Critical conversations

Critical conversations

The CIO Summit tackles a key issue CIOs across sectors face — getting a seat at the top table.

Peter Nevin, chair of the Board of Advisors of the CIO Executive Council of Australia, highlights the non-business technology, but just as important component of ICT leadership: building executive level relationships.
Peter Nevin, chair of the Board of Advisors of the CIO Executive Council of Australia, highlights the non-business technology, but just as important component of ICT leadership: building executive level relationships.

New Zealand Government CIO Colin MacDonald has a prime tip for CIOs: “Get interested in the business — in all aspects of it.”

MacDonald says the big fear is that ICT gets disconnected from the business. “Quite appropriately, IT needs to be anchored in whatever business you need to be in.”

“You have got to provide services 24 x 7,” advises MacDonald at the recent CIO Summit in New Zealand. “If you are doing that, you can have the strategic conversations.”

Dr Peter Wilton, senior lecturer at the Haas School of Business, University of California. shares that CIOs tell him they spend 10 percent of their time on strategic issues. “That is why they are not invited to the table.”

Wilton says IT has to be structured to free up the CIO to have those types of discussions. “Delegate your operational responsibility to staff, the higher you go up the organisation, you are meant to take on more strategic responsibilities.”

Peter Nevin, chair of the Board of Advisors of the CIO Executive Council of Australia, highlights the non-business technology, but just as important component of ICT leadership: building executive level relationships.

Nevin, who is also CIO for Genea, says there are three kinds of CIOs with their competencies, behaviours, and end results. At bottom is the “functional CIO”, a technically competent service provider. There is the transformative CIO, someone who changes the organisation through IT projects, which we all do. At the top level is the business strategist CIO.

So how do you build influence? He says there are four layers to IT’s role:

• Basic hygiene: making sure the network, servers, PCs etc. work day-to-day.

• Software on top, keeping up with suppliers’ updates.

• The organisation’s back-office systems — finance, payroll, HR, etc.

• The applications specific to the organisation and its industry sector.

What we often miss as CIOs is the thing that drives your whole organisation, the customer-facing applications; the web pages and portals. That’s where the business value, the game changers, and the profits are, explains Nevin, drawing on insights from the CIO Executive Council in the US.

The bottom levels reduce ICT cost and increase reliability; the middle ones reduce cost in the business. The top two are where strategic change happens.

Think through those levels in everything you do, he advises.

On working with the CEO, he asks, do you know the three or four things that are critically important to your CEO? Ask him or her. Keep the CEO up to date on project progress.

He recommends listening to what the businesspeople think of ICT. Give them something information-oriented, like an executive dashboard, that they can show off to others.

You have to have a working relationship with the CFO; they’re in charge of the money, he stresses. They want IT to stay in budget and they want to have confidence in your KPIs and controls.

The chief operating officer, on the other hand, has the same broad view of the business as the CIO. Partner with them to increase cross-departmental effectiveness and give them tools to measure it.

Sales and marketing have shorter cycle times. Imagine yourself as a customer and talk to salespeople in those terms.

Nevin suggests to keep in touch with HR. They get the first views from users unhappy with IT services.

Dealing with the boards is another important facet of the CIO role. The boards vary dramatically. They want to know about risk and compliance and making sure the company’s operating profitably.

He says when dealing with the board, be professional. “Don’t go in without a tie. Be brief. Don’t use jargon.”

One crucial rule is, “Don’t surprise your CEO in front of the board!”

When you go into a meeting, know what you talked about in the last one and what progress you made on the top three topics. Understand what their goals and KPIs are and how the projects you’re putting together affect those.

It’s a good idea to phone your own helpdesk (from someone else’s office); be the “mystery shopper. ”

He cites that in one of his jobs, he asked senior executives to take calls on the helpdesk. With the younger staff, he advises providing them tools similar to those they use every day. “They’ll become more productive.”

Nevin says it is also important to know the informal power holders in the organisation and establish a relationship with them.

Relationships are continuous, he states. “You need to constantly work at good relationships; they’re not something you establish and walk away from.”

His parting insight for his CIO colleagues comes not from IT, but from US comedian Steve Martin: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

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Crawford Del Prete, chief research officer, IDC

Paul Strong, chief technology officer – global field, VMware

Craig Soutar, CIO, NZ Transport Agency

Dean Thompson, PMO manager, NZ Transport Agency

Simon Casey, CIO, Barfoot & Thompson

Jennifer Lucie-Smith, marketing manager, Barfoot & Thompson

Stephen Whiteside, CIO, The University of Auckland

Kevin Angland, CIO, IAG New Zealand

Dave Fellows, CTO, Green Button

Thomas Salmen, CTO, Kordia New Zealand

Naomi Ferguson, commissioner and CEO, Inland Revenue

Barry Vryenhoek, CEO, healthAlliance

Greg Lowe, group CEO, Beca

Peter Nevin, CIO, Genea

Dr. Peter Wilton, senior lecturer, University of California

Andrew Lam-Po-Tang, chief information and technology officer, Fairfax Media

Craig Sims, chief operating officer, ANZ

Tim Occleshaw, deputy CEO, Department of Internal Affairs

Miles Fordyce, group manager technology, NZ Post

Chris Vein, chief innovation officer for global information and communications technology development, World Bank

Colin MacDonald, NZ Government CIO

Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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