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What matters most

What matters most

A cross section of IS executives reveal their management and technology 'wish lists' for 2006, their 'pain points' in the past 12 months and what they plan to do about them.

Geoff Barber

Network and operations manager information technology 3M New Zealand

A recent conversation with one of his staff reinforced Geoff Barber's main wish for his team for 2006.

The staff member, a developer, told Barber how he recently observed a co-employee at work and figured he could program an applet that would save his colleague hours of work everyday.

"That's the real value of IT," says Barber. "It is not minding servers, and playing with laptops. It is getting alongside your users watching what they do, how they do it... and making their work life easier and more productive." For the next 12 months, this is what he wants the IT team to be - "a true partner of the business".

"Right now if I have one wish for my group, it would be to transition from IT, where we are focused on the delivery of technology, 'where is my new printer?' and 'can you install that new application on my PC?'... to an IS department where we're involved in working with the business in terms of their systems, their processes and actually bringing the value that IT has out from the backroom and into their hands."

"I am talking about a broad engagement of IT with the business as an entity - working with the executive team, with line managers and the sales representatives. The people who shouldn't have to care about the technology behind their work but who need the tools to get their jobs done."

In the past 12 months, Barber says his team worked on several "major projects", one of which is the new ERP system called COFS (Customer Order Fulfilment System). He admits this project presented significant challenges, but "few have been purely due to the technology".

"With any enterprise system deployment, it doesn't matter how much you prepare, change is painful," he explains. "And managing change seems to be a critical success factor for IT. Even now, as one team is working to bed it (COFS) down, another is preparing for a major server review.

We are relaying our primary file servers and back-up servers. It's a one in three-year opportunity to re-engineer our primary data holding. We want to get it right. With these and our other projects, it will be a busy end of year."

IT, he says, is basically involved with the business of process change. "Nothing is constant in IT, it is always moving, every change has impacts that flow into or impact other systems and processes. Which is probably why IT is used as an engine of change within organisations. If you can't understand how systems and people interact, you can't do IT."

He says mulling about his technology wish list was hard because of the spate of technology being promoted by companies and media. "I have not actually seen anything new, anything that was truly innovative or made me go 'wow!' in recent times. There is always someone trying to push something but often it is just a repackaged something from three years ago. So my technology wish for 2006 would be, 'Give it a rest!'

"It's no good trying to sell something just because it is bigger or faster, or because it has new features or a web client. The world of IT is not a deep pockets world anymore. When we invest resources (time or money) we have to be sure there is a real benefit for the organisation, beyond improved specs."

For his personal wish list, he quips, "More pay, less work, don't we all want that?" But shifting to a more serious mode, he reveals his personal wish list applies to his team too.

"It has been a hard year, and my wish for 2006 is for people to be able to fly. I am looking to put together a way of giving my team members - whether they are a developer, an engineer, a manager - an opportunity to really find a project that they can put their passion to, and have some fun with."

Jeannie Bathgate

Group manager, HealthPAC

Jeannie Bathgate's management wish list for 2006 is: "An increased focus on 'people care', mentoring and leaders taking time to 'grow' and assist our up and coming people... Grow our talent in the areas of technology, business and leadership."

She wants to continue to improve HealthPAC's capability in the areas of management, leadership and business.

In 2005, Bathgate says her biggest pain points were prioritisation and resourcing, ensuring the limited people resources are utilised in the best and most effective way possible. "The tight skills market is making it difficult for employers across the board."

Next year, she plans to put an IS board prioritisation in place, to continue to monitor workloads and people carefully, and put in place "people retention strategies".

Her family comes first in her personal wish list. She wants her children Leigh and Joshua and husband Ken to be "healthy and well throughout the year." And for her, "opportunity for growth and personal development". Work, however, apparently was not far from her mind when she wishes, "The bird flu doesn't hit New Zealand."

Peter Fletcher

Chief information officer, Bank of New Zealand

Continuing the work in the general business projects he and his team have been actively involved with is on top of Peter Fletcher's major goals for 2006. These projects include supporting the campaigns and branding initiatives that demonstrate the BNZ's "boldness in leadership".

