more than US$8 billion in revenue. He was responsible for finance, IS, supply chain, business planning and innovation across the group.

It was at McDonalds that he faced one of the hardest tasks of his career. McDonalds cancelled the ERP project at the end of 2002 when the company's share price hit a low of US$12 from a high of US$45 in 1998. It has since recovered to more than US$44. What impressed Elliott was the company's decision to dedicate the next three months redeploying the team members back into operating roles within the business. Elliott estimates 90 per cent of the affected staff were eventually placed in various offices in McDonalds. "This process highlighted a characteristic of the company -- its extraordinary commitment to its people," starting from the chief executive, he says.

While his background is in finance, Elliott has always had "a connection" with information technology. His first job after university in 1981 involved working with the IT team on computerizing a business in which all invoices were handwritten. He says he learned a lot about business process and identifying systems and process issues from working closely with the IT teams.

Looking back, what worked for him in all his positions in IS, marketing, finance and sales, was "having a wholistic view of the enterprise", and of having the ability to "really understand the processes end-to-end from customer to the originating point of supply". And when redesigning processes, he says, "You always start with the customer interface. I learnt that from the IT people I worked with early in my career."

Mark Ratcliffe

Chief operating officer technology and enterprises and former chief information officer, Telecom New Zealand

Mark Ratcliffe says the most significant challenge he has faced in his career was "leading a large part of Telecom over the past year as we embrace a new regulatory environment".

Change was a theme in his work during this period, when Ratcliffe moved on from chief information officer to chief operating officer technology and enterprises.

How did he manage it? "The way you do that is to focus on the things that are important regardless of what regulatory regime they end up," he states. "That is the trick there. Getting people focused on clear, external outcomes and not spending too much time worrying about all the uncertainty."

Ratcliffe joined Telecom in 1991. He became CIO in 2000, and for the two years prior to his current role, was also in charge of Telecom's IT services business Gen-i. What would he have done differently? "I probably wouldn't have worked so hard", he says.

His busy schedule nevertheless did not preclude him from training for the London marathon. He ran and completed the 42 kilometer route last year. It was the first time he has done it, and he finished in five hours and 20 minutes.

His advice for executives to progress their career in ICT and beyond is that there will always be opportunities in their lives. "They just have to grab them. I think you get places because you take chances that are presented to you. If you wait for things to happen, they won't happen to you. You have to make them happen."

Asked how that has applied to him, he says he has done about 10 different jobs since joining Telecom "There is now no part of Telecom that I haven't had experience working in. I personally think it makes you better equipped to do a particular job if you have experience in different roles. You just understand more about organizations and you understand more about the dynamics of them and the changes other people face."

For CIOs, he says, "taking any opportunity to do a non-technology role for a period of time will make you a better leader of technology groups. Because you are bringing a customer perspective or your supplier perspective into the role and doing that is very advantageous."

He also advises not getting "too hung up" on organizational hierarchy. "The traditional model is to keep moving up the hierarchy and in today's more matrix world, life is increasingly less hierarchical.

"The internet has broken down historical hierarchies by making information available to everybody. And therefore being open and flexible is a requirement for any executive in any field."

Tony Crewdson

CEO of i-lign and former project director, INCIS

Tony Crewdson had just returned as a Harkness fellow from Harvard University when he applied for the top job at INCIS.

"I was project director of the most complex, biggest and most expensive project running in New Zealand," says Crewdson, who was then an inspector with the New Zealand Police. "Essentially my role was to provide a business view on whether the police should actually do that project," says Crewdson. "I ended up being involved in all sorts of things including the renegotiating of the contract."

He says the project had been in the books for a long time and when he came in, New Zealand Police was looking at the business requirements and the technology fit. He was involved in INCIS from 1993 until he resigned from the Police in 1998. "I really thought it was a good project and I thought it was what the Police should do".

But 1997, a year before he left, the project was at a "hard stage" and was getting negative stories in the press.

