CIO100 2017 #31-100: Jim Swanson, Datacom
Datacom CIO Jim Swanson has been in the role for about six months, but has “already inherited a solid change agenda”.
Datacom Systems is increasingly looking to unify of its Australia-New Zealand operations under new ANZ CEO Greg Davidson, to streamline the company’s operations regionally. This also extends to the company’s wider global operations.
“My role is to better accommodate the customer teams across the company that we are collaborating with. It isn't just about cost efficiencies, it's about improving our business outcomes by having our diverse teams co-located and collaborating.”
Swanson strongly believes technology plays a critical role in innovation, but says the root of all innovation is actually in redefining and reimagining the customer experience.
“Uber, for example, is not about the technology,” he adds.
“It is about two people connecting to provide a service, a car ride. In the our context, we could talk about the cool meeting room tech and unified comms we’re implementing across the company. But the true outcome, is that Datacom staff will be able to work more effectively with each other and their customers.
“We’re a tech company but, at our core, we’re a people business. So providing that customer experience on a very human level is a huge competitive advantage for us and why we’re so successful in the market.”
“We’re not one of those big, faceless, global tech providers that keeps in touch with its customers by flying them to the US, or somewhere in Asia, for a big summit once a year. We’re locally owned and resourced, so we are fully dependant on real, every-day, human relationships. That is our competitive differentiator.”
“So ICT is not the ‘pure’ source of innovation for us – it is a vehicle. ICT’s role is to scaffold and support the new ways our people imagine working together – it is about enabling our people to face the challenges of a 21st century, digital focused, business.
“Datacom has been an early adopter of technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.
"We are a member of the NZ VR/AR garage, a think-tank that supports local businesses in developing those markets, and recently announced this country’s first Microsoft Hololens practice. This is already producing real world applications with customers such as the Auckland Museum.”
“Our work with IP Australia, with our partners Nuance, to develop a virtual assistant to tackle customer enquiries is market leading and evolving rapidly,” he says.
“To top it off, we won Dell’s Internet of Things award for our work with oil and gas provider Santos that assisted the company with its gas exploration using sensors and big data analytics.
"None of this would be possible without developing the brightest minds internally and ensuring they attend the right conferences, summits and think tanks, as well and investing heavily in our own R&D,” he says.
“I think we’re pretty well connected and know what next season’s fashions look like [in terms of innovation],” he states. “Most importantly, we’re really good at helping our customers decode vendor marketing spin and then helping them leverage the good stuff.”
“In terms of research/innovation versus operational balance, I’m uniquely fortunate in that I have an awesome ‘outsource’ partner (Datacom), which takes care of all the operational stuff for me.
So, apart from managing them (‘I’m their best and worst customer’), my team and I are pretty much free to focus on the innovation aspect across the wider group. It’s a very exciting remit.”
Swanson works as a member of the Datacom group leadership team and is involved in lead group level technology strategy discussions and decisions.
“I’m lucky in that I can explain the tech speak in business or mainstream language across the business, so I’m pretty well in touch with the organisation from the grassroots up to board level.
“I work really hard on building relationships and understanding what I can do to help our people do their jobs well, and where they need work. As well, I consider myself a mentor of our young talent,” he says.
“My personal leadership style is to hire the best people I can then get out of their way and protect them, while they do great work. I have a low boredom threshold and a strong action bias, so like to see stuff getting done."
"Outcomes, not outputs.”