How can CIOs implement their skills in change management to another constantly shifting area -- their role itself? IT leaders share their views during a CIO roundtable sponsored by Absolute IT. Here are excerpts from the discussion.


Roy Goldsmith, CTO, Bank of New Zealand

Stephen Fox, director of information, communications and technology, Department of Labour

Aaron Kumove, managing director, Horizon Consulting

Bruce Tinsley, CIO, Opus International Consultants

Jan Smolnicki, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Grant Burley, director, Absolute IT

Tina Ng, director, Absolute IT

Matt O'Mara, CIO, Careers New Zealand

Constant change

Bruce Tinsley: In the past 15 or 16 or so years, I have been running a number of large transformation projects from an IT perspective. What I'm finding now is that not only am I involved in IT transformation and the business transformation that goes with it, but actually helping to lead the transformation through the business. Executives are looking at IT to help drive that change rather than just providing the technology behind the change... What this is challenging me to do is get that wider engagement with the business... At the end of the day, if you change the way they operate, they're the ones that have got to buy into it.

Roy Goldsmith: It is encouraging IT people to make certain they understand that what they do has a direct impact on our business, on our customers... making certain that you reinforce that all the time. Give them a mantra that says: 'Everything I do, does it help us go in the right direction?'

Matt O'Mara: The challenge we've got today is we are seeing the mass socialisation of technology. We now have new demands placed on us from our users...Our role has got to be as transformation agents, we've got to do that in a tangible way. My strategy has been to move us from being the traditional cost centre, keeping the lights on, to being that transformation agent and a value centre.

Stephen Fox: But before you can actually get to the transformation you've got to have the lights on. You do have to make sure those basics are right... Another thing that we're doing across government is the whole of government shared services. That's going to be really important going forward and changes the nature of our role to be less focused on our organisations and more over a wider community or collaborative grouping.

Aaron Kumove: Things have probably changed for the better -- 10 years ago, there was still this divide between 'the business' and IT. Such that, the attitude prevailing was: 'Oh, that's an IT project'. I see much less of that these days... I think the fundamental difficulty that is still around is that people don't like change. Any way you cut it, people don't like it.

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Balancing act

Aaron Kumove: We often see CIOs come from one of two paths. There are the ones who come up the technology ranks and then the ones who come out of finance with accounting backgrounds. In either case, there will be gaps to fill... Whatever your gaps are, look to address them so you can be more well-rounded.

Bruce Tinsley: I did an MBA and that was in the realisation that working at that stage, I think I'd been in IT [then] for about 17 or 18 years, I didn't know enough about the way the business operated, the way operations worked. I found that very useful. I don't think it's for everybody but I think anybody aspiring to be a CIO needs to have a good grounding of the fundamental business. The CIO role these days is not about managing IT, it's managing the delivery of the technology to the business and supporting the business that way. You can't do that if you don't know how businesses operate, and that includes financial information as well.

Stephen Fox: I came from an engineering background so all my early stuff was engineering and operational management. I did a management and an IT degree and then I moved in. I have just finished a diploma in art and creativity and [found that] most valuable.

Jan Smolnicki: It is showing that you need to have the broad brush approach of understanding business, understanding IT... I came up through the accounting background and moved into IT quite early in my career. About 10 to 12 years into it, I was thinking when people see my CV they'll say: 'He's an accountant, he doesn't know about IT.' So I did a masters degree in information technology.

Roy Goldsmith: It's important to know both sides of whether it's the technology side and the business side. I spent 14 months working in our [bank] retail sector which was absolutely fantastic. It opens your mind, rather than just being part of the technology sector. I really recommend to any CIO as well.

Don't take the job until you've been a supplier as well as a customer... You can then at least put a balanced argument together as to how difficult it is and what you require from those suppliers. It doesn't mean you go easy on them, it actually helps them.

The people principle

Roy Goldsmith: The other key path for me is trying to make certain that you do get that succession planning right and not just thinking that you can go on the marketplace and buy what you need all the time. We do need to have almost a mandate to try and put some things back in that way, to try and develop from within.. Take people at a base level and bring them through. If we don't do that, we will run out of resources.

