Unfazed by rapid change

Unfazed by rapid change

The CIO role is in a constant state of ‘flux’, but this may actually be a career advantage, part two of our 2015 State of the CIO report reveals.

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The IT broker and enabler

At the Presbyterian Support Central (PSC), IT manager Alan Lyford says the IT team is moving into becoming a “broker and enabler for the business”.

“Our stance is to not allow IT to be a hindrance to the business, but be a broker that can find the best solutions to help the business do its tasks,” says Lyford.

PSC, with headquarters in Wellington, provides residential care and in-home support services for older people, as well as a range of social service support for children and families. The organisation started more than 100 years ago and now has around 1400 staff in 26 locations.

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Lyford joined PSC as a systems administrator and his role evolved to IT manager, with another staff member reporting to him.

The two of them worked with Fronde to move PSC’s IT infrastructure to Amazon Web Services.

Read more: What it’s like to be CIO for a not-for-profit

Our stance is to not allow IT to be a hindrance to the business, but be a broker that can find the best solutions to help the business do its tasks.

Alan Lyford, Presbyterian Support Central

Lyford says the project delivered more than financial benefits (savings of $120,000 over three years), but the ability for the group to trial new ideas at a lower cost.

“Small concepts can be spun up and piloted in a few days," he says, which was critical for the not-for-profit.

Purely using cloud for all our business is our strategy going forward in the next five years, he states.

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What works for him is that he has “a very grounded technical background across a lot of systems, but also works closely with the business units”.

“Having that combination, that knowledge, is helpful because a lot more of my role now is managing projects and managing tasks and workloads,” states Lyford.

The customer focus mindshift

David Havercroft, chief operating officer at Spark, says one of the major concerns for both the company and their customers is the pace of change and security implications as they move services online and to digital platforms.

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“With the speed of movement of activities online, you have to be very fast, watching what is going on in those situations, you have to be agile.”

He says there is no single bullet answer out there for organisations.

“The old world used to be about building walls, firewalls, or protection and so on. Now, you can’t build a wall for every case, so it is all about how do you react, spot, monitor and correlate behaviours and watch for things,” he says.

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"CIOs have to get themselves, and their workforce and their teams to be able to communicate in terms of the customer, not in terms of which servers are down, which nodes are working or what the latest software versions are.

David Havercroft, Spark

Another area where he has seen a big shift in his 30 years in the telecommunications and information technology industry is the customer centric focus for today’s IT teams.

“We used to all hide behind the language of technology," says Havercroft. "The reality is we have to come out of that and we have to look very much at what is the service we are offering to customers."

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“Frankly, if CIOs want to be relevant in their organisation, that is what they have to do,” says Havercroft. “They have to get themselves, and their workforce and their teams to be able to communicate in terms of the customer, not in terms of which servers are down, which nodes are working or what the latest software versions are.”

The undercover CIO

Alin Ungureanu, managing director of TYDY Group, always goes a step further in making sure the IT team is in sync with the needs of the customers.

“In all my roles, I have always believed in the interactions with customers being at the centre of the business,” says Ungureanu, who has been CIO at Oceania Healthcare and Icebreaker, and director at KPMG New Zealand.

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He says one of the highlights of his CIO role at Oceania was the time he went ‘undercover’ and worked as business and care manager for one of their rest homes for six weeks.

“The focus for me was 'do our employees have the right tools?'” says Ungureanu.“Do we provide them with the process effective and efficient processes to be able to undertake the job every single day?”

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I learnt a lot of things, and have been privy to experiences only you as a frontline staff experience every day.

Alin Ungureanu, TYDY Group

“It was a very challenging role and gave me the opportunity to understand a little bit more of what Oceania does for its residents every day. I believe that it is important to understand that the facilities are not only a place where residents live but it is place for them to call home."

"Doing that has given me an insight into watching what is important for our customers, how our customers interact with our workforce, and what is important to employees," he says.

“I learnt a lot of things, and have been privy to experiences only you as a frontline staff experience every day,” says Ungureanu.

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His non-CIO stint also allowed him to understand the things the IT team does very well, and what they need to improve on.

When asked whether he recommends other CIOs to undertake a similar assignment, he says, “Definitely, absolutely”.

“You will have a deep understanding of how the business operates.”

Pilot a project

Read more: ‘The best CIOs will be the CEOs of tomorrow’

Thomas Salmen has moved from CTO to general manager of the venture enablement team at Spark Ventures.

“The digital transformation area is the thing that is happening more and more,” says Salmen, who was previously CTO of Kordia and Orcon.

