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Ashley Mudford, the CIO of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, looks back on his experiences as a teacher, prisons manager and entrepreneur, and how they apply to running a lean but effective ICT department in uncertain times.

Few CIOs have had as varied a career as Ashley Mudford. He has moved from teaching to senior roles in the prison service and on to his current post as CIO of the NZ Food Safety Authority. Mudford has been exposed to a variety of businesses and vocations unconnected with ICT and he says this gives him a unique view of the discipline he is now in.

As a teacher, Mudford took an interest in working with young people with special needs, particularly those with behavioural problems. He moved on to correctional education in prisons, working for the Department of Corrections and the Ministry of Justice. In due course he became chief education officer for prisons.

“This was in the late 1980s. My job was to move prison education services from being a highly disjointed organisation, to one with a focussed approach to delivery in accordance with needs. It meant working with ministers and other politicians, tertiary institutions trade unions and a range of other organisations.”

He streamlined the service that was provided on a contract basis, but with Corrections head office responsible for standards and monitoring the implementation of the service in prisons nationwide.

From there, Mudford became involved in broader prison reform, which was very much a question of business process model improvement, he says. “I took it from a rules-based system to a standards-based framework, where prisons were encouraged to come up with individual approaches in areas where there didn’t have to be a national approach.”

Faced with changes in management in 1996, he decided to go into business, specialising in project management, business analysis and organisational development.

“The basis of it was helping organisations to where they wanted to get to,” he says.

That naturally meant some involvement in the IT arena.

“I had a personal interest in computers,” says Mudford. “I’d been playing with them since the mid-80s. Also, I had contacts in that area who helped me get the business set up.

“This was the period where people were moving from mainframe-focused systems to PCs. There were upgrades and new developments in computing, so I became involved with that.”

Working for the Department of Conservation, he developed an application for improved management of assets after the Cave Creek fatalities, when a poorly constructed viewing platform on the West Coast of the South Island collapsed, killing 14 people.

He moved on to work as application manager for E-cert (electronic certification). This is a certification system giving official government assurance that exported food products meet the certification needs of the importing country. E-cert dramatically changed the nature of the food industry’s relationship with government, he says, recasting it in a public/private partnership mould.

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) was seeking a CIO who understood the needs of business first and technology second, he says.

He says someone who is exposed to business first, gains a totally different outlook from someone who grew up with science and ICT as a speciality through school and university.

A narrow career specialising in technology, he believes, narrows the language in which a CIO speaks with business people and this does not help the effectiveness of communication and collaborations.

In an organisation with such a CIO, “business” and “ICT” are two separate entities that often fail to establish a common vocabulary.

“I suspect there are some people with an IT background who have successfully made the transition into business, but I would also suspect it’s very hard for a lot of people.

“Some organisations have a governance model that focuses on IT. You can assume [in that organisation] there is a philosophical separation between delivery of services from the IT point of view and where the business is going.

“In NZFSA’s case, our governance model has all corporate activity coming through the same channel. IT and the corporate services functions, like human resources and finance, are all lined up. I report to a business director – this helps make sure ICT is fully integrated as part of the business,” he says.

Speaking at a recent CIO Insights Luncheon, Mudford describes how this arrangement helps ensure that an organisation’s ICT runs lean, but without damage to the business while exploiting opportunities for bringing in extra revenue.

Supposed solutions to these problems are sometimes facile, giving inadequate attention to the characteristics of the individual ICT operation and its relationship with the business, he says.

“There are lots of places on the web where people say ‘look at these measures and you’ll be able to drive cost down’. Anyone can use Google and pull up hundreds of examples.” CIO and Gartner are only two of many such available sources, he says. “But for me that’s an outcome to be accomplished when you have first determined the way you work with the business,” Mudford says.

Directions for economies in sourcing

At the CIO luncheon, Mudford discussed ways “to help people think about where they are, and where their organisation wants them to be, then discuss approaches for them to address implementation of those models”.

He sees economies from sourcing in three primary directions. These are increasing revenue by providing services to other organisations; using what you’ve got to produce better value therefore delivering more for the same amount; and reducing your cost.

Depending on what sort of organisation you are, you’d emphasise the activities in any one of those directions, he says.