On the ICT side, there is the support for the bank's IT infrastructure initiatives - the managed desktop, a rebuilding of the web infrastructure and the move to IT telephony in the middle of 2006.

The last project aims to deliver a converged voice and data environment in partnership with TelstraClear. Fletcher says the telephony project has "a very good support" from management. "We are looking forward to it. It will make a good big difference to our business."

Fletcher says he wants to continue getting the recognition for the top performers in IT. One of his senior staff members, for instance, has been promoted to run all projects in the bank, and another member of his team was a finalist in the BNZ's senior manager of the year award. "Seeing IT people really getting recognised across the business, I'd like to see more of that in the next year too."

On the other hand, he wants to find time for his "best performers" to take a breather between projects. Related to this is his wish for getting better visibility of the project slate across the bank and a regular resource plan "to make sure we are not pushing people too hard".

A major pain point for him during the past year "was really too much compliance work". On whether he thinks 2006 would be "the year of compliance" in New Zealand, he laughs, "I am hoping it is 2005."

"We are sort of through the worst of it, but the key for us is learning to live in a world where regulators on the other side of the world want to take such an active involvement in the day to day running of your business," he says. He keenly points out the challenges, however, are not with the local and Australasian regulators, with which he says the bank enjoys "a good working relationship".

Spending more time with his family (he and his wife have two boys, aged one and two) tops his personal wish list. A holiday with his family in France for the 2007 Rugby World Cup is in the calendar.

Time is also of the essence for another of his interests - golf. His time spent on the greens "is not enough". He exclaims, "I am never going to beat Glenn Patrick [Westpac's general manager, business and technology solutions and services] if I only play once every three months!"

Scott Houston

Business development manager, NZ Supercomputer Centre

King Kong loomed large over the past year in Scott Houston's life. "It has been pretty frustrating over the last few months as most of our processing capacity has been eaten up by a giant ape," he muses, as NZSC wraps up its work in the latest Peter Jackson movie.

"I am pretty happy with the way things are going," he says. "We have been very pleased with the take-up of customers with our processing on demand solutions. While we have worked very hard to satisfy the technical and security concerns of most customers, our biggest challenge is still the philosophical objections of not doing the processing internally."

For the New Year, he aims to continue to keep "plugging away" the services of the NZSC. "It is definitely a 'try before you buy' market and the more companies we can engage with who are prepared to test this model, the more success we will have." He hopes the level of interest and support NZSC has had with its partners continues. "Watch this space, you will be hearing a lot more from us in 2006."

Houston's personal wish list includes an Xbox 360 ("Please Santa, I have been good, mostly."), more time with his partner and children, and "warm, balmy weather".

Sid Huff

Head of school of information management

Victoria University of Wellington

Sid Huff sees as critical the declining enrolment in information systems and technology programs at the Victoria University of Wellington. The so-called "dotcom recession" has had a serious impact on student enrolments in both the master's and undergraduate programs. Since the school funding is based directly on enrolments, this decline has had a very serious impact on his budget - and consequently the ability to properly staff its programs, develop new initiatives and execute quality research.

Huff sees a glimmer of hope, however, as hiring in the IT labour market has never been stronger. Enrolment in IT programs overseas has started to rise and he hopes this would also happen here. "The jobs are plentiful, the work is interesting and well paid, but students seem to be shying away from potential IS and technology careers nowadays," he says. "We had to fight them off with a stick in the late 90s, and now we can't get enough of them! The roller-coaster ride is driving me crazy!"

He criticises the government's plan to reduce funding for taught master's and undergraduate programs amidst its "happy talk" about the knowledge economy. "We launched a very successful taught master's program in information management in 2001, to great fanfare.

This program is clearly meeting a need and is providing exactly the kind of post-experience education that the government says it wants. However, the government's intended reduction in funding will have a very serious negative impact on our ability to deliver this very program."