“Getting into the mind-set on digital transformation is pretty critical,” says Salmen.

But, he adds, “You have got to get past the discussion and actually make it happen; demonstrating capability is really key."

Is there a process or platform that is crying to be transformed, or reinvented?

Thomas Salmen, Spark Ventures

He asks, “Is there a process or platform that is crying to be transformed, or reinvented?”

He suggests doing a pilot project on this, and then demonstrate or talk about its value to key executive peers.

Salmen takes a leaf from advice he read somewhere to “find a user and make him or her happy”.

“It could be a single user or a group of users, it could be an entire company.

“Have a conversation with the board or CEO and say, 'This is the sort of stuff we need to be doing more often. I can lead that transformation or I can make that happen.'”

Mark Baker, principal of MIH Consulting, also shares his experience on how best to engage with different business units.

“You have to start with the proposition that the people you work with don’t care,” says Baker who has held CIO and COO roles in major New Zealand enterprises.

“You engage with people by telling them a story that is relevant to their role." .

Baker recalls the time he was working at a supermarket chain. He says one of the biggest turn offs for customers is the waiting time at the checkout lane.

So he talked to the operators about how many people per hour they are putting through the checkout, the scan rate per checkout operator, and how many checkout lanes are open. A checkout lane needs to have trained and capable operators as well as having all the associated technology like Eftpos or thescanner/scales working.

“We stopped talking about whether Eftpos or the scales were working or not and focused on what was needed to ensure the checkout lane was open or available to be open when needed. If it is not open, why not? And then [we] fix that.”

Baker says other than providing an application or tool, ICT cannot help specifically with the staff roster. "What it can do, though, is ensure that the relevant input data (like number of customers per hour) to enable effective rostering is possible."

Career outlook

As to how other business colleagues view the ICT organisation, Baker says he is not surprised that CIOs and their teams are seen as both business partners and service providers by their peers.

“Because the New Zealand organisations are smaller, most of the roles (including CIOs) are hands on in some shape or form.”

“They know who they are, they are there within your teams.”

“We do not have many executive level CIOs or IT departments that are just doing strategy and architecture,” says Baker. “We do stuff, it could be the nature of the fact that we have got lots of projects or just a function of our scale.”

The nature of the work also enables ICT people to be “intimately linked with customer experiences now and in the future”.

He says this is true even if IT is seen as an internal provider because it makes sure the servers are running. “Those servers in some shape or form will be delivering something to a customer somewhere.”

“But if you like ambiguity and complexity, you should do IT,” he states.

Baker explains ambiguity in this context is about, “What is happening tomorrow? You won’t necessarily know the specifics, but ensure you are prepared for it.”

“At the same time, people don’t like complexity, they like clear, simple things.”

“You are taking something that is complex and less efficient to something that is simple,” he states.

Neil Gong, IT manager at Airedale Property Trust, which provides property development, project management, and property and tenancy management expertise for Methodist Church properties in the wider Auckland area.

He finds it interesting that New Zealand and global CIOs have similar aspirations for the next three to five years – to remain in the role. The survey finds across the globe, 45 per cent of respondents say they foresee themselves continuing in the CIO role during this period.

Neil Gong
Neil Gong

He says this indicates most CIOs are quite happy and enjoy their current career, though he expected more CIOs moving into more entrepreneurial pursuits.

“I expect the CIO to find a lot of needs in the space of technology from a user perspective, and may want to start up a business and meet those needs,” says Gong.

Baker, on the other hand, sees CIOs and their teams getting more opportunities to grow within and beyond the organisation.

He says the CIO role is constantly evolving and has so much “flux in it”.

“Even if CIOs will stay in the same role, it will be different from two to three years ago,” he explains.

“They do so many more things as the digital economy kicks in,” says Baker. These could include responsibility for operations and the supply chain, or having teams with technology enabled functions reporting to the role.

The CIO can also work on different transformation projects.

Even if CIOs will stay in the same role, it will be different from two to three years ago.

Mark Baker, MIH Consulting

“These typically have heaps of scope, and can be massive, which is actually healthy and positive, career wise,” says Baker.

“The ICT teams are the people that are [present] before and after projects.

They are there providing the service, and after, which is around the benefits, then they work on further projects.

They are constantly going through that cycle of change, he says.

“It could be what is happening in the global market? How do we send our stuff to China and Hong Kong? A competitor has brought out a brand new product, how do we respond to that?”

“The CIO role is uniquely positioned,” concludes Baker. “It looks at the future, it looks at the present, and it looks at the past of organisations.”

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