The new leadership portfolio

The new leadership portfolio

Speakers at the CIO Summit highlight the steps to deliver business value in an era of recovery, massive technology changes and shifting demands on CIOs.

International keynote speaker Peter Wilton sets the tone on the first day of the CIO Summit. The senior lecturer at the Haas School of Business, University of California in Berkeley calls on CIOs to challenge their assumptions, determine their core competencies, and build a balanced portfolio of innovation. “Core competencies don’t live forever,” he says. “The goal is to make you [the ICT team] unique and relevant in the eyes of the stakeholders.”

Strong support of stakeholders is a critical element of an organisation’s and a business unit’s success and for that it is necessary to give those stakeholders a clear picture of where the organisation is going, says Wilton. To gain this support, it is not enough to establish a position of doing better than the competition, the strategy should establish a unique point of difference; something rivals in the market have not thought of doing.

To get an idea of your organisation’s current distinctive competencies and the clarity with which they are conveyed to you stakeholders, round up 10 of them and ask each which three words describe your organisation, Wilton advises. Ideally, he says, they should all come up with the same three words.

The organisation can choose to form its strategy in a top-down way, letting the stakeholders dictate it, or in a bottom-up fashion, by finding new ways of using the resources and skills already in the organisation, Wilton says.

In practice, most organisations will adopt a combination of the two approaches; certainly it would be unwise to neglect existing assets. But at least 30 to 40 percent of an organisation’s efforts should be put into disruptive strategies and strategies aimed at uniqueness rather than just “best-in-class” status.

A disruptive strategy is bound to be loss-making in the first phase of its execution, but the initial flat-spot is made up by a faster growth curve once the new direction becomes established.

Moving completely outside the area of technology, Wilton cites the case of Grey Goose vodka — one of those images that is alluded to by other speakers for the rest of the conference and sticks firmly in delegates’ minds.

Because it has the impurities filtered out more thoroughly than its competitors, Grey Goose is essentially pure alcohol, which means no hangover. That’s unique, says Wilton, and for a businessperson who has to socialise in the evening and give a presentation the next morning, it’s very relevant. That, he says, is why Grey Goose can sell for four times the price of rival vodkas.

The change agent

Many organisations adopt a wait-and-see attitude to using new communication technologies in their business, says Gabrielle Davies, who has wide experience consulting to private organisations snd the Australia’s Federal government. This is not tenable in the long-term, she says, “simply because your users are going to be accessing those technologies through the [government-assisted] high-speed networks and they’re going to be expecting more of you and to do more with you.”

This implies some measure of reframing in the organisation, of the kind Wilton talks about. Such change can be very difficult, she says, particularly in organisations with complex governance structures, where it is important to convince the right person or the right committee.

Vendors can be surprisingly helpful in helping push a new idea, Davies says. She believes, though, the tier two vendors are more worth engaging, because tier 1 vendors are careful of their established place with the organisation.

Persuading other departments or government agencies of the value of a subset of the project to them can be a way of overcoming the budget problems. Under general economic pressure, shared services within government are an important part of the future, she says.

“Chatting” to users, with the emphasis on listening, can be more useful than holding formal workshops, she says.

She says it is likewise essential to get “on the radar” of the telcos and device manufacturers that may have a large influence on the direction of telecommunications innovations

Culture shift

IDC consultant Vernon Turner considers the way businesses will transform, from top-down command and control to a more social and collaborative style with power devolving down the organisation and out to the customers.

Another major influence is the “consumerisation” of enterprise ICT; its extension to — or invasion by — applications designed or bought in by individual staff, external providers such as Google that are different from traditional vendors, and customers.

There will be many more transactions performed from a swarm of end devices to an ever huger population of real and virtual servers and every one of these transactions will have to have assured standards of probity and protection for provider and consumer. This argues a larger measure of software control of such factors, because manual intervention will no longer be possible. This will provide another driver towards the cloud, outsourcing the billing, metering, service standards and other day-to-day management matters to professionals with the experience and the infrastructure to do it.

Transactions with commercial value are proceeding via Twitter (9 percent of organisations are already using Twitter in this way, according to IDC) and extreme care is called for. “Just because two people have a conversation about a deal may or may not stand up before the law as a binding contract”. Exposure of your business on such public channels has the potential to damage your brand.