Today, Crewdson is chief executive of i-lign, which provides project management software and whose clients encompass government agencies including the Police. Crewdson now tends to look at the positive side of his 43 months with the project. "It was the most amazing experience and I learned a tremendous amount about information technology generally and how it applied to business.

"What leaving the Police has done for me was it allowed me to be creative again. It really has; setting up a company when nobody wanted to work with you."

One of the biggest problems at INCIS, he says, was the way it was branded. "It should have been branded as a business project" which he says it was initially until people who came into the project later tried to turn it into a technology project.

In the ICT sector, "It is very, very dangerous to brand things as technology projects because they are not. They are there for business reasons." In the case of INCIS, he says what should have been said to the Police and the public was: "We want to provide a better information tool for you to do a good job and for you to work towards your primary goal, which is safer communities together. And, the tools should provide you with information so you can work with people to provide safer communities and this is what we are out to do."

He says when INCIS became branded as a technology project there was resistance from the police. "They said it was just another technology project that was going to fail so it almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Crewdson reveals he considered leaving New Zealand at that time. "For the first time in my life I was so disillusioned with the way I had been treated. I considered uplifting the family and go live elsewhere in the world, anywhere than here. I thought, why in the world will I live in a country that was so small minded?"

He felt like he was on the receiving end of the tall poppy syndrome. "They needed someone else to hang [out to] dry," he says. "I am supposed to make a living and I felt like a leper."

Interestingly, one of the first jobs he got after he left the Police was as a consultant for a whole of government information strategy for the State Services Commission. He was then using a project management tool that supposedly was best of breed, "but I thought it was incredibly hard to get information out for a report". He estimated spending nearly a third of his time then at INCIS writing reports rather than doing the job. "It just about killed me to do that stuff."

While working at the SSC, post-INCIS, he researched on what tools were available globally. "I didn't find anything I thought was good enough and I decided to build software to do that."

His original company was called Astarte. When his business partner moved on, he set up i-lign, which delivers project management software on the web. He has around 10 staff and his clients now range from government and private firms from across Asia Pacific, China, Japan and the United States.

"What I bring to those clients is grey hair," he says. "I have been around. I know those issues. I know government and I know commercial organizations."

He says leaving the Police to start up his own business has taught him that New Zealand companies "can do really smart things from here and we can do it in a really professional and agile way and we can think ahead."

"I was vindicated in a lot of ways. One is that INCIS got delivered. Secondly, I take some personal satisfaction of doing what I am doing now."

Neville Brown

Program director, Sitel

Former chief information officer, The Warehouse

Neville Brown recalls the first time he moved to The Warehouse as head of IT, from his job at ASB, where he was general manager for computing. It was the same position held by Ralph Norris, who became CEO of the bank, then Air New Zealand, and now Commonwealth Bank in Australia.

It was October 1996, and Brown's staff had shrunk from the bank's 400 IT staff, to about 13 at The Warehouse.

"The expectations of the role were very different. Instead of working on strategy and things like internet banking and the like, you were expected to fix the photocopier and people who know me know it is not my skill set," says Brown who finished accounting at the Victoria University of Wellington.

But Brown says Warehouse owner Stephen Tindall had envisioned the growth of the company and wanted the systems that would accommodate that growth put in. He gave Brown three to four months "to just come to understand the retail operations, understand what it was looking like," and to visit the sites.

Next, he says, was to "re-architect" the business where he did what he considers the most significant thing he has done in his career -- building a data warehouse in conjunction with NCR. It was the biggest in the country and initially cost $2 million. "We paid it back in six months," says Brown. The data warehouse, he says, "really transformed The Warehouse in terms of having information on products and managing the supply chain more effectively.

"It enabled us to grow the Warehouse sales with the brand strategy revolving in combination with that technology. We were able to steal the march from our competitors because we had better knowledge of pricing and what was being sold." "It put new discipline in the company," says Brown who is applying the principles he learned then to his range of current concerns.

