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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.

“We are in a permanent state of upgrade. What used to be a vision for the next era is [now] a project for next year," declared Gartner senior vice president, Peter Sondergaard, at the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in the Gold Coast.

He believes this environment of ongoing change is one of the key challenges CIOs face today.

We talk to a panel of ICT leaders who apply this perspective in their respective careers in an era of fast change.

Meet the panellists:

  • Anna Cleland, Chief Customer and Digital Officer, IAG New Zealand
  • Brett Hobbs, Group IT Manager, BCS Group
  • Hazel Jennings, Director, Dale Jennings Associates
  • David Kennedy, CIO, Transaction Services Group
  • Shayne Tong, ICT and digital leader and former CIO, Genesis
  • Bernard Seeto, Strategy and Architecture Manager, Southern Cross Health Society
  • Pete Yates, PMO, Operations, IT and Platforms, Spark New Zealand

I have been made redundant twice, it was an opportunity for both times.

Hazel Jennings

Hazel Jennings: Helping not for profit leaders build digital capabilities

For her master’s degree dissertation, Hazel Jennings looked at how successful professionals manage change.

“It is pretty clear if you are looking forward, you start to see patterns of change,” says Jennings, who took her master’s degree at Ashridge Management College in the UK (now part of the Hult International Business School). She was then managing the European HP-UX labs team spread across France, UK and Germany.

“A lot of successful people will react to that pattern by picking up a new skill, or focus on a particular specialty that is becoming important.

“People will react to a crisis by expanding their skill set if they are forward looking. They tend to do it naturally,” she says.

Jennings belongs to the second category - and demonstrated this clearly enough when she faced job setbacks.

“I am reasonably confident I can always find something to do,” says Jennings, who now runs a consultancy providing ICT and digital strategies to not for profit organisations.

Read more: CIO upfront: Meet the revenue-generating CIO

“I have been made redundant twice, it was an opportunity for both times.”

The first was as the manager of the European UP-UX lab team in the United Kingdom. The lab was to be consolidated to the US office during the technology crunch at the turn of the century. She opted to take redundancy and migrated to New Zealand instead.

“That was incredibly positive.”

In New Zealand, Jennings worked at the University of Auckland and then the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind. She left the ICT manager role at the charity following a restructuring and started her consultancy.

She has also helped appoint senior people in organisations that outsource their information technology.

“Even if they manage an outsourced IT, you need that depth of experience to get the risk profile right and get the governance right,” she explains.

She believes management of suppliers is not right if the person selling the technology or service is also the person “advising you to buy more”.

“It's like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse - things can get confused,” Jennings says with a smile.

Jennings also takes on interim CIO and C-suite roles for not for profits. She is currently the acting organisational support director for Greenpeace in New Zealand.

Her post at Greenpeace is akin to that of a chief operating officer. She explains the organisation has three operational directors reporting to the chief executive, former Green Party leader Russell Norman.

One director is in charge of programmes, the other leads fundraising campaigns and the third, her role, looks after organisational support.

“I head up finance, HR and IT, the whole back office.”

She says considering one’s career as an ongoing upgrade makes sense.

When she started her consultancy, Dale Jennings Associates, she found the area of governance quite critical as she was often dealing with boards.

“In a non-profit, it is often the board that makes the big decision on the recommendation of the chief executive or the GM.

“I realised is there is a huge range in boards’ maturity and their capability, and the way they look after the charity.”

Two years ago, Jennings “cleared the decks” and stepped down from her board positions. This included her role as national councillor for Auckland at the Institute of IT professionals.

She then completed a post graduate certification in governance from the University of Waikato.

She says the course was equivalent to a company director course. But it was a year of study culminating with a ‘capstone’ project, which allowed her to focus on strategy, legal and finance for the not for profit organisations.

The certificate allowed her to take up a chartered membership at the Institute of Directors and a new governance role as a Trustee of the Otara Waterways and Lakes Trust.

“I've got my double charter now - as a chartered IT professional and a chartered member of the IoD,” says Jennings.

“That puts me in a good position now that cyber is a top of agenda in a lot of boardrooms.”

Anna Cleland: Face the fear

Anna Cleland has a simple approach to building a career.

