Expert on call

Expert on call

CIOs are increasingly being asked to lead initiatives beyond ICT. CIOs share their insights on managing this challenge

The CIO as crisis manager

Johan Vendrig, CIO of the Auckland District Health Board, led the team investigating and addressing the complaints from doctors and patients after Labtests Auckland took over as the main provider of community pathology (laboratory) services in the Metro Auckland region. The three metro Auckland District Health Boards (DHBs) put together the Quality and Safety Turnaround Assurance Team (QSTAT) composed of members of the DHBs, doctors and laboratory and quality management experts. Vendrig headed the team for three months, reporting to the chairpersons and CEOs of the DHBs. The team worked side by side with the Labtest staff at the Labtests' premises on service improvement activities. He reveals how he mined current and previous management experiences when he took on the role.

To be presented with this leadership opportunity on a Sunday afternoon in September 2009 was a bit of a surprise. Although, as is the case for most of my DHB executive team colleagues, I have been trained for and have participated in a number of major incident management situations, I did not have any experience in management of laboratory or clinical services.

Soon, I realised however, that the skills necessary to lead this team were fairly generic, and the challenge akin to managing any significant service improvement initiative: Define the target, identify key issues, prioritise and assign tasks, manage to timelines and measure and track performance.I have been project director in previous roles so breaking the task down in a project like manner was very helpful in this QSTAT role.

Incident management is a very good skill set for CIOs and I have found it very useful to have some formal incident management training. It is very generic, not IT-specific -- it is all about how to manage business continuity. I have been able to use these skills not only during the management of the odd IT crisis, but also assisting other crisis management teams such as the team that managed the regional response to the 2009 Swine Flu outbreak.In QSTAT, I was supported by a very capable team, with team members that were all well established clinical leaders in their own right and while I focused on the organisation of the overall effort, I was able to rely on their expertise to lead critical pieces of work related to clinical service quality assurance and laboratory process reviews.I find it incredibly interesting to work with such subject matter experts; to learn about what they do and how they do it.

My main leadership contribution to the team was to establish an environment in which the experience of the team could be deployed in the most effective way; ensuring priority is assigned to the highest risks, removing roadblocks and facilitating difficult conversations.Another critical contribution was to establish honest and transparent communication and reporting. All stakeholders received the same daily updates with no hidden agendas. When public pressure increases every day, this transparency about what you are doing is most important to ensure the team is able to stay true to the key objective and to ensure they are given a reasonable amount of time to achieve the necessary results.The leadership skills necessary to manage these situations are not that different from those required for a modern CIO to operate as part of an executive management team.

Often, the CIO is well placed to work across various business units and stakeholders, facilitating enterprise-wide changes that are hard to achieve from within a single business unit or indeed require compromise between various stakeholder agendas. At the same time there is no denying the fact that information and communication are critical components of any agenda for change, be it cultural, structural or process. Thus, to have a thorough understanding of how information informs the organisation's decision making will assist the CIO in this facilitation process.

"Finally, it is important to have good second in command people who can cover for you at short notice. During my full-time secondment, the senior members in my team stepped up very successfully to ensure continuity of the ADHB CIO responsibilities, thus allowing me to focus on the job at hand.

The CIO as business change agent

Peter Finch, CIO > Both sides nowleads a team of 3000 staff across New Zealand and Australia. Following the global financial crisis, he says their clients' world changed "permanently and irreversibly". Gen-i, he says, had to "transform fast" to continue to provide value. One of the recent projects he and his team worked on involved Gen-i's Client Delivery Group. The project covered changes in the service desk, ICT operations and field delivery teams. He discusses the principles that work for him and his team when they work on projects that deliver "transformational changes" to the organisation.