Brown is now project director of Sitel, a CRM software company that also runs contact centers. He is also co-authoring a book on retail analytics for a sub-company of BiPredict. Brown is also a reference for XSol, which provides business process mapping software.

Brown's foray into the vendor space started when he left the Warehouse in 2002 and travelled around the world for a year. He was working with author Nick Marsh, and they visited companies like Procter and Gamble and British Telecom and attended a futures conference.

They were doing research as part of a plan to set up a consulting practice in Melbourne. But that plan fell through when two partners left. So Brown came back to New Zealand and worked with a group that was building software for retail companies in the area of price elasticity. That work led him to BiPredict.

What he misses from his CIO post was "the strategic piece, where technology actually makes a difference in the business, making choices, doing that sort of stuff as opposed to being on the vendor side actually".

Being on the vendor side is tougher than being CIO, he concedes. "It is a lot easier to take choices and you can actually plan your own direction. Yes, you may have to convince a CEO or the board what the solution is. That is an easier task than having someone buy something from you."

He says today's CIOs are far more an integral part of the management team. "You have to be. The bulk of the business is underpinned by technology. If you look at the leading companies in the industry, you will find the IT is an integral part of that success. "IT is an exciting part of the business to work in," concludes Brown. "You are actually at the forefront of change."

Garry Fissenden

IT consultant

Former UDC general manager and technology and operations manager, ASB Bank

His current title is "consultant" and that is how Garry Fissenden, whose last corporate role was general manager for UDC, likes it.

Nowadays, Fissenden works from home in Auckland's St Heliers for a range of clients, including a healthcare company of which he is acting CIO.

Fissenden was general manager technology and operations for ASB Bank when he appeared on the cover of the magazine in February 1998. He moved to Australia in 2001, where he became general manager operations for Esanda Finance, one of Australia's largest finance company and part of the ANZ Group. Esanda is represented in New Zealand by UDC. He came back to New Zealand in 2004, as general manager of UDC. A year ago he left the corporate world to start his consultancy.

"I am a very staunch Kiwi I suppose, so I am very, very pleased to be home and very glad to be home," he says. "And I operate better when I am at home."

In Australia, Fissenden ran operations and technology for Esanda, which has 900 staff in Australia and New Zealand. He found this combination interesting.

"I basically was running all their business operations and then they put me in charge of technology so my favorite line from that period was, 'I was to blame for everything...' If something went wrong, I was usually to blame," he says with a laugh. "The buck stopped with me."

That stint changed his focus a lot. "I am a much different IT person after 18 months of doing operations," he says. "You are a lot less worried about the bits and bytes and the technology and more interested in the business impact."

When he accepted the post of general manager of UDC, he was still in charge of technology for Esanda, although someone took over his operations role for the finance firm. "So I was running a business in New Zealand and running technology in Australia and New Zealand."

"There were a lot of unique things in the role," he says, laughing. "Some good, some bad".

Since leaving UDC, he has been working "on a bunch of consulting assignments".

Looking back, he says, the most challenging -- though in a positive way -- of all his responsibilities was managing staff. "It is never a dull moment, there are always challenges," he says. "You never get it completely right, but it is also one of the most rewarding because I have seen some really, really great young people whom you have backed. They have come through a period of four to five years and have done great stuff."

Of his own career, he says, he would probably have gone into a business role earlier. But, he says, there is really no single way of planning a career in ICT and beyond, even in his case where he started as an IT director, moving on to a chief executive role.

"I have always been a business person who understood technology, not the other way around," says Fissenden, an accountant. "I have always told [my] staff technical skills can get you up the ladder to start with. After that, it is your strategy skills, your ability to focus on the business and deliver business results.

"At some stage you have to get out, you have got to manage staff, and if you can, you should and actually try to manage some part of the business." These could be other business areas like marketing and operations.

"You can do a lot of processes and IT people are good at processes. It has a lot to do with service levels, and IT people are good at service levels. It has a lot to do with understanding what the business wants and IT people are good at that, and it has lots to do with delivering results and IT people are good at that. Add on to it, a good ability to manage people and get results through people and that's why I think operations and technology go together."

