The focus of everything we do... is getting it right for our customers
Andries van der Westhuizen is not surprised New Zealand CIOs see their role as becoming "increasingly more challenging" but also "more rewarding".
“You get more involved in the business decisions. You are not just seen as a cost centre, but as a value add.”
At the same time, business leaders are becoming more educated about IT, says van der Westhuizen, who is a strategic consultant and director of Candor Consulting.
“Every company today has got IT and business people are less afraid of it,” he says, and this has both positive and challenging ramifications for CIOs and their teams.
He says the rise of smartphones, for instance, means people have not just got a lot of apps, but more freedom to do what they want with technology.
“Everybody almost became a digital officer,” he says, and this provided “some interesting conversations” with the staff across the enterprise.
With any change, there is business disruption...The staff affected need a breather, a gap in between. While they have that breather, you fix the operational stuff, get the applications stable, before you introduce the next stage of change.
Amidst rapid change, he says the CIO’s role includes continuing to educate people about IT.
“There is a difference between computer literacy and IT literacy,” he explains.
The first is sitting in front of the computer and knowing how it works. IT literacy, on the other hand, is knowing what is behind that plug on the wall and what is going on, and how it will impact your organisation.
Thus, when Van der Westhuizen was with construction and engineering services company Stevenson Group as IT transformation manager/CIO, he organised a meeting with the various business leaders.
“I discussed all the layers of IT,” he says. “You do not need to know how a technology like WAN works, but you need to know how it impacts you as a business.''
Getting IT right
Drawing on his CIO experience, he shares pointers on the balancing act CIOs face as they work through digital transformation.
A key place to start is operations, he says.
“You need to make sure your operational stuff is running smoothly. In doing so you can spend more time on innovation that creates business benefits,” he says.
“Get your help desk tickets down on those issues that create problems. It is basic '101' of ITIL…address things in quick succession, fix all operational stuff and then you can pay attention to the transformation.
“You need to work closely with the business," he states. "Any transformation should be a business project, not an IT project. You need to get business leaders buy in.”
After each period of transformation or change, fix the operational stuff that has fallen out or was affected by the transformation project, he says.
“Get that stable and move on to the next project.”
“With any change, there is business disruption,” he explains. “The staff affected need a breather, a gap in between. While they have that breather, you fix the operational stuff, get the applications stable, before you introduce the next stage of change.”
How do we optimise the users of our internal systems to better engage with our customers?
For Corbitt, is it about developing an ICT team that is comfortable with both the agile development (systems of engagement, customer issues like apps) and the more formal and ordered development and management of systems, which are critical to the business (customer service, billing and pricing systems and generation plant systems).
He stresses that the goal to work through change is across the company.
“We are working with the wider company in a culture programme. It is not specific to ICT, it is about the whole of Contact Energy.”
The driver for these shifts is the continuing digitalisation across industries.
“Digital is evolving for us quite rapidly and will continue to do so for some time,” says Corbitt, who has wide-ranging experience as a CIO across government, finance and utility sectors.
“It has impacted the way the ICT team works. The primary change is the need for more of the bimodal or two-speed IT type approach.''
There is a need for greater, faster clock speed, he says.
“Basically, [this means] faster cycle time for delivering change in an ongoing basis in a digital world.”
Skills or project needs change as well in this environment.
He leads a team of 70 permanent and fixed-term staff, but his team can grow up to three times with contractors on board during major projects.
Bimodal is a journey for us, he says.
“Not every project needs to be done in an agile fashion, but pretty much every project could benefit by being done faster.”
“The challenge for ICT is identifying how to do each piece of work,” he states.
“Rather than carrying one specifically agile one specifically waterfall, [you ask] what is the time at which this item or outcome is required? That should determine the way the teams will work together and what methodology should be adopted to deliver that.”
Digital is rapidly evolving, particularly on how Contact Energy deals with customers. They are seeking to interact with us over a digital channel in addition to other channels, says Corbitt.
“The focus of everything we do... is getting it right for our customers.”
Working on these projects calls for the ICT team to be more closely integrated with various operational teams. As such, his staff have joined internal focus groups and spend time in other departments.
As to messages for incoming CIOs and ICT leaders, Corbitt says leadership is primarily about people. There are three things people need - clarity, capability and motivation.
“Work with people who can skill you up” in those three areas, he states.
Why do the industry and professional courses still advise to align the IT strategy to the business strategy? Surely by now the industry has gained maturity and it is more of a fusion rather than an alignment.
Chief collaboration officer
For Johan Vendrig, digital transformation hinges on meaningful collaborations with executive peers, staff, external partners and customers.
Vendrig is CIO at Orion Health and talks about the nuances of this role, in a technology company that is expanding across the globe.
Vendrig joined Orion Health in late 2015, following stints at shared-care software provider HSA Global, and before that, at healthAlliance the shared services organisation owned by the four northern region district health boards.
“We are consolidating, shifting internal systems from a fragmented to a more strategic platform,” he says.
He says their technology investments is a lot about efficiency, productivity gain and internal process improvement.
''We are picking a few strategic partners and working with them on the next steps. These involve the backend core as well as the front end and include CRM and all CX technologies,'' says Vendrig.
He says when he started at Orion Health, he wanted to have a very clear view of the sales and marketing side of the business from an IT perspective.