To run such complex businesses efficiently with a population of ICT staff that increases gradually if at all is a challenge, says Turner. He sees one answer in an increasing use of business intelligence and business analytics to signal quickly when things may be running off-track. He cited a system run by Harrah’s casinos to identify people who are losing heavily and intervene to persuade them to take a break. This might seem counterproductive to the business, but it’s about preserving business for the long term.

In prime health

Phil Brimacombe takes up the “shared services” theme with the practical example of healthAlliance, where he is CIO, which is the collaborative venture between Waitemata and Counties-Manukau district health boards.

HealthAlliance provides a wide range of IT services for the two boards, embracing finance, ERP, procurement, supply chain organisation, payroll and information services. “It’s a mixture of operations, advisory services and strategic services, particularly in IS,” Brimacombe says. These services are regulated by service-level agreements, assisted by meetings and conversations with the key stakeholders. This is significantly different from an ordinary commercial contract with an external outsourcer, he says. HealthAlliance also provides hosting for Taranaki, Auckland and Northland DHBs.

The organisation has a board of directors with 50/50 representation from Waitemata and Counties Manukau. It is both an incorporated company and a crown-owned entity.

For information services, Counties Manukau has an IS governance group that sets strategy and monitors the execution, and a health information committee that consults with clinicians to discuss how IS can support. Waitemata has a similar structure.

A key element of shared services, Brimacombe says, is “to be very clear on your reasons and your drivers for changing”.

“For example, does it make savings, does it simplify process, does it increase quality, reduce risk [or] give greater purchasing power?”

HealthAlliance’s major motivation was savings and these have been achieved. “We have saved our owner DHBs $20 million operational cost per year, that’s the value of shared services.” Capital savings on procurement can also be clearly shown.

A new IS service desk has been put in place with the emphasis on giving users more information online and enabling them to log and track their own service requests. “We’ve recently gone live with our IS online self-help portal — a single front door to IS services; customers can log a web request to fix a fault or a request for services. They can order equipment like PCs, laptops and phones from an online catalogue log software requests [and requests to] relocate office IT.”

There are challenges, Brimacombe admits. Getting agreement can be hard with one board, it’s more difficult with two or more, he says. Maintaining relationships means a lot of talking with stakeholders “and sometimes it’s difficult to keep everyone informed. “Communicate early — preferably not just after something’s gone wrong,” he says. Accountabilities should be delineated rigorously and clearly and consistently communicated.

Open season

Liz Gosling, director of ICT services for AUT University, tackles the adoption of open-source software in the corporation. She acknowledges her view has an individual slant, because AUT is not a corporation. Open source “has its roots deep in academia” and the associated tradition of collaboration rather than competition, she acknowledges.

“Academic institutions are, moreover, under budget constraint,” she says and therefore “open source software is an attraction simply on the cost front.”

The rise of open source has driven a change to the model of software production even in the commercial sector, Gosling suggests. Under the old model, the cost of developing software was recouped by selling it and making further charges for upgrades and customisation. The source-code is necessarily protected.

Since open source software is distributed “free or very cheaply” open source companies must make money by customising, enhancement, consultancy and support. Open source is, however, extensively used in combination with more conventionally distributed code.

Gosling says AUT uses open source content and database management and has had positive experiences. It is about to delve into open-source BI.

In AUT’s experience, open source is well suited to infrastructure. Linux, mySQL and Apache server management software is well established in the corporation. Limited success has been reached in the business field with, for example, Jaspersoft.

Among the advantages of open source, the lower cost appears attractive but cost should be evaluated carefully over the longer term, says Gosling. Users avoid vendor lock-in and a lower risk of being “stranded” by a vendor ceasing support. Support comes from a broad-based community and bugs are usually fixed promptly.

The best time and place for a CIO to consider adopting open source is in a greenfields development, where there is no legacy system in place, or when the current system is nearing the end of its life, says Gosling.

Collaborate and innovate

As the number of people in an organisation increases, the number of connections among them mushrooms and becomes very difficult to manage, says Bohdan Szymanik, CTO of Kiwibank.

Kiwibank is beginning to face growth challenges of this kind, with its information infrastructure mirroring growth in staff numbers. Being a larger operation “means that the effort of prioritising and deciding what we do has become much, much greater”, he says.

He demonstrates the implementation of a wide-ranging suite of tools for knowledge management and networking, extensively based on Microsoft’s SharePoint. This has vastly increased the utility of the company’s original intranet. Application range from AskMe, a knowledge base of how to do tasks associated with the bank’s operation, through workflow tracking to collaborative tools.

