The new balance

The new balance

After many years as a CIO or IT manager, Henrietta Hall has moved into consultancy. She lists the new skills and attitudes needed for those who wish to take on this career path.

Henrietta Hall is still very much in ICT, but she has “morphed”, she says, from a full-time CIO-equivalent position with the Christchurch Press and subsequently Independent Newspapers, to working with a number of clients on shorter-term assignments, with a preference for not-for-profit organisations and the creative sector. She has been in consultancy mode for the past “nine or 10 years”.

In April this year she changed again, moving from Wellington back to Christchurch, where she grew up, to be with family in trying times, post-earthquake.

“Until that point I was a consultant with the Film Commission and I was doing work with Barnardos, Red Cross and the Royal Society. I’m continuing to work with Barnardos; some project directing and mentoring around two big system acquisition projects and some similar sort of work with Red Cross.”

Though that’s not a full-time workload at present, she is adamant she’s not even semi-retired yet. It’s just the normal swings and roundabouts of a consultant’s work, she says.

“It’s important for me to work for organisations that are doing things that I’m interested in. That’s why I really loved working at the Press,” she says “That was my first real experience of working in an organisation where the people are passionate about what they do; and that makes it so much more satisfying. And I like to be involved where things are really happening rather than too far removed from the things that the organisation is there to do.”

In her new line of work, she has to be a little more flexible and to get up to speed fairly quickly with each new client’s business and way of operating.

“I really enjoy that sort of discovery and finding out new things,” she says. “More often than not, my entry into a new organisation has been to develop their ICT strategic plan. That’s a wonderful way of getting in and finding out what’s going on and how things work.”

And there are benefits to coming in from the outside. “You have the luxury of not having to get involved in the politics - though you have to be mindful of that, of course” and looking from a strategic point of view, she can be less concerned with the day-to-day minutiae of the business operation. “So you’re able to be more efficient, because you’re not having to multitask in the same way that an incumbent has to.”

Sometimes the strategic plan will be the whole content of the job, Hall says, but more often her help will also be sought with the ICT initiatives that come out of that.

Some of her clients will have enough capability internally to pursue those initiatives or they might hire a CIO. “But quite often it’ll involve buying new systems and I get involved — either in a mentoring role in helping them with systems and processes and making sure that it’s done soundly, wisely and carefully. Sometimes I’ll get more actively involved in working on that process with them directly.

“When I’m working with an organisation I always think in terms of ‘we’ rather than me and them,” she says. “I consider myself part of the organisation” but as a temporary member of staff there is “pressure to be more efficient, more effective and just get quickly to the heart of things”.

Multitasking skills are necessary, naturally, but she limits this by not working for more than three clients at the same time.

As for other new skills: “I had to learn to write in plain English so the people who read the reports can understand; so that they’re not gobbledegook and I had to learn to do that more quickly.

“I wish I’d had a journalistic background, actually, the skill of just being able to pull things together and present them in a way that’s understandable by people who don’t have an IT background.”

Was that not so relevant when she was a permanent CIO or IT manager? “It should have been. I tried to do that when I was a permanent CIO, but I was less inclined to document things and more inclined to wander around talking. I think if I went back to that, I’d do things differently.”

A varied career is a continual process of learning new approaches and techniques, she says.

If she had her time as CIO again, what would else she do differently? “I’d be more strategic. More mindful of the things that really needed to be dealt with.” But she thinks she “did okay” on that front.

“I’d possibly use consultants more; I never did. I might have learnt some good things from them.

“And I’d probably change jobs more often,” she says. “It’s especially interesting coming from Christchurch to Wellington. In Christchurch, if I saw someone’s CV that had three years here, two years there, I would have been very reluctant to even interview them; I’d have seen it as a negative — and it’s not at all.”

What pointers would she have for new CIOs? She’d emphasise the value of personal networking, she says. “There are two groups I was involved with in Wellington; the small-government-agency CIO forum and the not-for-profit CIO forum. In both of those we met monthly to share information and we had presentations.

“In both groups, people might have particular questions they wanted to ask; there was a raft of different things that people got out of it. Both groups had a real mix of people who’d been around for a long time and people who were very new and also quite a mix of range of responsibilities; there were some very little organisations and some much bigger ones.

“I think those sort of forums are a really good place to pick the brains of people who have ‘been there and done that’ or who have similar current issues to yours.”

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