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Continuous upskilling amidst rapid change: The challenge of growing your career in ICT

Continuous upskilling amidst rapid change: The challenge of growing your career in ICT

We talk to ICT leaders who consider their careers as being in an ongoing state of upgrade, just like the business technologies they work with.

Pete Yates: Fight typecasting

Pete Yates started his career in the service provider space. “I realised I wanted to grow my skill base. I wanted to sit on the other side of the fence.

“I did not want to be just typecast into service provider mode. I wanted to cross over into the business side,” says Yates, who was then working for Telecom (now Spark). He then moved to the Auckland City Council as IT manager.

“When I was at the [Auckland City] Council I was constantly looking for areas where I could add value,” he says.

He was involved in the transition of the Auckland Council, which saw the amalgamation of the seven local councils in Auckland and the Auckland Regional Council.

“I put my hand up to be involved in that transition work, because I knew I will not get that opportunity to be involved in a transition exercise of that scale and size in New Zealand.”

It was a really good opportunity, he says, to get that experience, the size, budget wise and the immovable time frame, as the council was scheduled to start operating on 1 November, 2010.

“I know it is a big cliche, 'but the only constant is change',” says Yates, who is now head PMO, Operations, IT and Platforms at Spark, and blogs about digital culture and leadership.

“If you are not comfortable with change in the organisation, it is going to be very hard for people to catch up or to stay on the job. They will struggle in industries that are looking to transform themselves.”

Yates says having a good professional network and attending major industry events are important, “to open one’s horizons”.

That is where you can learn about things that are happening in other organisations and industries, he states.

Are you a good communicator? Can you talk to people and deal with difficult situations?

His move to Foster Moore as GM technology services (CIO) for instance, was prompted by his realisation that, "software applications are where companies were really adding value and differentiating themselves.”

This, he says, is being demonstrated by Kiwi companies going global, like Xero, Orion Health, EROAD and Vend.

So while he was tasked to look after the internal IT team at Foster Moore, he grew the team and also looked at the development environment and DevOps.

“You have to pick up those opportunities to grow your skills.”

The move to Spark Ventures, meanwhile, offered the chance of starting something from scratch or a complete rebuild.

“Most people inherit IT,” he says on joining the division of Spark, which was allowed to function like an incubator and a startup.

“You had to set up all the environment and have process and people ready for that growth you build for now, but be able to scale for later.”

"I brought in my own team, built up the processes and the technology," he says.

Beyond the build, “we also created strategy from the start and implemented initiatives for the team and the group. It was a fast pace of change as well. That was a cool thing.”

Yates says he also enjoyed the startup environment as well, as the work also enabled him to get in touch with the vibrant startup community in New Zealand.

His advice? “If you are interested in the software side, get a good case in the software delivery space. If you are looking at, say, AWS, get a good background, understand how it works under the hood and look to gain skills in the programing scripting space.

“Technology can be so big, if you look at it that way. But try to narrow it down based on what you would like to do or the environment you would like to work in."

He notes new graduates are very reliant on technology and social media, but this should not be to the detriment of developing “softer skills” like communications.

You need to build relationships outside your immediate sphere, he says.

“There might be a business case that needs to be done...Are you a good communicator? Can you talk to people and deal with difficult situations?”

Brett Hobbs: Be open to new ideas

Brett Hobbs says he makes sure to dedicate a significant time to do research on what the industry he is involved in is doing, where it is going, how various systems fit the business and how they can bring those pieces together.

What’s important is “taking time for reviewing the industry, what is actually happening with it, and in technology,” says Hobbs, Group IT Manager for BCS Group.

“Spending time in strategising and looking at your business and working with leaders in your business and areas where they overlap, that is of utmost importance,” he says. “It is more important more than anything else I do."

BCS Group provides logistics hardware, automation controls and software solutions for the aviation and logistics sector.

Hobbs started as an IT support engineer, moving on to become IT engineer and then infrastructure manager, and then progressed to group IT director.

Talk to other companies in similar verticals and outside your sector.

Brett Hobbs, BCS Group

When BCS was acquired by Daifuku Group, the global leader in materials handling, Hobbs found himself travelling to the head office in Japan, as he became involved in overarching ICT throughout the group.

This introspection is also part of vendor management.

“Traditionally a lot of the vendors build products around what they think people need,” he says. "What does the product do, where is the market going? What does the business actually need? There is never a perfect overlap.

"It is spending quite a bit of time myself just looking at who the players are in the market, where it is going and looking at which pieces do we need to realign the business to follow industry standard."”

