Leanne Gibson: Smashing the glass ceiling for IT professionals
Leanne Gibson was CIO at the Ministry of Education when she was tapped to join the Advisory Group for the Master of Information Management (MIM) at Victoria University of Wellington.
That was seven years ago with the invitation coming from Laurence Millar, who was then NZ Government CIO.
“He got a number of us in government thinking about supporting each other and sharing our experiences and our resources,” says Gibson. So when Millar told her the university needed a government representative for the MIM advisory group, she took on the role.
Millar told Gibson that by joining the MIM advisory board she could give something to a wider community, not just the government.
“It was quite nice to be in advisory rather than decision making,” says Gibson, who left the Ministry of Education to work at the Wellington International Airport, first as CIO and now general manager facilities and information technology.
“In our normal jobs, we have to make a lot of decisions and sometimes it is nice to just share our experiences,” says Gibson, who is now head of the advisory group.
It is good to give back and share that experience that we have
Victoria University’s master of information management is designed for IT professionals who are moving to senior business-oriented roles, as well as for CIOs who want to broaden their management perspective.
The course is designed to suit full-time workers and is offered in both Auckland and Wellington. It can be completed with certificate and diploma options that can be stepping stones towards a master’s degree.
The current board includes Rebecca Schasching of the Department of Corrections who is also the president of Govis (NZ Government Information Systems Managers Forum); Institute of IT Professionals New Zealand CEO Paul Matthews; Karen Gordon-Lewis, formerly of Hudson; and Abinesh Krishan of Potentia. A former student, James Thomson, who now works for the government communications security bureau, is also a member. Thomson completed the degree while working as head of information systems for the Ministry of Defence.
“We report and give advice to the programme director, Jocelyn Cranefield, and head of school of information management Benoit Aubert,” says Gibson.
The advisory group also provides connections with the wider community for students working on research projects.
Part of her role involves attending course-related events organised by the university. She says she relishes the engagements with the students during those events and observing their progress over the academic journey.
“Many of them can not get through a glass ceiling,” she says, on the initial challenges of some of the students. “They are stuck in a technical role, they are not using their more strategic abilities.”Read more: How Downer's CIO works with rocket scientists and brain surgeons
“By the time you hear their presentations after a couple of years through the master’s [programme] it is absolutely inspiring,” she says. “You feel you are doing something good to unlock the potential in people.”
Gibson says she is likewise proud to be helping the university where she got her undergraduate and master’s degrees. “I am giving back to the university that helped me with my career.”
The advisory group meets twice a year. “It is a very dynamic, interesting, challenging set of topics that we will cover over that two hours,” she says. “It is about drawing on our experience in the private, public or entrepreneurial sector, to help the academics craft and construct the best possible products for the students, but also for the future.”
“We see technology moving so fast,” she says, so the VUW curriculum allows special topics each year where they can build something very topical and of interest.
“I would really encourage people to take up the opportunity that comes along, because it is good to give back and share that experience that we have.
“You get to meet the most fantastic people,” she adds. “If you are looking to expand your network connections, this is another way of doing that outside of your normal industry network.”
David Kennedy: Paying it forward
David Kennedy, CIO at Transaction Services Group, goes out of his way to help educational institutions fine-tune their offerings for ICT and business technology leadership courses.
Kennedy is chairman of the advisory board for the University of Auckland’s Strategic CIO programme.
The programme, which runs once a year for five months, is open to delegates who are currently in an IT-based role that reports to the CIO, CEO or another member of the executive team.
“It is my pleasure to introduce the delegates to the programme with the first presentation of the course. I present a real life portrayal of life as a CIO is today’s complex, opportunity-laden environments.”
He also invited 12 CIOs to be a presentor and mentor to the delegates.
Each of the CIOs in the board will mentor one or two delegates in order to help them achieve their thesis project. The project should deliver strategic value using ICT in their respective organisation.
''“We help future-proof ICT education and help future leaders” for this country, says Kennedy.e.''