Kiwibank didn’t have enough expertise in-house to complete the whole project, so this was a combined effort with external resources. “It doesn’t matter how you approach it, to do this you need information and you need intelligent analysis supporting decision making. Some might call it strategy— but in my opinion a culture of constant, iterative smart decision making beats strategy any day,” he says.

Szymanik argues against “the conventional wisdom” which has business staff build a model of the organisation’s operations and hand it over to the IT department for implementation and deployment.

“This is the way it has been done for years and it’s wrong,” he says. “The truth lies in the datacentre. Models should sit with IT professionals.”

The business developers can look at the model, make necessary changes and submit the updated model back to the IT professional.

Weighing costs and benefits

The reaction by governments to the governance and management failings that sparked the financial crisis has brought a set of new controls and demands for demonstrable compliance. This is where stress goes on IT functionality, says David Long, head of technology at NZ Funds.

Long says the information typically required is beyond the capability of a small-scale financial advisor, so NZ Funds has produced an “end-to-end solution starting from the advice tendered through reporting all the way to the investments”.

This was developed jointly with a chain of advisors, under extreme time pressure. The strategy chosen was to use functionality in the advisor’s existing software that had been ignored. “One of the packages we had provided to do the financial modelling and plan-writing had a CRM built in, but they hadn’t been using it because they had their own CRM.”

Data that duplicated and overlapped reference to the same clients had to be rationalised and transformed and a mechanism had to be put in place for distributing the software nationwide; then the advisors had to be trained to use it all.

“We didn’t have the necessary expertise” and if the company had tried to do it themselves, they would have been training their own staff at the same time as developing the software, so the task was outsourced to OneNet,” he explains.

“They set up a Citrix-based environment, came up with some ideas we hadn’t thought of, we did the bits where we could supply the expertise.” After seven months of development, the first office was migrated and the rest were transferred and their staff trained over the succeeding three-months to the end of 2007.

The financial crisis intervened and the next phase, of centralising the software at NZ Funds, didn’t proceed until late last year. When all costs, direct and indirect were taken into account, including training the company’s engineers, it was considered more economical to outsource the whole development.

The first six months of this year that would have been consumed with bringing the system in-house, were used productively to spread it to a wider network of advisors and to incorporate more functionality, says Long.

Giving back

“What is IT as an industry doing to support a better quality of life in New Zealand?” asks Peter McDowall, CIO for St John New Zealand. Part of the aim of his presentation was to elicit support by way of ICT expertise for St John’s operations, centred on its ambulance service. St John, he explains, has been changing its shape to collaborate with DHBs and community nurses to support more care at home for an expanding population of clients, rather than transfer to hospital.

From an ICT perspective this means “integrating seamlessly” with other healthcare providers and sharing data with them in real time. St John is trying to eliminate the paper from its operation and devise a record that follows the patient through the health events of their life wherever they are. That has led to a plan to use software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service — a cloud solution. CRM with is the core and provoked much discussion in the organisation around security of sensitive information on a server sited in a US jurisdiction with different laws, including the Patriot Act which allows extensive government access to records.

Having talked it through, St John decided to go ahead and to use Texas-based Pervasive Software to integrate its cloud and on-premises applications. The emphasis is on packaged applications which require configuration, not coding.

Functionality was deployed progressively in four two-month windows, three of which were complete at the time of the CIO Summit and the third on schedule, McDowall says.

Crisis begets innovation

“We have technological presbyopia [long-sightedness],” says Andre Mendes, CIO/CTO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. “We overestimate what technology will do for us in the next two years, because both sellers and buyers exaggerate; but underestimate what it will be able to do in the next decade,” says Mendes, citing attitudes to PCs and the internet in the 1990s.

Progress of technology, like that of life, is a struggle for survival, he says. But as with life we emerge from adverse circumstances with a new drive to progress. The commercial internet emerged from the recessionary period of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and new energy will follow the most recent recession, he says.

With such “double exponential” rates of progress “what’s a CIO to do?” he asked.

We have to maintain what we have as well as exploring new technologies — a move that will be enforced by competition, we cannot stand still.

The evident solution is to “abstract” the technology — to work with a formal and comparatively straightforward interface and leave the detail of its operation to experts who can understand it. Virtualisation and cloud computing are obvious examples.

With so much more data, searching and sorting will have to become a much more effective and efficient process, he says. There are signs of this beginning to happen and the “semantic web” will rise as a matter of necessity.