“You just have to think of yourself,” says Cleland, Chief Customer and Digital Officer for insurance company IAG New Zealand. “How do I invest in myself and grow myself?”

“You can do that in the company you are working for,” she says. “If you are keen and if you pay attention, you will have different opportunities that will come along and you take them.

“And sometimes, you have to be prepared to sacrifice, have less money, move sideways. But you have to be prepared to be open to doing roles you you would never have thought of doing.

If you only have got a technical depth, you are not being stretched from a leadership perspective.

Anna Cleland, IAG New Zealand

“If you only have got a technical depth, you are not being stretched from a leadership perspective,” she says.

“You have got to put yourself into uncomfortable situations,” she says.

“You just have to be brave, have courage and says, ‘I have never worked in this industry before, but I am going to give it a go. I have some core skills that I can transfer and apply [to this role].’

“I am going to get into it, I am going to listen, I am going to ask questions and trust the people around me to help me.’

Then “build a great team and work with them to do amazing things."

“You almost have to be prepared to fail,” she adds. “You must be prepared to make some mistakes in that new place, in that new role, in that new industry because that is how you grow and you learn and you build this diversity in your background where you can apply yourself to so many more things.

“And then you build up a resilience.”

For Cleland, who stepped into the newly role at IAG eight months ago, this is the part of the backstory of how she progressed into leadership roles in the largest corporates on both sides of the Tasman.

Her previous roles included head of channel excellence at Westpac, and GM technology and digital (New Zealand and Australia Distribution) for Fletcher Building.

Her current role is a dual reporting line to the IAG NZ CEO and IAG Group Executive Digital and Technology, and she is a member of the New Zealand leadership team at the company.

Cleland has a degree in management of information systems, but the driver for her to take this career course was different.

“I wasn’t super passionate about technology, I was passionate about our businesses and I wanted to enable our business through technology,” she says.

She and her husband had started a rubbish waste collection business in Wellington. “We went from this startup to quite a big business, but we needed to learn how to do it.”

She remembers walking into the office of a big established company and asking for one of the owners to pitch their business.

“I have never done it before,” she says.

She explained that their company could deliver a two-hour turnaround every single time the site foreman rang them to order a bin on site. Word of their service spread to other companies and the business took off. They sold the business in 2012.

She recalls on weekends, she and her husband would work on the business, their young son in a car seat with them. She was also studying full time at the university and tutoring.

“You have got to enjoy what you are doing otherwise it is a hard slog,” she says of those days.

“All of that experience, all of those mistakes from being in business have helped me the way I am.”

Today, she says, “No matter how busy I am, I think that I will never be as busy as I was then.

“You just have to persevere,” she says. “Just keep charging yourself.”

Shayne Tong: ‘You never stop learning’

“I am very driven about delivering the now and what are the new and emerging trends, what is happening in the market? I always had a view of what is next, what is coming, where am I going next?”

Shayne Tong believes having this perspective has helped him, as he held a range of executive level and digital leadership roles across the globe over the past two decades.

Shayne Tong
Shayne Tong

What made you successful in one role and one level, does not make you successful in the next role. Being able to adapt and pivot to that is important.

Shayne Tong

.“You never stop learning. It is about formal and informal ways of keeping up to date with new and emerging trends, that is the key,” he says.

“It is also about trying to keep up to date and being able to pivot near adjacency skill sets. You can have very broad skills, but you can go deep into something,” he explains.

In his case, his range of skills is in change and transformation delivery and digital programmes.

“But it does not mean I do not have deep skills in operations, architecture and information security. Those are high-depth skills,” says Tong, who has worked across industries, from finance (ANZ Bank in Melbourne; and Goldman and Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Barclays in the UK); to manufacturing and construction (Fletcher Building) and utilities (Genesis Energy).

He says having an approach of continuous learning benefited him greatly when working in London.

There were plenty of roles to choose from, he states. “I always pushed myself to ensure the next role was always a step up from the role before, and I was able to accelerate my career very quickly.”

In New Zealand, you don’t have that volume of opportunities so you may have to go sideways for your next role. He says this is fine, “as long as you are driven, you know you are going to succeed in your next level role”.

“The other thing that is important throughout your career is realising what made you successful in one role and one level, does not make you successful in the next role. Being able to adapt and pivot to that is important.”

Next: 'Think differently, always'

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