We teach them about the realities of IT, and the CIO role
He says the CIOs who participate in the programme deserve recognition for committing their time for the betterment of the course, and the time they put in to mentor the participants.
“It is not just a Powerpoint course. It is a comprehensive course based on the experience of leading CIOs in the country. There is serious horsepower in the CIO role and it is our responsibility to ensure we help the delegates prepare for such an important role.”
He says they also talk about the downsides of the role. “Because technology is so complex, you are never going to make everybody happy,” he says.
Kennedy says today’s business environment veers away from the traditional technology roadmap, and discusses the implications to the CIO role.
“The real value is in the creation of two-way and three-way platforms to deepen the relationships with customers and consumers. The information strategy we define must deal with the many factors that can create value whilst being mindful that many information strategies have failed to deliver the desired benefits due to poor design or insufficient planning,” he states.
For instance, if you are a company selling the “product”, then the information from your customers can be used to increase engagement and create value with the customers and insights for your company. These insights can dramatically change the strategic decision making process to increase successful strategies to be created and implemented on time and to a defined budget.
“You have to make sure the ecosystem you create enhances the company’s longevity and deepens the relationship with your customers.”
He cites the shortening tenure of Fortune 50 and Fortune 500 companies. While in the past, companies traditionally were on the list for 66 years, the current longevity rate for companies is around 15 years.
“In the future, it will be even less,” he predicts. “Your ability to add value to a larger customer base is enhanced by the ability to manage the information that you have. The ability for a challenger to disrupt your channel to market will also be defined by the information that your company has on its customers”.
For this, organisations can take lessons from companies like Uber, he says.
''Uber has been around since 2009 and has only really been a hyper company in the past 18 months,” he cites. “They were growing slowly, then they reach a critical mass required for hyper growth and then all of a sudden, they 'hockey stick'," using the data they have to create a new business model that disrupted the transport sector. They now offer a food delivery service, for example.
“When you look after technology, you must also understand the business,” he advises the aspiring CIOs, “what your customers need and how you are going to retain their engagement.”
He explains how this can be applied to the energy sector. “Energy is an interesting sector, very cut throat. It is all about price, price, price. Customers are looking for the best price.”
He says a competitive edge will go to the energy company releasing a more granular smart meter that will update you on usage. So when you turn off an appliance, you will immediately know how that impacts your power bill.
In the insurance world, it could be around pricing home insurance. He asks, “Why do I pay the same amount for my house insurance when I am in the house as when I am out of the house? If we provide the mobile telemetry data to the insurance company, surely they can reduce my premium as the risk to the property is reduced.
“This is how you use information to be an exponential organisation.”
It is our responsibility as senior leaders to pass on our knowledge and experience
What drives him to this role as an educator?
“It is our responsibility as senior leaders to pass on our knowledge and experience, which will lead to better international partnerships and increase domestic success. We need to create a platform for future Kiwis that means they want to stay in the country and deliver more success for generations to come.” he says.
“We want to give this country's economy a place where we can develop skills,” he says. “If we can create an environment where we are providing individuals with mental stimulation and projects to keep them here, it will make this country better.”
On a personal note, it is Kennedy’s way of paying it forward to the mentoring that he received as he built a career in cybersecurity and now as a CIO - across the globe.
Among his mentors was Marc Potter, New Zealand CEO at ICG (Internal Consulting Group), the global consulting and project services firm.
Kennedy says this started when he was the CIO at Orion Health. He was running several programmes and discussed these with Potter. “He helps me visualise things.”
Kennedy says this relationship continued when he moved to TSG as group CIO. It is not a formal mentoring, says Kennedy. “We talk every couple of months.”
Cybersecurity expert Charles V Pask, managing director of ITSEC Associates, also mentored him early on in his career.
“I have a deep respect for Charles and what he taught me early on in my career. I try to emulate that kindness and generosity in my life to give back to others and help them learn.”