He also keeps abreast of industry trends by talking to other companies in similar verticals and outside their sector, like healthcare.

He says charities present businesses with insights on how to manage issues like BYOD.

“They have interesting challenges because a lot of the time they are more financially restricted. They also have very high levels of volunteers, which means you can’t think about challenges like everyone gets a corporate device,” says Hobbs, speaking from experience as a volunteer for some of these groups.

“You have to be flexible because 60 per cent of the workforce is volunteers and they want to bring their own phones and laptops. We need to ensure that it is seamless for them, as it would be for a full-time employee.”

“It just opens you to ideas.”

Are there any complexities in my systems or processes that I can kill or reverse? Is there anything that I am doing, which is not actually adding value to the business?

David Kennedy, Transaction Services Group

David Kennedy: Think differently, always

“Along my career, I have always been striving for personal progression,” says David Kennedy, CIO at Transaction Services Group.

Part of this ethos is also the ongoing necessity to think differently always.

But in order to do this, “make sure you have a team around you that you know can think differently,” he states.

It is something he applies in his global CIO role, as TSG operates six business units as autonomous companies across New Zealand, Australia, the United States and the UK.

He says the organisation has distilled six words to encompass this goal: ‘Think Big’, ‘Kill Complexity’ and ‘Create Time’.

"It is important to distill your strategy into some very clean words and it took me six months to come up with those six words," he says. “We went through lots and lots of permutations before I felt comfortable with them.”

The first, he says, is about releasing the shackles of what you think is possible. “Have ideas that you may or may not be able to do.”

IT managers also have to think as a group. At TSG, for instance, they will be running pilot projects that will be rolled out to their other companies.

When he is approached for more resources, he points to the two other dictums.

‘Kill complexity’ covers all systems and processes. “The first thing they should look at is, 'are there any complexities in my systems or processes that I can kill or reverse? Is there anything that I am doing, which is not actually adding value to the business?'

“By process of engneering, using automation and putting teams of people in the mode of trying to create time, you create an environment where people are naturally striving to better themselves and the business every day.”

He relates this approach to disruption that is impacting both organisations and careers.

“Change happens every day,” he says. “So why do people think disruption is anything else, apart from a company's inability to see a competitor?”

He proffers instead the concept of ‘internal disruption’.

“It is creating a mindset within the people to come up with big ideas. That constant change and growth really expands my portfolio of skills.”

If you can't move at speed you get caught in 'a narrow field' and that will limit your options to work in multiple industries.

Bernard Seeto, Southern Cross Health Society

Bernard Seeto: Upskilling allows you to move at speed

“It is a bit like a system upgrade,” says Bernard Seeto, IS Strategy and Architecture Manager at Southern Cross Health Society. “Similar to the way an operating system needs to be upgraded - so do you as an individual.”

“It is about learning all the time,” says Seeto, who has chalked up executive roles in financial services, general insurance and telecommunications.

“I try to look at all the different aspects of technology I need to develop. Not just from a strategic perspective, but from delivery and operational perspectives too. Because my belief is you need to learn more about those roles and that gives you greater agility for the organisation.

“With that agility, you get greater opportunities, you get more choice because you can move at speed.

“But if you can't move at speed you get caught in, for lack of better words for it, 'a narrow field' and that will limit your options to work in multiple industries.”

Seeto says taking on this continuous upskilling mentality requires a range of disciplines - from time management to the ability to learn from other people.

“To be honest, you never really have enough time built into your day for this,” he says. “The only way you can do it, is to collaborate and work closely with other people.”

These, he says, could include your suppliers and industry analysts.

“If you are not willing to share your strategies and have more proactive discussions and really create a level of collaboration intensity, it becomes very difficult to move forward.”

Seeto also suggests providing a safe environment for staff to suggest new ideas.

When he was Head of Solution Delivery at IAG, Seeto conducted reverse mentoring sessions with some of the junior staff.

He invited the people in their graduate programmes for discussions.

“They helped me set the agenda, and by doing that you gain different perspectives. But you can only do that if you create a safe environment for people to be allowed to speak to you quite openly.”


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Tags careerknowledge managementdisruptionwomen in technologyDXlifelong learningupskilingleaderhsip

More about ANZAuckland City CouncilAuckland CouncilAWSDeutsche BankFacebookGartnerGoldmanHPIAGNormanOrionOrion HealthSouthern Cross Health SocietySparkTechnologyTSGTwitterUniversity of WaikatoWestpacXero

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