In the near future culture, business and technology will become tightly intertwined and virtually indistinguishable, he says, the CIO as a job title may cease to exist, with CIOs becoming chief operating officers or even CEOs.

Bucket half full

Consultant Peter Dower, IDC researcher Rosalie Nelson and technology-specialist lawyer Michael Wigley give comprehensive and, some of the audience suggested, rather conflicting assessments of the current state of telecommunications and the likelihood of success of fibre-driven innovations such as Telecom’s cabinetisation programme and the government-subsidised ultra-fast broadband and rural broadband initiatives.

With the operational separation of Telecom and possible further separation of its Chorus arm, and the structure of the UFB project with open access to fibre as a principle, we have totally changed the shape of the telecommunication industry in New Zealand from vertically integrated to an industry that exists substantially in horizontal layers, Nelson says.

UFB has been slow to start, but already, international measures show a noticeable increase in New Zealand bandwidth, she says. New Zealand and Australia are seen as significant “test beds” for telecommunications reform internationally.

The good news for CIOs is improved capability and coverage, she says. Many new service providers of various kinds will gain access to the open fibre. The market will move from differentiating on network ownership to competing on services. This will produce new services and, rightly handled, increased productivity for industry and commerce generally.

Wigley is less optimistic. “It’s [UFB] a classic example of an ICT project that’s going badly.” Not a lot of thinking has gone into it, certainly not from government’s side, he says. Yet the impact of UFB on our economy will be massive, “you only have to look at what’s happening to Telecom to see that.”

The original intention to tender for provision of Layer 1 services (dark fibre) has already changed to requesting Layer 2 (lit fibre) “That’s an entirely different concept; it’s massively complex and the vendors are given four weeks to respond. It’s ridiculous and an extraordinary waste of taxpayers’ money,” Wigley says.

A user company may buy precipitately into what seems like a good fibre-access deal, then subsequently be presented with something better; issues of lock-in and contract provisions will become essential to the ability to change, he says. It may be a better proposition for a bank, for example, to club in with the other banks and become an ISP or wholesaler. That will oblige it to consider regulatory matters.

A strategic approach to vendors can create positives for customer and vendor, he suggests. Peter Dower outlines how his consultancy had saved a large ANZ company $14 million of its $85 million annual operational ICT budget, by going carefully through its current practice eliminating overlap, duplication and other inefficiencies. Focus on your key suppliers and plan negotiations, with continual input from and consultation with your stakeholders, he advises.

Top of mind: Security

Alastair Grigg, chief operating officer and CIO of Xero, considered data privacy and security in the cloud.

Xero prospects ask about security, he says, “and I ask, ‘where is your data now’? They often point to the laptop under their arm. Then I tell then how many of those laptops go missing?”

Security is a prime consideration for Xero, says Grigg, who was Air New Zealand CIO prior to moving to Xero. He cites the case of software firm Sage that ventured into a cloud implementation and had to withdraw the program and close the website when it was widely attacked for security failings. A lot of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications concentrate on just the functional code and give scant attention to security, Grigg says.

There is a technology side and a “softer side” to ensuring any SAS providers that CIOs contemplate using have given adequate attention to protecting the client company’s data, Grigg says. “Certainly there should be a clear transparent position stated on customer security and privacy”.

Quantifiable ROI

Geoff Calhoun, director of IT for US life insurance broker Accuquote, relates how his company had taken paper and the attendant delays and inefficiencies out of its system, in order to achieve a greater return on investment.

Life insurance is a paper-based industry, he says. After someone applies for life insurance, a complex series of checks and approvals must follow before a decision is made whether to accept the application.

In pushing to improve their processes, AccuQuote worked with Interactive Intelligence and its Customer Interaction Centre (CIC) software. The company was looking for a partner that would do genuine re-engineering, not simply add ICT power to an inefficient set of business processes, says Calhoun.

A staff member processing applications would typically spend 20 percent of their day looking for paper files, he says. Working from home was very difficult; workers could do most interactions by email, but had to mail the final document back to someone in the office so they could print it out and get it signed.

Now everything, including the signature can be managed electronically, says Calhoun. Overall, he says, there had been a 33 percent improvement in productivity with additional savings in materials.

Proactive alignment

Tanya Harris, CIO and head of the Knowledge Services Group, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, says it is important to work in partnership with the rest of the organisation. “I would like IT to be viewed as trusted advisors, involved early in the conversation rather than be seen as IT service providers after a decision is made. We have to be more engaged and extend our business knowledge,” says Harris during the panel discussion on It and business alignment. “It is essential IT take a strategic overview of the organisation, so we know where we can make a contribution.