Read more: 'When we get it right, IT is the sewage system of the 21st century'

For CIOs to lead business initiatives, they must position themselves as business change agents, able to leverage both their technology and business understanding to solve business issues. This means creating a compelling vision of what the business will look like after the change, selling that vision to the business and then motivating them to buy into the change and implement it.The key to our success in leading the change initiatives for Client Delivery, has been the ability to meld a good understanding of what technology can enable with a strong knowledge of their business. I found that a compelling and believable vision of the future business state only came from a sound understanding of the current state of their operations and the issues they faced. We could then establish a vision of how technology could solve these issues.We found it key to be grounded and realistic, ensuring that the goal we were striving to achieve was simple and reachable.

I used our market research and external benchmarks to show that the end state wasn't a 'techo's fantasy', but could be achieved. We also found it important to understand the organisation's constraints, its ability to spend and its risk appetite. We were able to tailor our approach to fit these. Engaging change champions from within the Client Delivery business was also key to our success. Having the CIO lead a business change appears to be more palatable to people in the business when this is strongly supported by people they trust and respect.In today's modern, technology-driven organisation, the position of leader of business change is a natural one for the CIO to adopt.

The CIO as chief communicator

Peter Yarrington is CIO of the Bank of New Zealand and was the key spokesperson for the launch of Liquid Encryption Numbers (LEN), a technology developed by the bank that aims to put an end to illegal skimming of cards. He believes the CIO is not just a "deliverer of technology", and explains why being involved in internal and external communications functions is congruent with the role.

Like most innovations, LEN had quite a protracted period between conception through to complete implementation. I came into the CIO role late in the innovation cycle, so my contribution was to make sure that the organisational support for the work was maintained through the final stages. This included participating in the preparation of the communications strategy, which involved engagement with our communications team. I have always been interested in the media and communications space, so really enjoy the opportunity to work with professionals in this space.

Read more: Digital strategy now integral to boardroom discussions in NZ

Once Michael (Turner, Fraud Initiatives Manager at BNZ) came up with his idea, the various stages of the LEN innovation were a team effort. There has been a wide range of people involved in the technical implementation, maintenance and the commercialisation of this product for the BNZ. I think the strength of an organisation like BNZ is its ability to encourage an individual to bring ideas forward and then to put a good team of people around that idea, each of whom brings a particular skill and capability to the mix. If all of the roles blend well, great things can happen. LEN is a really good example of BNZ's capability in this area.Conversely, we also see organisations where the tension between technology and business means that neither is able to innovate -- because the critical skills required from somewhere else in the business is not available. In these types of organisations you see lots of the 'not invented here' syndrome, where technology won't support business innovation and vice versa, mostly because the ideas don't conform to the methodology or organisational design.

In reality, elements like standards and guidelines are often used as an excuse to say 'no' to new ideas. In my early career as a consultant fresh out of a banking line management role, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a number of business innovators who used technology brilliantly. I observed that they embraced the technologists and their team into the business -- even when they didn't really understand the technology. What they created was a willingness to share risks and to do non-conventional things, because there was no real distinction between 'business' and 'IT'. While it was not the only reason for their success, they had the ability to rapidly gather cross-functional teams of people who wanted to be involved in new work.

So one of the messages I took away from that experience was that if you could get technology teams to feel like they are part of the business, and persuade business leaders to trust and truly engage with technology, the probability of business success was definitely increased.This is a theme of what I am hoping to achieve at BNZ. [It is] not just a temporary engagement of business and technology -- I'm after long-term relationships, built on mutual respect and understanding. A big challenge for us is the distance between our core business (Auckland) and our technology centre (Wellington). It is tough enough to build connections when you are in the same city, so being in different parts of the country means we have to really work at business engagement.

