Profiles in leadership

Profiles in leadership

Four CIOs who have mastered the nuances of leading across a range of people and technology issues, while positioning ICT as a strategic contributor to the organisation.

Leading change effectively Andrew Diver, manager, systems development and programme management, Vero Insurance

Some six years ago, Andrew Diver was tasked to build a project management office from scratch, with members coming from different groups.

“We had to throw away the old and create something new,” says Diver, manager, systems development and programme management, Vero New Zealand. “One way to do that was to create a brand so people will not say, ‘I don’t belong to that’, and everyone belonged to something new.”

The group is now under VTech, which integrates three core centres of excellence in the company — process, project and technology. VTech now has around 100 members and is currently working on 35 projects, and not all of them have a technology component, says Diver, the CIO of the Year at the 2007 Computerworld Excellence Awards.

“What is good about what we do is we do look at change holistically. We look at the process, the people side. It could mean some job redesign, organisation redesign, training — everything we have to do to make that delivery of change successful. We will bring in expertise from certain areas but we manage it in a holistic way.”

Setting up the PMO brought with it some challenges. “We have to develop that from the ground up and we have to convince people that project management was a skill, was a profession and should be adhered to,” he says. “We did get some push back but we have to earn our right. We have gone through the successful delivery of projects. Now there is an acceptance to the point where we don’t have to go to people and demand our presence. People come to us and demand our presence.”

The branding strategy worked. “Everyone just knows us as VTech within Vero,” says Diver. “That was how I leveraged my marketing background and created a brand and so that has been quite effective internally.”

Diver, a fellow of the Institute of Direct Marketing, has a business background and had worked on some marketing campaigns, two of which have won industry accolades — the 1996 RSVP Winner at the DMA Awards and the 1997 TVNZ/Marketing Magazine Retail Marketer of the Year.

The two projects were both for Sun Direct Insurance, one of the companies of Royal & Sun Alliance, now Vero — of which Diver has been working with through its “various iterations” for the past 27 years.

Diver got into the ICT side of the enterprise when he became involved in e-business and helped develop the group’s internet and intranet capability. Not surprisingly, two of the executives he has worked with in the insurance industry — Vero CEO Roger Bell and former Promina CIO Rob Flannagan — are among those who have had a strong influence in his career.

He cites the Vero chief executive’s “drive for excellence” around the business and the Baldridge framework for quality improvement. “We have a vision to be gold and we will achieve that.”

Flannagan, now CEO of Tower, also has a business background like Diver, and through him, Diver learned “how to operate in a technical world” when one is not a technology specialist.

“It has taught me to surround yourself with people who know much more than what you do,” he says. “So you have got to be secure enough in what you do that you are not afraid to get people around you who know much more about it than you. They are smarter than me and my role becomes very much a leadership role… to make sure those people with very deep expertise… create an environment where they can deliver.”

While it is important for young ICT professionals to develop their technical expertise, Diver says they need to develop their leadership and people management side.

“Have a deep understanding for the organisation that you work in,” he advises. “That will give you some options when you want to move across the organisation, away from the technical side… The higher up you go, it is much more the leadership capabilities that are transportable across the organisation.”

Successful multi-tasking

Wayne Champion, chief information officer, West Coast District Health Board

Eight years ago, Wayne Champion joined the West Coast District Health Board as management accountant. He carpooled on the way to work and back with two people who “talked nothing but IT all the way”. They were Adrian Hendry and Sam Blight, the CIOs, respectively, of the district health board (DHB) and the Tai Poutini Polytechnic.

Champion had no inkling then that these daily rides, lasting half a hour each way, were actually preparations for his current role.

When Hendry joined the Ministry of Health more than two years ago, Champion became CIO of the DHB, a role he holds concurrently as chief financial officer and general manager facilities and support services. That means he is responsible for finance, IT, facilities, procurement, laundry services, kitchens, cleaners and orderlies for four hospitals and 16 medical clinics.

He says the move was necessary because of the complex nature of the IT projects that were underway. His new assignment also elevated the role of the CIO from “a third tier management role to a second tier management role within the organisation and clearly signalling that I saw IT as being strategically important”.

Champion also steps in at times as acting CEO, which he says had an impact on how ICT is perceived in the organisation. “When someone who is acting as CEO ‘when the boss’ is away one day takes on IT the next, people know that the organisation sees IT as being strategically important.”

The CIO, CFO and GM links have proved effective. Champion explains the DHB has a vision of becoming “a centre of excellence in rural health”, and the IT strategy is aligned to this goal.

Thus one of its projects is on integrating electronic health records across the disparate sites. This was a finalist in two categories — the use of ICT in health and overall excellence in the use of ICT — in the recent Computerworld Excellence Awards.

The PriSM (Primary Integration Systems Management) project, which was a finalist in the 2006 New Zealand Health Innovation Awards, was a complete primary health system that included hardware, a wide area network and a shared electronic health record for the DHB’s 16 primary health sites. “It taught the West Coast it could be innovative, that it could achieve some interesting things in ICT and integrate remote and disparate systems, that each have their own systems, and centralise information management systems,” says Champion.

