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‘Branch-office’ duties for New Zealand CIOs

‘Branch-office’ duties for New Zealand CIOs

You can have the title, but you are not performing the role of the CIO, says M. Gordon Hunter, professor and author of Contemporary Chief Information Officer: Management Experiences.

New Zealand is a “branch economy” of Australia whether you like it or not, says M. Gordon Hunter, professor, information systems at The University of Lethbridge in Canada and author of Contemporary Chief Information Officer: Management Experiences. “In other words, the head office is in Australia, the branch office is in New Zealand. “The problem is when you have the branch office CTO called the CIO,” says Hunter, who has just completed a two-month teaching and research stint at Massey University. “You are limited by what you do.”

For CIOs in this position, “The important thing is you understand what is expected of you and play your role,” he says.

“The role has to be aligned with senior management’s expectations. If senior management expects you to play a CTO role, then you have got to manage current operations as efficiently as possible. If they expect you to play a CIO role, you have got to show leadership and apply technology to change the way you run the business and make it more effective.”

He does point out there are CIOs of large local companies, like Fonterra and Air New Zealand, where the role is reversed because the head office and senior management are based in New Zealand.

Hunter interviewed CIOs from New Zealand, Taiwan and Ohio in the United States for his book. They face common management themes, one of them on the scope of the role itself that he says is not changing but “emerging”.

“It is not necessarily the title,” says Hunter. “You can have the title, but you are not performing the role of the CIO.”

Some of the common management issues that emerged were ICT governance, supply chain management and project management.

The CIOs he talked to say they spend considerable time making sure senior management colleagues understand they are also responsible to check that IT is applied appropriately in regards to the data they collect, how they will use it, and that it remains accurate and secure.

One of the surprising findings in his research is the lack of a project management office (PMO) even in some large companies, or if there was one, these were not effective.

A CIO said when she joined the company, she found none of the IT projects were being finished. She established a PMO, but first asked senior management to cite the most important project in the list, allocated resources to it, and completed it. The CIO repeated the process for the next most important project, and so on. “She became a hero in the company. All she did was complete them,” says Hunter.

On the reporting line for CIOs, Hunter is emphatic the CIO should be a member of the senior management team and reporting to the CEO.

“IT [should] be part and parcel of the forming of the strategy and that is how the CIO can be a full member of the senior management team — to be involved in the formation of the business strategy and not to be asked how IT can facilitate it.”

Hunter says his research points out the difficulty for CIOs moving from one industry to another. “Changing industries was not on as far as being a successful CIO,” says Hunter. “I am not saying it is impossible, I am saying it would be very difficult to do.”

One of the more “contentious” conclusions of his research is his position that organisations should not outsource any ICT function at all. And this admonition applies to companies of all sizes, and functions such as software development (“it should be unique to your company”) and data storage (“for security reasons all the data should be kept inside”).

“Just consider IT to be a core business function and do not outsource it, just as you don’t outsource the other core business functions,” he says. “Would you outsource your manufacturing? Would you outsource your finance? Would you outsource your accounting? Those are kept in-house because these form part of your competitive advantage and senior management has to realise that how you run your information technology also gives you a competitive advantage. If you outsource it, then you have people outside your company who are knowledgeable experts about your business processes. Those people should be inside the company.”

Fairfax Business Media

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