He is shifting the CIO role from internal IT and extending that to, “how do we optimise the users of our internal systems to better engage with our customers?”
“Better connecting with our customers is where I spend a lot of my time,” he says.
“My role is facilitation and collaboration,” he says. “It is looking for collaboration between key influencers.”
He says this challenge is no different from a CIO, for instance, in a large manufacturing company.
“In our case, our manufacturing just happens to be IT manufacturing," he says, with leaders who are "very savvy" about IT investments and technologies.
“There is a panel of people with very broad skill sets and richness of expertise, you want to take the opportunity to learn from these them.”
Vendrig sees two logical areas for the evolution of the CIO role - as chief operating officer or in a general management post, and technology adviser to the board.
“As a CIO, you really need to understand how the business operates and how it can be successful.”
Thus, he says, moving to operational or general management is a logical progression for a CIO.
He says another CIO career path is developing Board skills and providing ICT advice to companies.
“A lot of boards will benefit from having some expertise and background not just in IT, but in a truly broad information management,” he says.
Measurement of the performance of existing systems helps inform strategy and also provides vital information to the Board to meet their obligations... The CIO needs to allocate time to both activities.
Leading at the edge
Murray Wills shares insights on how CIOs are leading through continuous and simultaneous shifts in the industry and in their roles.
“It is vital to maintain a portfolio view and ensure the systems you have already invested in continue to provide value to the organisation, as well as a balance of strategic initiatives,” say Wills, who as managing director at Maxsys works as a virtual CIO for a range of private, government and not for profit organisations.
“Measurement of the performance of existing systems helps inform strategy and also provides vital information to the Board to meet their obligations,” he says. “It is a fine balancing act.”
“The CIO needs to allocate time to both activities – block this out in your diary.
“Also ask – what do I need to do as CIO and what can I delegate to staff or to an external consultant?”
If resources allow, he says, allocation of an operational manager reporting to the CIO can also assist take the operational pressure off the CIO.
Being a futurist is a subset of the strategic role of the CIO, he states.
Sometimes people think that one person has to be the futurist, he says. “A CIO can pull it all together as a team.”
Wills suggests organising an innovation forum, where staff get together alongside the CIO for this purpose. They can also invite trusted external people to share inputs and ideas.
Pose scenarios, questions and insights for the group, he says. “Allocation of time to review of new technologies is vital.''
He recommends creating forums with CIO peers. “Why reinvent the wheel? Forums where CIOs can meet with others in the same role are always valuable to share ideas and talk about what they are working on.”
CIOs are looking at what the opposition is doing with the likes of robotics, cognitive computing, autonomous vehicles and virtual reality.
Out with ‘IT alignment’, in with ‘IT fusion’
Information technology has come a long way, from its origin in data processing to the creation of new business, notes Vidal, who is also an independent director for Skills4Work and a member of the IITP Accreditation Board.
“Why then do the industry and professional courses still advise to align the IT strategy to the business strategy?” she asks.
“Surely by now the industry has gained maturity and it is more of a fusion rather than an alignment.”
“IT departments orchestrate their resources and capabilities to fulfil their role and contribute to the enterprise, not more or less than other departments do,” she states.
''All departments elaborate, and hopefully they deliver upon, their departmental plans. It is the business strategy that blends enterprise-wide capabilities to move into new markets, acquire new customers and subvert industries with new paradigms.
“So let’s stop introducing ISSPs [Information Systems Strategic Plans] as aligned [to the business].”
She believes not doing this is a disservice to the industry and the profession.
The IT-business alignment reference was appropriate more than 10 years ago, she says, when IT was just seen as the emerging industry, and gradually became a cost rather than investment to realise value.
“Today when companies aspire and drive towards digitalisation of business connecting enterprise with people and physical objects, thus creating new revenue opportunities and efficiencies, IT is much entwined in the business and therefore fused with the business strategy.”
“In this business-technology equation, the IT fusion manifests itself as an integrative process to create and deliver value, regardless whether innovation comes from IT or other sectors of the organisation,” she states.
“The business strategy incorporates a cross-functional stream of capabilities, including IT, that shape and influence each other to seize business opportunities.”
Into the networked future
The CIO role has tended to be historically about information communications technology, says Vaughan Robertson, group manager - technology strategy at Beca.
CIOs talked about managing current state IT and managing to budgets and finding efficiencies, he states. “Then they broke out into this disruptive transformation part of their role. So we had the same stage - squeeze the assets, get savings out of it, get the efficiencies, then do the disruption.”
But if you look at technology in its wider sense, that is when the new CIO role of being aligned to the business kicks in, he states.
“The Internet of Things is not just ICT, it is hugely wider than that," he cites.
Thus, CIOs are now looking at what the opposition is doing with the likes of robotics, cognitive computing, autonomous vehicles and virtual reality.
He says this aligns with what CIOs this year are saying about working more closely with the other C-suite executives, like the chief marketing officer and the chief digital officer.
“They have got to be in the technology game, but in a much broader sense,” concludes Robertson.
This is part two of the New Zealand edition of the 2016 State of the CIO report (read part one here). Email the editor (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share your views on how your role has changed over the past year, what new areas you are focusing on within and outside ICT, and what other CIO-plus roles you are preparing for.
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Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.