Wearing three different hats simultaneously provides a different set of challenges for Champion. The CFOs, CIOs and GM facilities all hold separate meetings every quarter, and Wayne admits there are times when “life becomes a blur of travel and meetings”.

As GM for facilities, Champion is working on a range of projects that include a new medical clinic in Ngakawau, a dementia unit in Greymouth, and planning for a new hospital in Westport. “It is a different sense of achievement,” he says when working on projects as diverse as facilities management and information systems.

Champion’s foray into ICT was basically sealed when he started playing with computers as a high school student in the 80s. When he studied finance at Otago University, he also took IT courses, particularly on database management. But finance and ICT took a backseat after university, when he worked for a year as a scuba diving instructor.

After that, he worked as an assistant accountant in an engineering firm that was replacing its Apple Macs with PCs. He got involved in the changeover because “I knew how to tinker with computers”. Since then, his jobs always meant his accounting background and information technology skills were “together, but not necessarily IT that is related to keeping finance systems going”.

For instance, as a financial accountant for a dairy company, he helped replace the PC fleet by building units from components because it was more cost effective to do so. He then joined the West Coast District Health Board, where he later on became CFO and GM facilities and support service.

Probably the toughest situation he has been in was the one leading to his decision to take on the CIO role. At that time, the DHB was in the early stages of the patient administration clinic information systems project of which Hendry, the CIO, was project manager. He and Hendry had agreed to mentor a young staff member, Miles Roper, to act as IT manager.

When Hendry left for the Ministry of Health, Champion took on the CIO role and continued the mentoring programme for Roper. “One of the challenges I gave him during the mentoring was writing a health information strategy,” says Champion, who notes the mentoring is also part of the succession planning for the CIO role.

While Hendry influenced him most in his ICT career, it was Glenys Baldick, former CEO of the Nelson Marlborough District of Health, who gave him the chance to apply his leadership skills beyond ICT and finance. Baldick joined the West Coast DHB as a board member after retiring following a diagnosis of breast cancer. At that time, Champion had already finished his MBA from Massey University. Baldick, who died last year, became acting CEO and gave Champion opportunities to apply the degree outside finance and IT.

For Champion, putting in the hard yards when given these opportunities is essential. And this, he says, is one major lesson he got from his MBA. “I have learnt how to differentiate between an outcome that is adequate and excellent,” he says. “And I have learned to inspire myself to achieve excellence.”

He got an A average for his MBA, which he studied part-time, while working full-time at the DHB. “I did that by learning how to inspire myself to achieve it, not because I was smarter or better or different than other people. It is about motivating myself and inspiring myself to do it.

“It has got implications for leadership because even if there is something that you wouldn’t normally want to do, if you inspire yourself to do it and be inspired about it, then it is much easier to convince others to follow you.”

Making a difference

Peter Winquist, chief information officer, AsureQuality

Several years ago, Peter Winquist was in charge of a project being developed in competition with a package that was already available. True, says Winquist, it might have been cheaper to develop the alternative in-house solution, but it was certainly going to be more expensive in the long run.

“It became fairly obvious that in the short-term we would deliver the benefits but in the longer term, enhancements such as geospatial work, computer-aided design work and their integration with a backdrop of significant disaffection would have made it very, very difficult to continue that progress. And it would not have been economically viable.”

He broke the news to his boss, who did not receive the assessment well. “It affected my career in that company,” he says. “That was probably the most profound decision I’ve had to make.”

It was, he says, also one of the hardest situations he had to face at work. But it had to be done. “You have to put the facts forward as you see them. It was the right thing to do, to cancel the project.”

With such fortitude it comes as no surprise when Winquist, now chief information officer of AsureQuality, names two people who are known for taking principled stands as his role models. They are Helen Suzman, the internationally known anti-apartheid activist and politician, and Brother Finbar of the De la Salle Brothers, who was Winquist’s teacher, and who started schools, radio stations and still works with the underprivileged in South Africa.

“They both showed me that you need to stand up for what you believe to be right and that applies in business as well as one’s personal life.”

Winquist started his professional career as a chemist, working for the largest platinum producer in the world, in his native South Africa. There he experienced first-hand how ICT can make a difference in the enterprise when harnessed properly.

He explains that in the metals industry, theft could be a major problem. “You are dealing with hundreds of thousands of ounces [of precious metals] a month, and even a single ounce is worth a fair amount of money. Prices peaked somewhere at US$5000 for an ounce of rhodium in 1991 — for a teaspoon of metal. So we implemented a precious metals traceability system, in effect to trace the flow of metal — and highlight areas of risk. That had a major impact on the profitability of the company.”

Winquist says he also started using computers at work as “It irked me to have to repeat manual calculations and operations”. This was in the mid-80s when he worked on a 64K Shared RAM interpretive Basic system, with a huge 20MB hard disk, and used it to run the biggest precious metal analytical laboratories in the world. The computer framework was the size of a Suzuki car.

“USB keys now available have over a thousand times the disk storage capacity of that machine. But the sheer throughput that we achieved and the change in the workflow procedures that we delivered by using IT, in applying IT to business problems, really impressed me and that was one of major reasons why I became enthralled with IT. So I went back to university, and studied computer science.”