His technology wish list focuses on the school's distance education program. VUW switched from telephone-based audio classes to internet-based audio discussion to save money. While this has worked reasonably well, he would really like to see a simple video component added to this, as there is still nothing like seeing the face of the person you're talking to when you are teaching.

Skype, he says, has been incredibly effective at bringing VoIP to the mainstream, so he doesn't see why some smart company out there couldn't do the same for video.

"What I need is an inexpensive software tool which allows an instructor to connect by audio and video to students scattered all over the country, while others may be at home, possibly using a dial-up modem connection. This doesn't seem like a big 'ask' in this day and age, but so far we have not found a solution to this problem. Perhaps the requirement 'inexpensive' is the problem."

Steve Mayo-Smith

Chief information officer, Auckland District Health Board

Working in a sector that is always "under considerable financial pressure", Steve Mayo-Smith says, "My main concern is to be able to provide sustainable platforms and systems that can allow us to move forward rather than just purely be focused on cutting costs."

He says so much new technology is coming out and wishes he would be able to do research and decide the best way to use them, and have the funds to actually put them in place. "The key thing for me is to provide a good technology infrastructure platform that allows us to evolve and move forward with the changing needs in healthcare."

He echoes the concerns of many of his colleagues in finding the balance between the demands of work and family. "I have a somewhat large family," he says with a laugh. He and his wife Debbie Mayo-Smith, author and e-marketing expert, have six children - the oldest is 16, followed by twins aged 13 and triplets aged 10. "As you can imagine, time is an important commodity I would love to have more of."

When he has spare time, Mayo-Smith goes cycling. He reveals his actual technology wish is a Ferrari... or rather, it's equivalent in the cycling world - a graphite carbon fibre bike. "It is very lightweight, flexible, and climbs hills and mountains with ease. It just tends to be rather expensive."

Ian Rae

Chief information officer

Auckland City Council

Top of my management wish list is most definitely maintaining and developing further the talents of a great group of IT professionals, says Ian Rae.

"We have been fortunate and avoided the impacts of the tight labour market and skill shortage to date... I hope we are able to sustain the healthy track record we have in this area."

Rae would like the "hastened rollout and uptake" of broadband in Auckland City.

The council has been "aggressively" introducing online services over the past year, and will roll out more services in the next few months. "Broadband will create the opportunity for us to develop new and better service delivery models."

On the other hand, he says the explosion of data, both new and historical, in his organisation provided him the biggest pain point "Often, our ability to manage these data and information sets is outpaced by our creation of them."

He says next year, there will be opportunities to grow and evolve the council's information governance model. "We've had a terrific four or five years of close collaboration between the IT function and our many and varied business groups. I want to build on that and create stronger alignment that will better support the challenges we face in managing effectively and using to the best advantage the great digital asset we have."

Rae says he is going to focus next year on ensuring a "work/life balance" which means having to make sacrifices in either area. "I have developed a set of personal goals as well as professional ones for 2006 and I hope to achieve both sets. As much as I love this great city of ours, I have a property and interests away from Auckland as well that I plan to give some more time to next year."

Damian Swaffield

General manager information services

Sky City

Damian Swaffield says one of the rewards of his job is "seeing your team take off", and in the past few months he has been busy making sure this would happen.

Swaffield has a new leadership team and his goal for the New Year is to see its members "blossom into a high performing, self-determined leadership team".

In his six years on the job, Swaffield has seen the business expand exponentially, with revenues nearly doubling from $350 million to $680 million a year. Swaffield underscores the need for an IS team that could cope with the fast growing business requirements at Sky City, which also operates hotels, retail stores, the Tower, restaurants, bars and car parks.

In a "complicated" business model like this, it is important to have the "right people, the right partnerships... If you don't have capacity for growth, it is just too much and people will burn out.

"We try to make sure we have people, processes and technology in place so the next time we come across something similar, we don't repeat it... We don't learn unless we actually have pain points, unless we have challenges. If it is just plain sailing, we will probably not learn as much."

