Campbell Such says becoming CIO was not a specific goal for him when he left university with an engineering degree. It was the result of taking on a series of opportunities locally and offshore, which led to his current role as general manager IT at Bidvest New Zealand.
"But having done it, I love it," says Such who has been with the food supply company for nearly two-and-a-half years.
"For me, the key is not the technology per se. It is how you can use technology to help the business achieve its goal. That is the essence of what I love about my role. It is working with customers, working with our internal teams building those relationships, and then helping business to grow through the use of technology."
The company is a wholesale distributor for the food service and hospitality industry, being part of an international group with operations in Australia, the UK, South Africa, Europe, Singapore and China. Customers include hotels, cafes, restaurants and aged-care facilities. "We have more than 11,000 customers in New Zealand and close to 30,000 product lines.
"The company has grown significantly in the past 10 years and continues to do so."We have gone from small to medium to large [enterprise], and we need to keep our IT systems ahead of the business requirements. The business is prepared to invest for the future. Where I am at the moment, is continuing to build the foundation to grow the business on. That is where I will be over the next two to five years, working with the business to continue growth."
He and his team are in the midst of an infrastructure and applications refresh to ensure their systems can support this growth. He compares it with changing the foundation of a house that has become too small for the occupants. "We are lifting it out, pulling out the foundations, replacing the foundations and the plumbing and the wiring, and then putting it back down hopefully without affecting the business too much. We are building a platform from where we will build a 10-storey building as the business grows."
"We can't run the business without technology," says Such, who cites the company processes some 180,000 invoices a month alone. "We know that going forward, technology is going to be just a bigger and bigger part of the business. But I want to isolate the techie technology from the people that need to be able to use it. They should just be able to use it [to do their jobs].""We are seriously thinking about what we need to take on board in our systems. The company is prepared to invest to provide the environment to support our customers' requirements.
"In conjunction with the building of the infrastructure, you must keep an eye on technology that will help the business," he says. "What are the opportunities and what are the potentials of the technologies. And of the systems we can use to help to continue to grow the business?"What he finds advantageous is support from the top for these initiatives.
"There is a willingness and understanding of technology in our business right at the highest level."Global and local supportBeing part of an international business has given him opportunities to talk with his counterparts in other areas of the globe, particularly in Australia. "Their business is four times bigger than ours."He says weathering the recession was a challenge, but that the business had the resilience and the strength to grow through it.
He finds having a "fantastic, very entrepreneurial team" in the support area of the business and the branches a big help. He says Bidvest has grown in New Zealand, but still retains a "small business heart".
"We are not a corporate structure with command and control." For instance, there is no headquarters; instead there is a central support office with a network of distribution centres (DC) around the country. Each distribution centre is a stand-alone profit centre. "The DC general managers are empowered to do what they need to do to operate the business successfully in their region."The IT team is also set up to support this type of operation. Such says the IT operates from the central office. It is an internal team of five with outsourced support around software development and infrastructure.
"We run an internal help desk," he says. "But if we need more help or more resources, we work with our outsourcers."He holds regular meetings with the other senior executives. "Each month, we hold an IT steering group meeting. I meet with the managing director and one of the senior execs to review what is going on, what their priorities are and to make sure I am working on the right things. That is the chance to understand more about what we need to do and how we need to do it, and how we can positively impact the business."He is encouraging the other business units to discuss with IT what is going on in their departments.
"We are not looking for control, it is more around supporting people."A key success factor for him is communicating what IT is doing with the rest of the Bidvest staff. His team produces a newsletter every two months with online and print versions that detail what projects they are working on. He finds this to be a very useful process. "It helps me to better communicate with the business and to do that on an ongoing basis.
Communication is really important. Trying to find the best way to communicate with the business in what we are doing and the value that we can add is something that I have a particular focus on."
He says one thing that has never changed in the industry is this: "IT is there to support the business and do what it needs to do to achieve this [growth]."If at all, the shift is around the role of the CIO, who has gone beyond being seen as a technology leader.
"The CIO is now engaged with the rest of the business, [and is] more around the support of revenue generation."I see IT as such a key part of the business. We could not run our business without it. I see my role becoming the consultative adviser and to become part of the teams across the business, when they are doing their planning and decision-making.
"We have seen IT leaders move into general management roles or senior roles in business," he says. "I see the role more as becoming closer and closer to the decision-making and strategy process."In the past two years, his focus has been on the internal systems and building the platform to grow the business.
But in the next 12 to 18 months, Such says he is looking at other things for the business to grow.At the time of the interview, Bidvest has just issued iPads to eight members of the executive team as part of a pilot project. The initiative came from Bidvest managing director Nigel Boswell. For Such, the pilot is part of preparing for the expected rise in user demand and requirements for mobile tools. Bidvest has an online ordering system where 40 percent of its business is transacted. That is a huge amount of business, he says, as he estimates that with a turnover of more than $500 million in a year, this means more than $200 million goes though the online ordering system.A chef finishes for the day, gets online at 2 am and sees what he wants to order. They have the ability to create menus online and to have the cost of those worked out and to place orders for automatic delivery the next day.
"It has become hugely important for our customers and it has been a fantastic benefit for us in terms of our own operational ability to do things more quickly," he says.The online ordering system, with its "incredibly business-focused applications", has been a success for the company having been running for around seven years. But he says the company continues to develop it, citing an ongoing project to develop an application that will run on the iPhone and iPad.He says there are two broad sets of people who will be impacted by wireless -- the next generation of chefs who use these devices and who will expect to have that stuff available to them to do things.
Then, there are also the people they want to attract as employees. "We need to consider how we will be able to provide the tools and the environment for them to be attracted to us as a business, and to grow our customer base and bring on good employees."
When opportunity knocks
Such is the first CIO [GM IT] for Bidvest New Zealand. He joined the company from Healtheries New Zealand, which produces health and food supplements for the retail sector. His first exposure to IT was in a technical marketing role with Data General (now part of EMC). He worked for a small business and then went back to IT when he ran a digital imaging bureau, before taking on the role of systems manager with Jenkins Group.
Through contacts made in this role, he was offered the role of director of IT for Sinclair Systems International based in California.His three-year stint at Sinclair gave him the unique chance to lead teams based in the US and the UK, simultaneously. For nearly five months, he commuted back and forth between the offices in Fresno, California, and the head office in Norwich, England.
"It gave me a chance to get out of New Zealand and get more of a global perspective," says Such."That was an interesting take on different cultures, different ways of doing business," he adds "It was a great opportunity for me to broaden some skills and understand how different people can be in different cultures.""The American and British cultures are quite different," he says. "The MD of Sinclair used to say it was two countries divided by the same language."Such came back to New Zealand to work as general manager for Productivity Software, running the development arm of the software vendor that specialised in ERP systems for the printing industry.
A little known insight in his career path, which this writer gleaned during a background research, is some part-time work Such did at university as a model. Queried about this career derivation, Such says the work came about when his sister, who was doing a modelling course at that time, told him they were looking for male models.
"I was in my early 20s and so I went along," says Such. "They took some photos and I got work out of it for probably a couple of years."He recalls doing a television advertisement for a chocolate bar. "It was interesting and it was fun."
"It was just a short-term thing," he says, with a laugh. "And they never called me from the Ford modelling agency in New York."
"IT management -- it is much more fun."
Send contributions to 'CIO Upfront' to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap
Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.