Julia Raue, says the ICT team at Air New Zealand is definitely seen as a “strategic enabler”.

“People understand the value of relationships with IT,” says the Air New Zealand CIO. “We have an amazing pool of talent and if they are introduced early enough to a business problem, they can use technology to solve it.”

Alma Hong, CIO of the New Zealand Fire Service, says “supporting and leading the business are not mutually exclusive. They are more like vicious interrelated cycle. We have to work on both.”

Hong explains the Fire Service has “unique” characteristics. There are 10,000 people in the organisation, of which 7000 are volunteers who are not paid but have a lot of passion and support to offer service to the community. They access IT systems differently.

Hong says the organisation tends to adopt emerging technology like cloud computing, Google apps and social networking technologies in addition to the conventional IT environment, and also has strong requirements on telecommunications. Interagency operability with agencies like the ambulance service and the police adds another dimension to our IT environment, she says.

Hong outlines three key strategies for CIOs on working across the organisation. First is the strategic positioning of ICT. Make sure we have linkages to those strategic objectives, she says, IT is part of the business, it is not a separate environment. Second is to have active engagement with the CEO and business sponsors. She says, however, this is easier says than done. “You expect doors to be closed. You knock, you keep knocking to make sure people will talk to you whether they are IT ideas or not, and most business objectives have IT components…. Hopefully you don’t need to get to the next step - break the door down but that is necessary sometimes.”

The third, she says, is to “exercise the true role of the chief information officer”. The CIO, she says, has to look across all different areas of the organisation, and identify duplications and commonalities. Thus, she says, you are “turning information to intelligence”.

Kevin Drinkwater, CIO of Mainfreight, says it is important for IT to have a “tight integration” with the other parts of the business. Drinkwater says he assigns IT people to work from time to time in other parts of the organisation. He says many of the best ideas Mainfreight has instituted came from people doing front line jobs.

Drinkwater says it is also important for CIOs to be aware of what is happening outside one’s industry, and to increase conversations with CIO colleagues. “We often get our best ideas from other industries,” he says. “We never follow the competition but we are interested in getting good ideas from other industries.”

The mobile challenge

A panel discussion underscores the challenges faced by CIOs and their teams with staff using a range of mobile devices. “You have got to have a strategy around mobile management,” says Robin Johansen, CIO of Beca Group. “The capabilities change so fast, you have to refresh the strategy at least once per annum.”

There is an extraordinary proliferation of devices people want to bring to work, says Johansen. “This is way beyond the mobile device. They also bring their own laptops or buy their own laptops and attach it to the network.”

At the same time, enterprises can tap on several uses for the mobile devices, says Johansen. The Kindle, for instance, and can bring data wirelessly to readers and users, can be used to disseminate training materials. People can be connected when there is an emergency or a natural disaster. Productivity is impacted as people can work in airport lounges or from home. “We have just seen the front end of it, we can not ignore it.”

Hamish Grant, CIO of EziBuy, says CIOs need to see how devices are actually coming together. More people will be working from a smart phone device. Education is a way forward, he says. People want to use their devices, so he advises, “Adapt your thinking.”

“The bottom line, don’t put your head in the sand,” says Grant. “Mobility is going to be here, and going to be bigger and bigger. Embrace it or it is going to bite you.”

Miles Fordyce, associate director – strategy, planning and customer relations, IT Services at the University of Auckland, calls it the “me-ability”.

He says the University of Auckland has 40,000 students with mobile devices. They also have a diverse workforce based in South Island all the way to the Auckland CBD. It is about understanding how to merge the combination of people’s social and professional lives together in a single device to do something for themselves and the workplace, says Fordyce.

What CEOs want

Ross Pearce, organisation and people practice leader, IBM New Zealand continues on the theme of leadership in a shifting environment. IBM has just completed the bi-annual CEO survey which focused on the need to capitalise on complexity and managing change.

“Today’s complexity foreshadows an even more complex future,” says Pearce. Sixty percent of the chief executives in the survey say they face high or very high levels of complexity, and only half says they are prepare to handle complexity.

The implications for CIOs provide additional insight into how they can better support their CEOs while improving the effectiveness of their own roles. CIOs, he says, can help organisations keep ahead of the game with a range of tools and techniques that will enhance decision making and collaboration with customers and stakeholders.

These include business analytics to find out what customers need. CIOs need to craft data into actionable information, explore new channels and how much can be done online with some of the transactions.