I really enjoy working with the BNZ Communications Team, so was pleased when they asked me to participate in the LEN announcement. I have found some technology leaders to be reluctant to engage with the internal and external communications functions -- they seem to think this work is not really relevant to the delivery of technology to the organisation. I think one of the key roles of a CIO or any technology leader is to embrace a quality communications strategy, so this means working with communication professionals. Good communication is a key feature of any good business, so by implication, a good technology function not only does the core things well -- it is also capable of communicating its successes and challenges.So my advice would be to get to know your internal and external media colleagues. Get them to help you with your communications strategy and plan. Share your challenges with them and ask for advice about how best to deliver key messages. Most media teams are incredibly dependent on the quality of their own technology support, so there is usually an opportunity for a mutually beneficial outcome.

Read more: ​Gartner forecasts 5.5 million new ‘Internet of Things’ connections daily in 2016

In my experience, one of the big challenges facing IT leaders is the ability to step outside the technology role as a part of leading the technology function. In banking, we regularly see people work across a range of disciplines as they rise through a business. In fact it is rare that a business leader rises through a narrow discipline -- it is expected that a rounded experience will come from a variety of roles and the ability to see an individual perform when challenged by different business needs. For a technology leader, the path tends to be via a relatively narrow discipline, often in roles where the ability to interact with and understand the broader business is difficult. We often talk about the need to build more business acumen in technology teams and yet I have not seen many organisations really face up to this issue. I think part of the solution is to ensure that our young technology leaders are seen as leaders who can be deployed into the business. We should create a pool of technology-savvy business leaders from whom our future generations of technology leaders can be drawn.The challenge for current technology leaders is to spend enough time in the business when the workload of operating the IT unit is rising. It is tough to make the time to engage and if you are not passionate about the business, it is easy to fall back into being a 'back room' force.So I think we need to break the cycle earlier -- not try to create business-savvy technologists once they are competent technical leaders. We need to start the development of cross-skilled teams earlier and with more intent. This will be hard for CIOs -- to see some of their best people transition into business roles, possibly never to return to the technology space. My sense is that if we don't make this cross-skilling a priority, we will still be asking about how to 'train' CIOs in years to come.

The CIO as next in line for CEO

Murray Wills is managing director and principal consultant at Maxsys, where he acts as a "CIO > Rent-a-CIOor transitional CIO to a number of organisations. He has also assisted with overall organisational change within businesses including, leading overall business strategic planning, financial systems replacement projects, and project management methodology design impacting the whole business. He relates why high-performing CIOs are prime candidates for the top role in the organisation.

Who better than the CIO to lead business initiatives that go beyond ICT? A chief information officer will possess a senior information technology and business background and experience (including strategic planning and risk management in an IT context). They will also have excellent communication and relationship management skills. Ideally they will possess post graduate qualifications in information systems or a combination of business and information technology, and a Computer Society ITCP certification.

Read more: ​Phil Brimacombe: Technologists to business leaders

The CIO will have a thorough understanding of the business they are in, will have built relationships with each area, and will have led IT strategy formation which fully enables the overall business plan. They will have probably worked in different business areas also at some stage in their career. They will have learnt to go beyond the technical and demonstrate overall organisational strategic thinking, adding huge value to the business if done well.The high performing and qualified CIO in my view is eminently more suitable to be the next CEO than some other candidates that do not have the wide ranging business, strategic, IT and end-to-end business understanding.

As a virtual CIO, I need to be able to understand multiple businesses and where they are at in terms of delivering on a business plan that maximises shareholder or government value quickly. Building up trust and credibility with each area of the business quickly is essential. Without wide ranging experience and qualifications this is difficult to do. Relationship and communications skills are also vital. A CIO, virtual or otherwise without an IT background, is quickly rejected by IT staff, and without a business background is quickly rejected by the business overall. As more and more CEOs and boards truly embrace their responsibility for IT governance, the CIO will be presented with challenges to prove they 'have the right stuff' -- and fantastic opportunities to lead the business.

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Tags IT managementCIO rolechange managementcareerHealthcaredigitalBusiness ContinuitydisruptionMurray Willscrisis managementpeter finchvirtual ciojohan vendrigPeter Yarrington

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