with many IT executives there from my days when I ran the InTEP
The IT community is resourceful and you tend to
encounter many innovative approaches to common business problems. I
also enjoy the intensity of an IT conference. In a short space of time
you get the opportunity to network and discuss problems with like
minded souls. In addition, it provides you with an up-to-date snapshot
of what's going on in the industry. However, I also find that in each
conference I attend there is usually one common thread that runs
through the proceedings. This was again to be evident for me.
Beforehand I caught up for dinner with Garry Collings, an experienced
CIO who has held prominent senior IT executive roles in several major
companies in the country. If there is a fine art to being personable
Collings has mastered it. However, he is also passionate about the IT
industry so it is as much stimulating as engaging talking to him.
Interestingly, in recent years Collings has elected to step outside
the corporate world. He now works as something of a CIO
trouble-shooter. He gets called in to organisations having difficulty
with IT to assist them establish effective structures and disciplines
around the delivery of IT services.
It's not about processes
Collings told me that in his work as a trouble-shooter he has come to
realise that ultimately IT is not about processes. As someone who
regards service delivery as sacred, Collings was challenging one of
the tenements I hold about IT. However, he argued that the first focus
for a CIO must be on the people. He believed you must understand the
characteristics and traits of your IT staff so you can match them to
the most appropriate roles in the service delivery processes. Collings
now recognises that it is a recipe for disaster trying to shoe horn a
staff member in to a role that is outside their comfort zone. Instead
he believed the challenge was to identify which personality traits
were needed to fulfil each part in a process.
In effect Collings was the first person at the conference to raise the
topic of strategic human resources (HR). It was a subject I was to
hear again and again over the two days of the event. The opening
keynote speaker was John Key, the current Leader of the Opposition in
the country. His speech outlined the role he saw for ICT in a future
New Zealand. Encouragingly he did not see IT as a cost to be
curtailed. Instead he recognised that the challenge was to release the
potential of IT to be a catalyst for change. In his view if New
Zealand was to compete in a world of globalisation government needed
to inculcate a creative attitude to IT within its populace.
A 'high performing' culture
Next was a presentation from Ron van de Riet, the CIO at Kiwibank. In
the space of six years since its inception in 2002 this company has
shaken up the banking sector in the country. It has won awards for
offering the best value products and has higher customer satisfaction
ratings than the four large Australian-owned trading banks that
dominate the banking scene in New Zealand. Van de Riet credited much
of Kiwibank's success to a willingness to be innovative with
technology. However, the Bank has also recognised that the strength of
its brand is underpinned by a high performing culture among its
employees. Van de Riet described this as championing human capital
management and a major part of his speech looked at how the bank was
developing this within its staff.
The importance of people in the success of an organisation was next
raised by Jon Macdonald, the CEO of Trade Me. Trade Me is a true dot
com success story. It began life in a small apartment in Wellington in
1999 as a New Zealand equivalent of eBay. Seven years later the
founders sold the company to Fairfax Media, for $700 million. Today
research shows that the Trade Me group of web sites collectively
generate just over 50 per cent of all web-page traffic originating
from New Zealand-based servers.
Look after your staff
Among the seven key points for success that Macdonald outlined was the
importance of looking after your staff. The company is consistently
rated one of the best places to work in New Zealand. The studies
identify that Trade Me staff feel respected and engaged and
acknowledge that the executive give them the trust and freedom to
perform. The result is that the company rides on their enthusiasm.
The final speech on the first day was a dinner talk from Dave Currie
who was the Chef de Mission for the New Zealand Olympic Team at
Beijing. For a country of four million people New Zealand consistently
punches above its weight in the Olympics. This year it won five gold
medals. However, Currie's speech was about the challenge of managing a
team of single-minded, competitive, high-performing athletes. His
message though was equally applicable to a CIO running an IT
department. To get the support of your team you first have to
understand everyone's individual needs and then show them trust.
The need for staff empowerment also featured prominently in a
presentation delivered the next day by John Peebles, who runs an
executive recruitment company in Auckland. His speech looked at the
skill set challenges facing the IT industry and highlighted the fact
that with the increasing retirement of the baby boomers there is going
to be a huge shortfall in the job market around the world. As such,
Peebles argued that people with skills will be in the ascendancy and
are going to be much more selective about where they work. In Peeble's
opinion this trend would be compounded by an excessive executive focus
on cutting overheads like staff to improve short term bottom line
performance. In his mind, if you want loyalty, you have to give it.
Peeble highlighted the benefit of doing so. He quoted research from
the Australian Graduate School of Management that there is a strong
empirical evidence of a relationship between how you manage people and
corporate financial performance.
Quality people critical
I suppose that in the end the New Zealand CIO conference only
reinforced what I already knew. The only difference in any business is
the quality of its people. As my mother used to say: you need to treat
others how you would want to be treated yourself. Unfortunately, this
basic common sense is something that many businesses have overlooked
for far too long. However, the lesson I took away from New Zealand
seemed to be that the IT industry is starting to make amends for that
Peter Hind is a consultant with many years of
experience in the IT industry.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.