Mudford characterises the types of ICT organisation using a Gartner-style quadrant segmentation. One dimension describes how much of a tactical utilitarian and how much of a strategic and transformational role the business expects ICT to play, while the other dimension measures the risk acceptance or risk averseness of the organisation.

Mudford characterises NFSA as an entrepreneurial organisation with a risk-accepting and strategically oriented profile. One of its unusual styles of operation — but one that should be more common, Mudford says — is its willingness to work closely with “stable-mate” the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF).

NZFSA grew out of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, so there is a shared services arrangement between the two organisations.

“They provide us with infrastructure and service desk, support applications and database administration, and that’s managed through a shared services arrangement and a service-level agreement.

“We pay them a significant amount of money each year to provide those services to us. So it’s a source of revenue for them.”

Such service-sharing is a good potential source of cost-saving and/or extra revenue for a financially hard-pressed organisation, he says.

“There is a significant untapped source for providing service to other organisations.” The tendency in most organisations looking for more cost-efficient operation is to focus internally to say ‘what do I need to deliver what is necessary for my business’? ICT teams “don’t look around for other organisations doing the same sorts of things as us, and say rather than their providing services specifically to their organisation, how about we work together and take advantage of increasing in size to reduce our costs?

“Organisation one provides, say infrastructure services, to Organisation two. And Organisation two then says, how about we provide a service desk for Organisation one? So total cost of ownership will reduce for each agency.

“It’s about getting harmonisation across organisations. That takes a personal commitment. There’s a philosophical drive and a personal drive which then starts to lead to organisational change.”

He acknowledges that things are not always straightforward on that front; that the different goals, priorities and policies of two or more cooperating organisations can constitute a barrier; but the savings and spirit of cooperation are still worth striving for, he says.

Although he is trying to push NZSA into entrepreneurial territory, it is necessary to keep some staff members focussed in the other quadrants to push through the daily workload. This is the tactical low-risk side that he calls the “grinders”.

“I’m working on the basis of three primary teams. One is around strategy, the entrepreneurial side. One is around operations, the ‘grinder’ side, where MAF information sits, providing infrastructure services. And I’ve got a transition team, which says, ‘how do we get our agreed ideas implemented to change our standard way of working’.”

It’s clearly crucial that these teams communicate effectively with one another, says Mudford.

“In the context of dealing with recessionary pressures, the ‘entrepreneurial side’ says, ‘how do we work with the business to be more innovative? How do we change business process to be able to take advantage of technology to release resources or improve productivity’,” or otherwise shift the time-cost-quality balance in a positive direction.

“With the ‘grinders’ it’s a matter of making them more effective, how do we work with MAF to reduce the costs of infrastructure?”

So this enables the organisation to focus energy on the areas where it will achieve most benefit.

“The big direction in which we’re going is called the Application Delivery Framework. We’ve decided that this is going to be our preferred platform. The basis of the ADF is a personalised, non-proprietary, device-independent, internet-enabled workspace. The workspaces you get access to will depend on your roles and responsibilities. Data will be pushed to you and activities backed with automation, so our highly-skilled world authorities, and we have a number of people recognised as authorities on various subjects, can spend their time on content, not on process.” The front-end of the ADF is an enterprise portal.

NZFSA has been developing the platform for about a year. “It focuses on end-to-end business process, not on task,” he says, “so as an individual I have a very clear picture of where I and my tasks and outputs fit in the activities that are taking place.

“For us, that’s one of the primary means of innovation, because it enables us to look at business process and then capitalise on the technology components that we’ve got so we can share them further.”

The project is still in pilot phase with two services now available through the portal. They are importer listing and publicly available lists of premises registered for certain food-related purposes.

The NZFSA website is being integrated into the portal and personalised, with a focus on the role of each user and what their needs are. Customer-facing processes that are still done on paper will be put online through the website. Between 40,000 and 70,000 customers are expected to use these services, including importers, exporters and food processors as well as retail outlets. Overseas customers involved in food-related trade will also be able to access the portal through the web.

At a basic level this means better value for money in the Authority’s operations, says Mudford. A consistent platform assists the continuous striving for innovation. “It is second nature to [NZFSA staff] to step back and say ‘how can we do this better’? That’s where the entrepreneurial relationship between the business and the information management team pays off, he says.