“Do remember that people are always learning,” he says, quoting Pask.
It is something he often considers with his work at the University of Auckland and in other organisations, like the companies Computer Culture in Christchurch and Cucumber in Tauranga, where he is a director.
“We help future-proof ICT education and help future leaders” for this country, says Kennedy.
Ian Clarke: The power of perspective
Ian Clarke, former Fronde CEO and now director at Techion Group, sits on the advisory boards at the Applied Science Programme at the University of Otago and the business school at Victoria University of Wellington.
He first got involved with the University of Otago, where he finished his MBA. One of his professors asked him to help establish an advisory board for the applied science programme at the school.
“I was keen to do that partly to give back a bit and partly because the applied science school does some very interesting work on technology."
You go back to your day job with new perspectives.
The course is very diverse, from aquaculture through to software engineering, explains Clarke.
That was five years ago when he was CEO of Fronde. He says the advisory meets twice a year and his involvement is not time consuming.
The board offers an employer’s perspective, suggesting where the university might consider new aspects within its programmes.
He got involved with VUW when Xero CEO Rod Drury retired from the board, with the university looking for another member to give the employer perspective in the technology space.
He says the VUW panel meets three times a year, and they also get involved in university events, like lectures and lunches with visiting speakers.
His involvement with both boards are useful professionally, he says, because the advisory board leaders come from different areas.
“You get exposed to some people who think differently in the university faculty. You go back to your day job with some new perspectives.
“I think it is a very good thing for CIOs and their teams to get involved in advisory boards in universities and tertiary technical institutions,” says Clarke.
“The IT industry has long struggled with the supply of properly qualified people at the right times and the right volumes.”
Claudia Vidal: Helping future leaders
“I did not have much help, I had to learn by myself when I started, it was by 'trial and error' and observing other professionals,” says Claudia Vidal, when first moving into ICT leadership roles.
Vidal has a background in commerce and business management. Yet, for ICT, the closest thing to a formal course when she was studying was a diploma in information systems, which she completed at the University of Auckland.
“Apart from ad hoc courses, there was not much around in terms of your preparation as an IT manager, in particular, the skills that you need to be able to get the best out of people,” says Vidal, who these days is business solutions manager at Vector.
In her career, Vidal has built an impressive portfolio of executive roles,including CIO and GM for operations.
This early experience in the sector prompted her to get involved in programmes to ensure the future leaders in ICT are prepared for the realities of thriving in a fast-paced, competitive sector.
Technology is evolving so fast... we are making sure future CIOs receive pragmatic advice
Currently, she is on the advisory board of the Strategic CIO Programme at the University of Auckland.
She is also an industry representative to the accreditation board of the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP). The board works with tertiary providers to improve IT-related degrees.
“I have been linked to ICT education not just as a student, but also as a contributor,” she explains. “I really feel strongly in making sure that students have a preparation for work in industries in New Zealand.
She worked as an independent director for Skills4Work and AMES IT Group,which provides information technology courses. When it was sold to Animation Group, the courses included the “artistic part of technology”.
“It was nice to see the synergies it creates, linking the new courses to the most traditional aspects of technology.
“It is two angles of a spectrum,” she says. “One looks more at the artistic creation of things. The learning gets enriched when you understand the hardware and software that helps achieve the animation.
“You gain the understanding of how work in computer graphics fits with the rest of the production from a technical viewpoint.”
With the University of Auckland CIO programme, she says, “What I would like to see in that space is the actual framing for CIOs, that is, learnings influencing the choices they will make to create business value using technology, for the demands of the role today and in the near future.
“Technology is evolving so fast and with the blurring of the lines between IT and marketing, we are making sure they receive pragmatic advice,” says Vidal.
The programme includes discussions on developing skills for influencing.
This means working with executive peers and other business leaders to “make sure IT comes across as a partner and not as a separate function”.
“You get to a point in your career where you need that piece of advice to get to the next level.”
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