Aaron Kumove

Managing director, Horizon Consulting

Ex-CIO, New Zealand Post

Ten years ago, Aaron Kumove packed up at his Toronto base and moved to New Zealand where he had previously worked in the 80s and early 90s. At that stage he was managing a team building one of the first online banks in Canada. The fact he was experiencing one of the fabled Canadian winters at that time helped trigger the decision.

Kumove, who has a dual degree in music and computer science, searched online for jobs in Wellington. He returned to New Zealand as head of KPMG's e-business consulting practice. In 1999, he became chief information officer of New Zealand Post. He left New Zealand Post in 2002 to start his own company, Horizon Consulting.

"I enjoyed the role of the CIO at [New Zealand] Post but at the same time I wanted the flexibility of being my own boss and all that goes with that," Kumove explains, who at that time already had a young family.

But as to whether he prefers working in a large organization as opposed to working for himself, he says, "You trade one set of stresses for another. There is no free lunch." The concerns he faced at New Zealand Post, "were probably the same for any CIO role anywhere; just the sheer amount of stuff that you are required to be on top of and the demands on your times."

Back then he used to work up to 10 hours a day, but his wife would say he worked longer hours than that. He concurs those hours would just be at the office. "There would often be reading stuff at home."

But then, starting a business "from scratch" brings its own set of issues. "The start-up phase is challenging because outside of the aspects of the business, you just have to get the basic infrastructure up and running.

"It is a leap into the unknown," he says of the first year. "There is no guarantee of a regular paycheck. It is, of course, challenging to see if you can pull that off."

But even if he is now in a vendor role, he says his CIO colleagues generally don't treat him differently. "There is an understanding we have been through the same thing. I have done that role, therefore I understand what it is about. I understand a lot of the things they deal with."

Horizon Consulting focuses on "management and strategy end of the IT game". Kumove works with CEOs, CIOs and other C-level executives in both government and private organizations on strategy, governance, organizational development and enterprise architecture ("the marriage between business architecture and technology").

He says he would not have done anything differently in his career. A former boss once asked him whether he has a career plan and when he said no, "He looked at me a bit funny". But then, he realized, he actually had a plan all along, which was, "to look for interesting things to work on where I could learn something and to work with extremely great people".

Kumove has seen how the CIO role has shifted through the years. The role was much more prominent in the mid-and late 90s, he says, because of the e-business boom and the focus on the internet related to the business.

So what then, would he tell a newly-appointed CIO or someone aspiring for this role? "Study and read as much as you can about strategy and finance. Really learn to understand the language of business and finance.

"If you are an up and coming IT executive, odds are you know a lot about IT. You have been doing it for a number of years. If you want to broaden your career or move to a CEO or other senior level business position, you need to broaden your horizons."

Clayton Wakefield

Head of technology, operations and cards, ASB Group; ex-IT chief, University of Auckland and general manager network supply, Telecom

After 30 years in the sector, Clayton Wakefield continues to be amazed at the range of career options in ICT. "There are so many different aspects of IT and there are different paths that you can follow," he says. "So if you want to be a CIO, you have to kind of make that decision sometime to move away from the technical aspects, to the business and leadership aspects. That is a conscious choice."

From the start, Wakefield figured he liked the leadership role and strategic planning parts of the ICT director's role. In the past 10 years alone, he has held IT management roles across various industries -- including general manager for network supply for Telecom, IT director at the University of Auckland, and his current post, head of technology, operations and cards at the ASB Group.

Wakefield, who has an undergraduate degree in computer science, prepared for these leadership roles by gaining a lot of work experience and external training. "I consciously broadened my skill set."

While working at Telecom, for instance, he went back to the university for a diploma on executive management.

He was then program manager in four of 10 "super projects" during Telecom's re-engineering in 1997. "These were the largest technology projects in the country at that time, with leading edge mobility and contact center technology. We had a great international team who were exciting to work with and certainly worked and played hard."