Focus on the end game

If the business regards the information team simply as “grinders”, that perspective will take time to change and in the meantime the team must perform well according to management’s view of them. “You can’t innovate unless your baseline’s working and things are in place to inspire confidence by the business that you can drive down costs and improve quality, service levels and timeliness.”

When the actual point comes for the business and ICT to move forward is a matter of judgement and Mudford admits to getting it wrong in his early days at NZFSA. He made a forward-looking presentation to management, “and the response was ‘I can’t get my PC fixed. I can’t get the information I want when I want it. I’m not yet ready to listen to where you want to go to. I want you to get this stuff fixed up first’.”

His personal “aha moment” came when he saw the segmentation model at a Gartner conference in 2007. “I thought, that’s the way to discuss with the business, how they want us to work together. I took them through the model and I said ‘where do you want me to fit?’ and they said ‘That’s where we want you to be’.”

Current priorities include continued development of the ADF, he says, though this has been slowed down due to current economic conditions. “We still have day-to-day processes of web-publishing and user support. In terms of people and dollar resource, that’s quite small.”

NZFSA’s ICT team also assigns a “significant priority” to working with the shared services arrangement with MAF and assisting that organisation to reduce its costs, Mudford says. “That remains priority two behind the ADF, but the balance has changed.”

The relevant skills for his CIO role, he says, come from running his own business, having been involved in a wide variety of organisations and leading organisational change, all of which have given him pertinent skills for his CIO role, he says.

“My tertiary qualifications are in behavioural management and psychology and that gives me some different insights,” he adds. “I’m sufficiently IT savvy to know what’s likely to work, but the strength is in being able to talk to people in non-IT language.

“I don’t want this to be understood in the wrong way,” he says, cautiously, “but having worked with difficult people teaches you that you have to have a picture of the end game, but you need to take it a step at a time.

“You need to be able to measure, sometimes intuitively, when you’ve reached thresholds for the next stage of evolution.”

Unisys kindly sponsored the CIO Insights Luncheon on ‘Optimising sourcing during a slowdown’ featuring Ashley Mudford of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, held in Auckland and Wellington.

Sidebar: A toolbox for CIOs

Good governance and mutual awareness by business and ICT of the needs and priorities of both parties, are vital in planning economies to get through the current recession, says Unisys New Zealand head of operations Terry Shubkin.

Outsourcing partners should be included says Shubkin, at a recent CIO Insights Luncheon on ‘Optimising sourcing during a slowdown’.

“Share with them what you’re trying to achieve. Ask them what risks they perceive in the contract and discuss, if by shifting those risks, they can reduce the price. Keep in mind that risk should always sit with the party best able to manage it.”

Shubkin presented preliminary results of a Unisys survey of Australian CIOs on recession economy measures, done through the Australian CIO Executive Council.

Nearly 66 percent of the organisations surveyed are currently reviewing their outsourcing contracts to find ways of saving money. Another 8 percent plan to do so in the next six months.

Survey participants are looking for about 11 percent savings on infrastructure and end-user services and about 17 percent on application services, she says.

While the survey was conducted among CIOs in Australia, she says New Zealand CIOs face the same concerns. “We hear it’s not the size of the reduction that’s challenging, it’s the time frame. A lot of CIOs have been asked to do it in six months or less.”

The balancing act is in meeting savings targets while remaining compliant with legislation and regulation, delivering acceptable services to the organisation, sustaining good relationships with providers and maintaining employee and customer satisfaction, she says. These needs must be carefully prioritised.

The tools at the disposal of CIOs can be summarised into three areas: reduction (finding a cheaper way of doing something); avoidance (deciding not to do it) and displacement (doing it by more economical means, such as replacing travel by videoconferencing), says Shubkin.

“Reduction and avoidance are most likely to give short-term benefits. But finding quick wins will be difficult if you’ve already been cost-cutting for years. Cost displacement through introducing new tools has the potential to deliver significant savings, but may require a larger initial investment.”

“At Unisys we’ve taken actions that have achieved cost reductions, avoidance and displacement,” says Shubkin. “We’ve also displaced additional cost by investing in solutions to minimise the need for a desk-side visit or even a service-desk call. So internally we’ve implemented remote management tools, self-service tools and end-user training. It’s taking a while longer to see the cost benefit of these but the return has been significant for us as an organisation.”

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Tags leadershipinnovationvendor managementeconomic crisisCIO rolestrategycost cuttingunisys

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