On the ongoing skills shortage, Swaffield says, "It is a market issue, it is not a company issue. We market the roles effectively within this group. But it still is a supplier's market... We are in pre-Y2K levels of mobility."

He observes more people are going back into contract employment which means a greater challenge for large organisations like Sky City. "There is a general mobility around Australasia; people see it as one market."

Swaffield has a message to technology vendors. "I guess it is always nice to see the technology live up to the marketing hype."

His personal wish list? "To continue to grow in my role, continue to innovate and add value to the business which is continually changing, continue to enjoy what I am doing and adding strings to my bow. I don't want a repeat of the same year, I want to be doing things better, I want to be a better leader, a better CIO."

Tom Bishop

Chief technology officer, BMC Software, Texas

The "lack of openness and the lack of true standards" in the industry is Tom Bishop's number one 'pain point'. "We still have a fragmented industry and we foist a lot of complexity on our customers because we don't have the standards in place," he says. "We are having conversations with a lot of major players and we are hoping we can help convince some of them that it is actually in their best interests to work with us to agree on some key standards."

His management wish list has already come to pass - "the recognition that in order to really deliver on the vision on IT service management, you need a good library of best practices [ITIL] that represent the collective wisdom of a set of IT".

He and his wife have just adopted a baby girl, now six months old, and the papers will be finalised on December 27.

They already have a two-year-old boy, "but we have wanted a little girl for a very long time... And so we are going to get the best Christmas present ever."Robert Gosling Managing director, Oracle New Zealand.

Robert Gosling

Managing director, Oracle New Zealand

Robert Gosling says 2005 was a very significant year for Oracle, with its acquisitions of PeopleSoft and several strategic software companies. "I've spent a lot of time with existing and new customers over the past 12 months and have been encouraged by their enthusiasm for the investments."

His goals for the next several months are to further refine the company's internal processes while continuing to invest in people. His technology wish list would be to see greater convergence across all technology sectors, from enterprise computing through to consumer technology. "As an early adopter of technology, I look forward to the day that my phone, MP3 player and digital camera co-exist in one small device!"

One of his biggest pain points - the frequent travel that goes with the job - is also one of the highlights of his role. "In fact I cannot remember the last time I spent more than five consecutive days in Wellington."

But then, he says, travel is a fact of life in a large global organisation like Oracle. "It does provide me with some great opportunities to work with a variety of customers and colleagues in different locations."

He is looking forward to using his air miles to visit his daughter who is starting college in Adelaide. His children are leaving home next year and while he and his wife will miss them, they are looking forward to a new phase in their life together. "I'd like to use the extra time to get more involved in the technology industry and am looking forward to giving back to an industry that has been so good to me."

Matt Kenealy

Chief executive officer, Axon

"The biggest thing for us really is managing the skills and resource requirements for the customer projects which vary over the course of the year," says Matt Kenealy. In the past 18 months, Axon has been implementing a system that helps it keep better track of projects and their requirements in terms of resources and skills. "We have got a committed group of people who we are developing leadership skills for the business and for customers. We will continue with the training of managers and service people according to our skills matrix."

On the ongoing skills shortage, he says, "We are actually attracting good people, but want to make sure the right people are ready at the right time, with the right skills, so we can do it well and profitably."

Kenealy is always out of the office attending meetings, so what he wants is a fully functional mobile device with a global wireless network that fits into his pocket, "can behave like a phone, be a full site laptop and weigh a couple of grams". His personal wish list? "More time for golf and a handicap of under 10," says Kenealy, whose current handicap index hovers above 12.

Owen McCall

Chief information officer, The Warehouse

Owen McCall says the ability to recruit high quality staff quickly has been one of his biggest pain points. "Ultimately we have recruited some great people but it has taken a lot of time and effort." Another issue was balancing priorities "to ensure we add the most value to the business."

For his management wish list, he wants to continue to make progress on their journey of process improvement and significantly increase his team's levels of services. "This includes improving our operational performance and our ability to turn projects around quickly for our business enabling the organisation to implement our strategy."