Jan Smolnicki: As a CIO or as a leader, we've got to understand what motivates people, how we can get our teams to excel.

Bruce Tinsley: Part of it is actually giving something back. I first got involved back in the 90s with the old CIT (Central Institute of Technology) and it had an advisory board for their IT courses. Four or five of us used to meet every six or eight weeks and our job was to provide them advice on how they shape their courses to meet industry needs. That was a great introduction for me. I've been on the Auckland University Business Innovation Board... It is a good way to start getting involved in some governance type programmes as well.

Shifting ICT landscape

Bruce Tinsley: Technology is going to be a lot more embedded in the business and it's [about] how do you manage that right execution of the skills across the business...Across an organisation you need to make sure that IT doesn't become a disruption to a business but still keeps things moving forward. These are new ways of doing things, of using the tools we've got or looking at new tools to use. This is coming on to the whole consumerisation of IT, using consumer devices, using consumer tools like Facebook and Twitter.

Matt O'Mara: It's about challenging the business and showing them the possibilities... When I was working at Wellington City Council, we had our parking team who needed to do audits of parking meters. They were using hundreds of maps. We gave them PDAs, GPS [units], connected it to our asset management and GIS systems. It was a small thing but a complete transformation. We managed to show that to the CEO and he said: 'This can applied to street signage and all manner of things.'

Stephen Fox: We also have to prepare for a future without a technology group within a company.

Skill set for today's leaders

Roy Goldsmith: The skill set has moved - less technical to being more consultative, being more of a leader. Someone who can provide good advice, call it a savvy business advisor, who can facilitate that collaboration across the business. That, to me, is more what the business wants these days as well.

Grant Burley: What's even more important is notches on the belt, successful projects -- large or otherwise, implementation of new technology, and adaptation of that new technology.

Tina Ng: They want somebody who has good commercial business sense and right across a broad range of areas. You're touching on procurement, contract negotiation, change, recruitment, you are covering such a broad range of areas of expertise now.

The next arena

Bruce Tinsley: I want to focus a lot more on governance. I think there are not enough IT people on boards and we need to really start ramping up a number of good confident IT people on boards. We've discussed it today -- IT is so important for business and it's so integral for the way businesses operate today.

You've got your accountants on the boards, every board has got lots of accountants and lawyers and whatever else but I think I think there's certainly a role for CIOs to move into those governance type roles. I'm starting to investigate that at the moment and that's through the likes of the Institute of Directors.

Matt O'Mara: The example about using GIS and GPS was being entrepreneurial. It was a really quick project. There's more and more talk in government about being more agile as well. I think agility and innovation and entrepreneurialism within government should be given more of a profile.

Object lessons

Matt O'Mara: Secondment work is fantastic. I got [involved] into a programme management role to tidy up a situation. I was a little apprehensive to say the least but it was fantastic. Pressure makes diamonds.

Bruce Tinsley: In my early days at the ANZ [in] a senior management role there. I thought I knew about banking... But I was challenged one day to go out and spend a week in a branch. A day as a trainee teller. A day as a trainee customer services operator. A day working on back office stuff. All of a sudden you get a real appreciation of what goes on out there in the field.

Stephen Fox: I ran the North Island Power system and you certainly learnt a lot when the power goes off in Auckland or Tauranga and you have everyone ringing you up. It is good to get that grounding first. Now any incidents on the help desk are quite mild in comparison.

Bruce Tinsley: Do take the opportunities to get out and experience other industries... In the late 90s, I was looking at a role change and [a recruiter said], 'You've been in banking for 20 years now, you've institutionalised yourself. You're never going to move anywhere else.' I've been back into a bank once since then but I've been in government, in dairy, right across the board.

Aaron Kumove: The CIO is a great preparatory role for a whole lot of other things... CIOs see the cross-section of almost everything going on in organisations. You can dip your toes into all kinds of things if you choose to do it... Get out into the business, see what life is really about and not just sit in the office talking technology. Stay curious. Learn as much as you can.