“Whoever said that there was ‘life’ in a lifestyle block was joking – it is all work,” says Tony Lester, who recently retired as CIO of Land Information New Zealand. Lester is referring to the work situation he is facing as he leaves LINZ, where he was CIO for four-and-a-half years.
Years ago, he and his wife Marj bought a 1.6 hectare lifestyle block and worked on it during weekends, converting the land into a golf course while posting progress reports on http://lestelot.blogspot.com/.
Now he plans to spend more time on the property and with his family. “This was definitely behind my decision as well,” says Lester as he joins the Baby Boomer CIOs entering retirement (though he is nine years shy of the retirement age of 65). In Lester’s case, however, “retirement” will for the moment be ensconced in quote and unquote marks.
His new retirement work schedule means he will work 80 to 100 days a year in ICT, “with more time for myself”. In particular, this means working with the taxation authorities in Moldova, producing a strategic IT plan for that country.
This will also mean fulfilling his promise to spend more time with the family, which includes two grandsons living nearby. “I also expect my golf to improve big time as well,” he quips.
The new role, he says, “is an opportunity for me to pay something back after a great career and many great learning opportunities that my roles at Inland Revenue and at LINZ have given me”.
A less than traditional approach
Lester says this type of retirement is not uncommon. “Most of the people that I work with do not intend to fully retire, but try and do what I am doing.
“The great grounding I have had in public administration coupled with IT experience, will enable me to do other activities if time permits.”
His ICT career has definitely prepared him to move on to this type of retirement. Lester joined the public sector in 1970 as a cadet in the Dunedin office of the Inland Revenue Department. It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that he became involved in ICT, while on secondment to the IRD head office as an IT systems tester.
He says this role was enhanced when he joined the team working on IRD’s first information system plan. Lester was asked to stay in Wellington, where he was also appointed project manager of FIRST, IRD’s core legacy system. He worked full-time in IT for the next 20 years, until his recent ‘retirement’.
Over the past two years, Lester was a member of the panel of experts for the fiscal affairs division of the International Monetary Fund. He joined four missions to Armenia, Uganda, Sierra Leone and, last August, to Moldovia. “My work has had an element of general management to it, but for the past two missions I have focused more on the IT-related activities, eg how should the taxation authorities commence an IT strategic planning process,” says Lester.
“Many of the emerging economies have undertaken an element of public sector organisational reform, with implementing appropriate organisational structure, and are now turning their attention to how the taxation system can utilise IT to advance them further from an effectiveness and efficiency perspective.
“It is hoped that these emerging countries can leverage the experience from other countries, with a view to making quicker advancements, while not making the mistakes of the past.” As for his significant experiences in his two decades in ICT, Lester says there were many, with two standing out as “career defining”.
The first being when he was asked to go to Wellington to work on the initial IS plan for IRD and then to implement what became FIRST.
“The learning opportunities and challenges that were created were superb and I had nine great years as national manager IT for Inland Revenue.”
The second, he says, was when he joined LINZ as CIO. The position allowed him to build an IT team “almost from scratch” and to set up the skills and processes that an organisation reliant on IT like LINZ requires.
“It has been really pleasing to see how the team has grown, while at the same time [dealing with] the significant advances that have been made to our core IT system, Landonline, culminating in it becoming 100 per cent electronic with effect from February 2009.
“Again, as with the taxation work at IRD, LINZ is leading the world with its adoption of technology for land titles, surveying and registration components.”
In retrospect, he says, “ICT has been a great career move for me. But at the end of the day I have always relied on my business operational background to make sure that the appropriate decisions have been made — not just the technology one.”
As he bids farewell to full-time CIO responsibilities, he says, “Hopefully the ICT industry will continue to attract CIOs that can bring a good balance of business acumen with a level of IT capability to their roles.”
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