McCall says he has no real wishes on the technology front. "I have stopped looking for silver bullets." He says the key technology focus for the Warehouse in the next 12 months are likely to be the replacement of in-store systems, major upgrades including their Teradata database and applications), improving disaster recovery capability and supporting new format initiatives.

Brent Powell

General manager business systems, Fletcher Distribution

Brent Powell's goals are linked to making sure his commercial colleagues are provided with a systems capability that meets their expectations. PlaceMakers, he says, recognises technology as a significant enabler of its ongoing success and the automation of workflow processes. "For IT management, this means our change programs will need to continue to focus on improv-ing the environment for the commercial teams."

On technology, his wish list would be to realise the agreed strategic needs of their ERP search and selection, e-business initiatives, enterprise data warehouse and voice and data network convergence projects. His 'pain points' over the past year and what he plans to do about them are linked to these technology goals.

He cites supplier relationships, where the vendor has failed to meet their promises, as one such 'pain point'. In the next 12 months, he plans to address these by moving to a "more incentive-based reward" in dealing with suppliers, and working on enterprise data warehouse project, voice and data convergence, and an ERP "search and selection" review.

With all of these projects lined up, it comes as no surprise that for his personal wish list, Powell readily states, "Quality time with my fast growing sons (ages 11 and 13) and improving my health and fitness!"

Stuart Robb

Chief executive, Infinity Solutions

Stuart Robb has a message for the industry: "Infinity is emerging as a purposeful team in the market - watch what we can do in 2006!" His management wish list involves strengthening this team.

"Nothing beats a purposeful team - everyone on the same page, pulling together and benefiting from each other's contribution. This is possible for periods of time, but requires relentless focus, skill and determination to create and maintain."

He defers answering the question about his technology wish list. Businesses, he says, need to answer these questions instead: "How do I get more value from my technology, and perhaps more directly... We the business people have already spent enough money, so how do we successfully operate at a lower cost of technology?"

Katrina Troughton

Managing director, IBM New Zealand

"We have had a very solid year, a very successful year, with strong growth in a number of key areas," says Katrina Troughton.

But there is one area in her job where she would like things to slow down a bit. "The first thing for me, having been in this role for more than a year, is that we won't do the same amount of change in the management team as we have done this year." From her team of 11, she says only around three or four have been in their roles for more than two years.

Troughton explains the new members replaced those who were promoted in IBM New Zealand and overseas. "We have had some really great people who have been recognised for that so it has all been positive and really good for them".

Her technology wish list relates to the voice over IP system rolled out across the organisation. "We are looking for what is the next set of applications" for the system and get benefits from those. She would also like to see more support for the mobility solutions provided to employees, and how they could work more effectively using those applications.

For IBM's clients, she says, there has been an increasing requirement in the market around helping solve integration challenges, security and data management. "Those three are areas of pain and challenge for our clients."

Her family (she has two children, aged four and 18 months, and a "wonderful husband") is "pretty comfortable" but Troughton confesses to just having one more pending personal concern. "It is about how to put in enough exercise... I have to cut the day up differently again."

Keith Watson

Managing director, HP New Zealand

Consolidation and growth top Keith Watson's management wish list for 2006. He is looking to "bed in" the HP Business Consulting (formerly CGNZ, which HP bought last September) and establish broader service offerings. He likewise envisions growth, particularly in the services business as HP leverages its enhanced service offerings following the CGNZ acquisition.

The tight labour market was one of his biggest pain points in 2005. "Finding high quality staff continues to be an issue for us and other technology companies in this market." He points out HP was fortunate to have the former CGNZ team but had difficulty in hiring "the right people from the market".

"We are looking forward to consolidating and leveraging the new and existing capability of the business for the benefit of all our customers," he states."We want to grow HP's share of the services market and believe we are uniquely positioned to take lead in the business and IT consulting market, and that is exactly what we plan to do."

There is another area he wants to work on next year: "I want to lower my golf handicap by 10 points."

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