He says the combined budget of these projects was over $200 million. "It was a high pressure, high outcome environment which was fantastic experience for all of the team. I had joined to get the projects to delivery and enjoy some of the promised benefits.

The results were mixed but laid the foundations for a lot of Telecom's future technology direction."

As for how he managed the nuances of moving across different industries, Wakefield says for ICT professionals, senior leadership skills are transferable.

"They apply no matter where you are. There is domain knowledge. So I find that works very well and I am very comfortable with jumping boundaries across industries. I find the same principles apply and there is a lot of learning. I like the learning as well.

Moving from education to banking was not difficult because you are doing the same things, just in a different industry," he says. "You make up for [it] by learning along the way."

In his case, he says broadening his skills outside mainstream technology earlier may have been advantageous given that his recent roles have been more than just ICT. "Other than that it has been fun to date and it looks like there's more of that ahead."

He says the biggest challenges for CIOs in the next two to three years will not be around infrastructure and hardware. "It is really around getting to the business outcomes using the technology in an integrated way. So it is a matter of keeping focused on what is important on the outcomes of technology and that can often be around complexity, managing the complexity, managing the alignment to the business goals and keeping pace with the opportunities that continue to present themselves with the internet and broadband access."

He says those wishing to forge a successful career in ICT and beyond may sometimes feel technology has so much to offer and it can be difficult to determine what areas to focus on. "Is it technical knowledge, is it scale of operations or project size, is it revenue or product development? My advice to people has always been to develop a vision of where they may want to progress their career to. With that vision in mind, it is easier to know exactly the steps to take to get there. It reminds me of the lines in Alice in Wonderland where she asks 'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cheshire Cat. It's very much like that!"

Secondly, success at the executive level in technology is realizing that it is all about the business outcome, not the technology. Many technology professionals overlook this important fact, he says.

"Understanding the business and customer outcomes should be the primary focus for any technology professional."

Lastly, it is all about enjoying yourself and growing yourself personally. "Having fun and learning are critical to a successful career, so you need to ensure you are getting plenty of both. If you have that balance, you will be much more effective in your role," he says. "I encourage my team and I try to ensure they are not working excessive hours and not having too much stress, and having fun about it."

For Wakefield, getting this balance means setting time for one important activity after work. For the past four years, he has been coaching his son's rugby team. "It is good," he smiles. "It keeps me out of the office."

Garth Biggs

Principal consultant, Biggs and Company

Former Gen-i CEO and Air New Zealand and Progressive Enterprises CIO

Garth Biggs proves there are no glass ceilings for IT directors. He is, after all, one of the few New Zealand CIOs who has been a CEO. Presently he heads a consultancy business, a role he moved to after his stint as CEO of Gen-i, now part of Telecom New Zealand. Biggs is also executive director of the HiGrowth Project, a government program that aims to grow New Zealand's ICT sector.

Ten years ago Biggs was chief information officer and general manager for information services of Air New Zealand. He then became general manager of information technology in Progressive Enterprises.

He held the top role at Gen-i from 1999 to 2004. He says leading the IT services company "through the roller coaster of the post-Y2K slump and periods of frantic growth" was his most significant challenge.

"It was a sobering experience," he says, and if there was anything he would have done differently, it was to have done "a management buy-out of Gen-i before it got too expensive".

Biggs, who has been working in ICT for 30 years, came to New Zealand from South Africa, where he completed a commerce degree and an MBA from the University of Cape Town. He has also finished a management program at INSEAD in Singapore and the company directors' course from the New Zealand Institute of Directors.

As for his current work pace, he says, "I have more control over much of my time spent working." Another upside is getting exposure to different industries, even in areas he has never worked in before.

The downside, he says, is there is no even flow of the workload. "I am either working two days a week or seven days a week."

Biggs has some basic advice for today's ICT professional: "Focus on the business -- technology is just the medium.

"IT is a tool for improving productivity in business and we can do that best by understanding the businesses' needs and second, what the technologies can do. Otherwise we will [just] have solutions looking for problems."

