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Both sides now

Both sides now

Peter Finch’s career has zigzagged across the supplier and demand sides of ICT, a background that is proving invaluable as he takes on the newly-created role of CIO at Gen-i.

Cape Town-born Peter Finch began his working life navigating ships for the South African Merchant Navy. But while he loved the travel, he found the work “mind-numbingly boring”. Thus, after three-and-a-half years, he switched to his “second love”, technology. His new career saw Finch start as a trainee programmer for an IT services company in Cape Town, then working his way up through programs, systems analysis and into management.

Seven years at a bank then followed, where Finch eventually became assistant general manager of the data services division.

Then, just before moving to New Zealand in the mid-1990s, he ran the projects division of a South African systems integrator.

Arriving in New Zealand, Finch took on a role heading up the applications development function within Telecom NZ.

He became general manager of Telecom Systems, its internal IT division, and with a colleague, spent a year working on the major Telecom outsourcing deal with EDS. The $1.5 billion, 10-year IS services deal announced in 1999 saw some 600 Telecom staff transfer to EDS.

“I could have gone to EDS, but I stayed with Telecom to manage the outsource arrangement,” Finch explains.

However, in late 2000 he left Telecom to become GM of infrastructure at Gen-i, which was then owned by an investment company. It wasn’t until 2004 that Telecom bought Gen-i, along with Computerland, and merged them with its IT services arm, Telecom Advanced Solutions.

Finch left Telecom for Gen-i, as working for a supplier involves a far greater number of customers, a prospect that stimulated him.

The new Gen-i brought challenges in an evolving company, developing through the various mergers, eventually leaving Gen-i as IT provider to both internal Telecom and the wider market. This, he says, is a unique model for any telecoms company.

From joining Gen-i as GM of Infrastructure Services, Finch headed ICT solutions and handled outsourcing deals, until becoming CIO in June 2008.

“This is a new role. It is part of Chris Quinn’s management team, looking at all the normal functions a CIO would look across Australia-New Zealand. When Gen-i merged under Telecom, we slotted under Telecom services, but as we grew, the need for a dedicated senior management CIO also grew,” he explains.

Finch confirms his career has “zigzagged” both sides of the supplier-demand side fence, allowing him to combine his experience as a business manager and an IS manager.

Working for a user organisation, like a bank, is stimulating, Finch explains, because you are focusing on a single business and how ICT can best improve it. This also means you get to deal with many service providers who supply

innovative products to help the business. But such a role may be hampered if company bosses see IT solely as a way to cut costs, rather than help the business develop and grow.

Relations with suppliers is a two-way street, he continues, and it is best for the customer when the service provider is also successful. In other words, you do not drag them down too much on price as they won’t be able to offer best service. “As soon as a service provider feels they are making minimal profits they look at changing their role. [Instead] motivate the serviceprovider. Treat them as an extension of your own team,” he advises.

Finch says such CIOs are more accountable in having to justify or explain the role of technology to develop a business. But you are not alone, he says, the suppliers will help explain the task.

On the supply side, like working for a systems integrator, Finch says the CIO needs to be more commercially focused. The role is more customer-driven and there are more of them. It’s not just a matter of serving your employer, but your external customers too and learning and satisfying their needs and business drivers.

“You are in a dynamic environment, looking to deliver value to a range of customers. You have the opportunity to be exposed to a number of industries, retailers, transport, government; and you get much satisfaction from being able to show value to them from your innovative solutions,” he says.

“Your own success comes from making your customers successful. A lot of CIOs believe that suppliers or service providers are motivated primarily by driving profit and revenue, whereas I think success flows from doing a fantastic job for the customer.”

However, such dynamism means for more pressure as customers always want their problems sorted out instantly, and they may not let the systems integrator deliver the perfect solution.

“But it’s the customer’s decision to go for what they want. Sometimes I believe we can do more for a customer than they will let us,” he says.

At present, from Gen-i, such solutions focus on unified communications and software-as-a-service.

This job calls for a multi-faceted CIO role, aiming to make Gen-i the preferred supplier for many organisations.

His work will include continuing to invest in growing delivery capability, including the use of best practise tools like ITIL Version 3.

As part of Telecom, there is work associated with the separation of Telecom into three divisions as ordered by the Government.

Gen-i also becomes a test enterprise for technologies like Unified Communications.

“We give ourselves the experience of using the technology ourselves, so that our sales and delivery people get to experience the technologies we are selling and we become a reference site for our customers. In this building we are deploying leading-edge unified communications from Microsoft and Nortel/Cisco,” he says.

Finch sees CIOs, particularly vendor CIOs, as having to bridge the gap between technology and business, and to succeed you cannot be strong in one world and not the other.

“The supplier needs to supply something that fulfills a need and not just flog a bit of kit for the sake of it. They need to assist [user] CIOs in their organisation, help them make that connection, to help them get approval for projects. I have a number of business managers who work with sales staff developing the value propositions that we put to customers. There are some significant business topics relevant to most businesses like compliance, people and skills. How do you empower your people to be successful? One hot topic lately is sustainability, reducing your carbon footprint and how do we use technology to deal with these problems,” he says.

“Cost-cutting organisations don’t always get it. If you don’t change your mindset, you don’t succeed. If moving from a service provider to becoming a user-CIO, make sure the organisation recognises the value ICT brings to it and is not a cost to drive down!”

Fairfax Business Media

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