ICT likewise plays a critical role at AsureQuality, which provides food quality assurance and biosecurity services. AsureQuality operates AgriBase, which geospatially maps land used in primary production nationwide. “There are very few countries in the world that have an up-to-date geospatial database of all farms,” explains Winquist. “We’ve not only registered the majority of farms and rural properties, but in addition, we have their geospatial layouts, the number and types of animal species and crops, and information on the businesses and individuals who own and manage them,” he states.

If there is one piece of advice he can give to a young ICT professional, he says it is to embrace change. “Embracing change is a key aspect in modern society and modern business. Businesses change so frequently and so much, paradigms change so often, there are continually new and better ways of doing things.”

Winquist recalls listening to a BBC report about a pharmaceutical company which had 9000 chemists. Instead of relying solely on their staff for new ideas, they put their IP on the internet and invited all chemists worldwide to contribute. “In so doing they changed fundamental concepts of how to deliver their business. They now have the whole world working with and for them. That kind of thinking is amazing.”

Building great teams

Peter Thomas, chief information officer, New Zealand Defence Force

From “making money… to protecting New Zealanders,” is how Peter Thomas aptly describes his career swerve early this year.

The chief information officer of the New Zealand Defence Force had left Westpac where he had been working for more than 20 years. His last post was general manager for customer solutions and delivery.

“I had the unique opportunity to join the financial markets when it was just starting to take off in New Zealand mid-to-late 80s when everything was manual,” he recalls. Thus, he witnessed first-hand how the banking systems have shifted from a “paper-based environment to the electronic age”.

Thomas says during those years he was running lots of projects using IT “to improve the way we do things” and the experienced has honed his skills in leading business change programmes.

If there is one lesson he has learned from this, he says it is that the ICT part of the project is the “easy bit”. The challenge is in “how the business changes to adapt to the different technology, to using the different technology to do the business”.

It doesn’t matter whether the change management occurs in a large corporate setting or in a huge government agency like Defence. “You need to put a huge focus on the change management piece to make those large projects become successful.”

Defence, he explains, is undergoing a “large transformation programme” focusing on a number of areas including IT.

“Our number one priority for defence is its operations deployments, where we have peacekeeping missions or helping rebuild certain communities,” he says. “We are looking at how we can take those corporate applications and make them work more effectively in our operational domains.

“We are just starting to dabble now in that effective command and control using technologies,” he says. “So it will no longer be about picking up a radio and talking to someone on the radio and sending troops out in the field to find out what is going on. We will be using technology to help assist the battlefield commander: Technically it is easy to provide that capability but the big challenge is change management,” says Thomas. “We need to train our people differently. We will need to have different processes in place on how to use that technology so we can be more effective.”

Thomas is very emphatic on the people side of things to achieve business success. For this, he credits largely a former boss and colleague, Stephen Moir, who used to head the financial markets and corporate banking at Westpac.

“He taught me some basic lessons and it was around the fact every single person in the area that you lead is as important to take the business forward.

“Never penny-pinch on your people,” he says quoting Moir. “You need to be doing what you can to keep your people motivated even in times of adversity,” he says.

Moir had given Thomas “every opportunity” to succeed in the finance sector, including a chance to attend an executive education programme at the London Business School. This stint, he says, changed his career positively. “It made me realise the people leadership style that I have, which was a very empathic style, was actually a style that world leaders were using to get the best out of their people.”

He has witnessed leadership styles that he describes as “dictatorial and more [about] hierarchy”. Whereas, Thomas believes in a different approach, “one of consultation, and interaction with people, realising everyone from the lowest level of the organisation to the top has some value to add”.

Thomas left Westpac following a restructure that required him to be based in Auckland. But he wanted to stay in Wellington for family reasons.

Moving to Defence was “total chalk and cheese” for Thomas, but his decision was clinched when he met New Zealand Defence Force Chief Lieutenant General Jeremiah (Jerry) Mateparae. “He was such an inspirational man and I thought I need to work with someone like this. To me he was a true leader.

“What is important to me as a leader is my values. It is important for me to work in an environment where my values are recognised. And if there is advice for anybody seeking a career anywhere, make sure your values are consistent with the organisation’s values. Because if they are not, you will never flourish in that environment.”

He has “pretty basic” advice for young ICT professionals. The first is to ensure you keep your ICT knowledge and qualifications current. “The reality is in this day and age you need to do these things off your own back, some of them with the company.”

Second, he says, is to have a customer focus, to think of the users not as colleagues but customers. “As IS professionals, we have to realise we are an enabler. IT is an enabler for the business to achieve its goals. We are in a service organisation, a service culture… We must put customer service in the forefront of everything we do.”

Another key area is realising the value of interpersonal skills in influencing and building relationships. Because while “ultimately those technologies will provide capabilities, it is the people that will enable it,” says Thomas.

“Ultimately our roles are about people, it is not about a piece of technology, hardware or software. If you can take your technology skills and enable customer service and people process, you will be a success.”

© Fairfax Business Media

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