His major worry these days, however, is the shortage of people coming into the industry, exacerbated by the declining enrolment in ICT courses.

"People are missing out on great careers," he laments. Biggs says the skills shortage has critical, long-term implications for New Zealand. "ICT is important for the national economy."

Biggs enjoys working in the industry and reckons, "I'll end up working in ICT when I am 85!"

Chris Corke

Chief information officer, New Zealand Racing Board and ex-CIO, New Zealand Stock Exchange

Hailing from the UK, Chris Corke has moved through various IT sectors in New Zealand, taking on management positions in companies on both the user and vendor sides of information and communications technology.

His latest position is as CIO of the New Zealand Racing Board, which followed a two-year stint as CIO at the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX).

As MIS reported in its cover story in December 2003, Corke spent his second day at the NZX managing a software glitch that caused the exchange's main trading system to go down -- and fielding questions from the business and IT media.

Corke wouldn't specify this incident as the most challenging in his career. He has a practical view on the vagaries of a leadership role in a fast-moving and demanding sector. "In all sorts of roles, you have so many challenges, you have just got to manage them the best that you can."

At Telecom, where he worked as a project manager for the Y2K project and on the 3G project, the challenges came from the "complexity of the number of systems". At the NZX, it was trying to move the organization from "being a niche player, to a more commercial environment".

At the NZRB, Corke says the challenge is grabbing the opportunities to use different technologies in a broad business. "We are continually innovating," he says.

At the Melbourne Cup Day in November last year, for instance, Corke and his team deployed a wireless on-course betting system, where punters could place bets using hand-held devices. This system is particularly suited to New Zealand, which has several race courses, unlike other countries like Hong Kong where the races are held in a few venues.

Refreshingly, with the benefit of hindsight, Corke says he would not have done anything differently career-wise. Each job has introduced him to new challenges and opportunities to learn.

Corke, who has a degree in mathematical economics, relished the chance to work in New Zealand. "Because it is a small country, you get the opportunity to roll your sleeves up and have a go at a lot of things that are not available in a lot of countries." He is emphatic about the multifaceted roles today's CIOs have to fill. "They are not just technologists. They have to be facilitators, innovators, able to deliver value to the business, not just deliver what they are asked to do."

Thus, he says, a key to success is to be part of the management strategic team. "You get the opportunity to participate in the critical conversations on the direction of the business."

For Corke, a vital trait for today's CIO is financial acumen. "It is important to understand how the numbers stack up." He also cites the ability to deal with change swiftly and also to drive change. "A deep sense of integrity is also crucial," he says.

He says it is important for IT executives to work on getting a "broad spectrum" of skills. "Don't look purely to IT to gain knowledge in the business," he admonishes. "Always try to jump in and help. That is a Kiwi trait in general. But it is also important that when something needs to be done, you help get it done. Don't try to fob it off on somebody else. "The other thing is to really keep up with technology trends and don't be afraid to innovate." He says while it is important for CIOs to appreciate the "buzz words" like governance or enterprise architecture, one should also "come up with ways of doing things, [and] not just follow other people's success".

"Continually strive to be first," he adds. "I find it very disquieting when you see so many followers and so few leaders. CIOs of New Zealand have a huge amount to offer but they have to be willing to take that first step, keep that sort of 'can do' spirit going." Because of the raft of business and people issues that come with the CIO role, Corke notes, "It is really important to remain calm and collected when under pressure because there is a lot of pressure in the business."

He has found a way to temper the pressures that go with the job. "We do a lot of gaming in the house," says Corke who has both an Xbox and a PS2 in his Wellington abode that he shares with his wife and their five children. He also does a lot of reading but they are not management tomes. "I tend to leave management books at work," he laughs. He has just returned from a holiday in Mexico where he indulged in another favorite activity -- scuba diving.

Corke holds a "dual nationality" but now calls New Zealand home. "I support New Zealand in everything," he quips, "apart from when they play [against] the Lions."