“Customer-centric CEOs will need customer-centric CIOs to fulfil their agendas,” says Pearce. A good way to start is to build a customer centric IT organisation. Make sure you have people who deliver great service, enable customer interaction and collaboration.

Paul Mitchener, HP account general manager for New Zealand government, quotes an IDC report stating that for today’s organisations, 70 to 80 percent of the IT budget is for keeping the lights on. “How does a CIO get out of the day to day noise of keeping stuff running and deliver value to the business?”

He says that HP faced the same situation in 2005, when chief executive Mark Hurd asked CIO Randy Mott to turn HP into “a showcase of innovation”. The goal was to halve the cost of IT in three-and-a-half years.

Mott refused to be deflected by the time frame, says Mitchener. He had executive support and went on to do the job. Today, he says, HP’s converged infrastructure meant the company is spending 2 percent of revenue on IT operations. He says Mott is not spending 70 percent of his time keeping the lights on, but “evangelising” to CIOs across the globe about HP’s own ‘IT transformation’ project.

People power

Businesses face an ageing workforce with insufficient energetic young people to replace those retiring and an impetus for staff to move from one company to another as the only way of getting a pay-rise during a salary freeze. It will therefore be ever more important to have a strategy to attract and retain the best staff, says Paul Wood of research company Opra.

The most recent BNZ business confidence survey suggests 64 percent of employees are considering changing their organisation in the next year. And it won’t be the “dead wood” that moves on, Wood says, the most talented and valuable staff will be the most mobile.

An organisation must therefore project its brand — what it offers its employees and the distinctive features that make it a good place to work, he says.

As well as clearly defining what responsibilities are involved in each individual role, organisations must develop a clear understanding of what their cultures and values are – through surveys among their workforce, not an idealised top-down description, Wood says. He cites Ernst & Young as a company that uses IT well, with web search for recruits and assessment of their qualities - including evidence from their social networking activities – interview by videoconference and online psychometric assessment of candidates. This lowers recruitment cost.

Organisations that use modern technology in their operations to increase workplace and workforce flexibility are more likely to be the employers of choice, Wood says. Positive management is crucial to employee retention and satisfaction, Wood argues. “It’s an old adage that people join organisations and leave managers.”

Know thy customer

In the future there will be three kinds of company, says SkyCity CIO Mike Clarke: “The lucky ones, the ones’ that know their customers’, and the ones that have gone out of business.” Knowing your customer, he says, will be critical in the near future in a way it may not be today.

Knowing the customer better is a strategic initiative and like many such moves, involves people, process and technology. The approach for each company is individual; “There is no cookie-cutter; one size does not fit all,” Clarke says.

“Customer intimacy” is a term that has been overworked and abused, says Clarke, often by those seeking to sell a unified communications system, CRM or similar product; but done with thought, it can be a differentiator and can help retain customers.

Knowing the customer can mean knowing them by name when they return – the classic loyalty-card model — or recognising them by their behaviour, which is a much harder proposition from an IT point of view, he says. SkyCity does both. In either case the identity or behaviour information needs to be collected at the point of sale and referred to a CRM or loyalty system — “that may be the same system or it may be two,” he says.

You then need a data warehouse or datamart with predictive analytics to tell “if you’ve done this, you are likely to want to do that next”. It takes time to fit those elements together and to tune the analytics, he says.

Hamish Grant of Ezibuy meanwhile, says the secret of the company’s success is “absolute focus on the customer, whether internal or external”. EziBuy, he explains, sells through multiple channels; it owns women’s wear company Max Fashions and Profile, provider of uniforms to NZ Post, ASB bank and BP staff among others.

IT is central to any company’s operation, Grant says. “We know the business; we know the customer, we are the link between all the pieces.

“As CIOs, one of our major roles has to be getting our departments to be more integrated with the business; to talk to the business and our customers - and to listen.”

You can outsource service, networks or helpdesk, but the one thing that should not be outsourced is the IT team’s knowledge of the business and customers, Grant says.

The first rule is to listen and learn — let the customer speak and don’t assume you know the answer, he says.

Make IT customer-facing, Grant advises, send staff out to work with the business units so they listen and understand the challenges. Be nosy, he admonishes. “Encourage and empower all departments to use data; data-driven answers are quantifiable.” Help the businesses find the data to solve their problems.

“Your people are your best resource. They know your business; look after them. Last is the old KISS principle — keep it simple, and short.”

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