Brian Pink, Chief executive, Australian Bureau of Statistics Former chief executive, NZ Statistics

One of the numbers the New Zealand Statistics regularly tracks is how many residents are moving across the Tasman.

This month, its chief executive Brian Pink will become one of those statistics when he takes on his new role as head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Pink was the first assistant statistician, technology services -- the chief information officer -- at the Australian bureau, prior to taking on the top role in New Zealand Statistics in 2000.

In one of his first public speeches as NZ Statistics CEO, Pink said the role of a statistician is partly one of a scientist, an artisan and a diplomat.

He explained: "The scientist in the statistician comes from the application of scientific methods to the design and conduct of statistical collections... The artisan that is the statistician then emerges as we seek to portray the rich tapestry of our society in visual representations such as statistical tables, graphs and more recently multidimensional data cubes and through stories told through textual commentary and analytical descriptions. The role of the diplomat is the function that the statistician must perform in finding a mutually acceptable balance between the competing demands of users, the willingness of respondents to participate in statistical surveys and the capability of the statistical agency to deliver within the resources made available to it."

Pink says he thinks he has managed the balance of these three roles "pretty well" though he says doing so will always be a challenge.

Of the three roles, he says, the diplomat proved to be the most challenging. As he explains, in the statistical community, the users whether in government, business, the community or the academe, are well organized and articulate. But the people who provide the information, which is sometimes the business community or the households, "have no single voice" to represent them other than the National Statistics Office. So an important part of his role as a diplomat "is to try and balance these competing demands of the users with the reality of what respondents are likely to provide".

As chief statistician, Pink and his staff engage with various groups in business, media, government and the community. "There is a great deal better understanding of some of the demographic challenges, for instance, that face New Zealand over the next 20 to 30 years. We have been able to get that on to the agenda much more."

The 2006 Census -- described as the largest peacetime exercise undertaken by any New Zealand public service organization -- was the first to allow the public to fill their forms online. An estimated seven per cent, around 300,000 people did so. "That was quite a range," says Pink. By year 2011, Pink expects a very much bigger number, from 40 to 50 per cent of respondents, who will be more comfortable with filling forms online and will try to take advantage of it.

Pink says it was interesting to have talked to a group of people who are quite "sophisticated users" of technology who filled the paper forms. As one of them said, filling the form online has to be done as an individual. "But we sat down there as family around the table with the kids, filling the forms together. You can't do that with a computer, not yet anyway." For Pink, this feedback was very useful on where people wanted to be. "Whether it is a family, people in a household wanting to participate collectively, we have got to think about what technology is in 2011 that might allow people to do that in an electronic world... We have got to move along."

Pink, who was born and grew up in Sydney, says he will miss his job and Wellington. "It is just a gem of a city to live in," says Pink. One thing he won't miss, though, is the weather. "It doesn't get warm enough for me."

He adds, "I will actually miss the collegiate relationships with other chief executives in the public sector in New Zealand. They are a great bunch of people. They have been very supportive of some of the changes that I have tried to bring about in getting a stronger sense of group of government agencies that are all part of the one game -- the official statistics game -- and not just Statistics New Zealand. One needs to be a diplomat as well in some of those processes."

He will definitely make use of his diplomat skills in Canberra, where he will work with federal level departments and the state departments. "It is a much more complex environment," says Pink, who remains chairman of the International Association for Official Statistics until August this year.

The experiences that stand out for him throughout his career are all about people. And these are, he says, "giving people challenges that they think are beyond their current level of knowledge and experience and supporting them to grow and in the process perform beyond their expectations".

As an ICT professional who has moved on to chief executive roles, he has pointers for colleagues in the sector.

"You need to be able to demonstrate good business sense, be a strong communicator and relationship manager, develop a strategic sense of how technologies can enable increased business value.

"Depending on your role, establish a strong rapport with the CEO or your senior client managers.

"Have the wisdom of Solomon and the hide of a rhinoceros. But most important of all, have some fun at work. And if you're not, for goodness' sake, do something about it."

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