CIO50 2020 #26-50: Nisha Clark, Downer
“Take emotion out of the equation, deal with facts and ensure you commit and deliver on your promises. In turn, when you bring new ideas to the table you are heard.”
This, says Nisha Clark, head of technology at Downer, is her greatest lesson as she builds a career as an ICT leader.
“I truly believe a CIO cannot be a conductor any longer, you need to immerse yourself within the business, listen, understand and learn,” says Clark, who took on her first CIO-level job when she joined Downer nearly a year ago.
“Get in it, trust those around, build credible partnerships to help success and always be real and honest,” she adds.
“Walking the talk is exactly that – technology is now an enabler for whatever the company desires. However, if you haven’t got the foundation you can cause more damage than good.”
These are insights she applies in her role at Downer.
On her first days on the job, she met with the executive team, “to listen to the challenges to understand the opportunities”.
From there, she created a plan. “Simply fix what is broken,or the low hanging fruit that doesn’t hold big numbers and are easily done, '' she says.
She focused on ICT hygiene. “This is critical,” she states. “Sort out operations, make our vendors part of the team and not the people you blame when things go wrong.
“Love your people and help them understand what’s important and what good looks like.”
As she stresses, “Getting everyone along on the journey is key and starting at the top for me is where it begins.”
“Involving the executive team in tech decisions that they would not normally see, is gold,” she says. Engage with them at the earliest possible time.
She says it could be around something small, such as adoption or selection of a mobile device.
“Getting the executive involved in trialling and ironing out issues before we asked for wider adoption, was amazing,” she says.
She says this can also lead to feedback that her team would not normally achieve in a technology rollout.
Today, her team has rolled out a range of initiatives that address technology-related issues Downer New Zealand faced following years of merger and acquisition.
Foremost of these is data management. Clark says the organisation needs to improve the ability to make optimal business decisions based on real-time information and reduce operational costs by avoiding time consuming and manual data consolidation from a plethora of isolated data stores.
With the ability to reduce time taken to pull together bid information and provide competitive quotes when dealing with a very competitive market.
She says the National Data Warehouse (NDW) consolidates Downer New Zealand data into a repository with supporting tools that now provide real-time dashboards and reporting via current best practice analytics.
The data warehouse model they have started will also be applied to the Downer business in Australia. It is the first time in the company’s history an initiative driven out of technology in NZ has been accepted as the Downer Group standard, and will be used to support the ANZ business from New Zealand.
Clark also assessed at an ongoing programme, and determined how it could accelerate its progress following the initial rollout.
“I looked at the approach, understanding what the drivers were, what the complexities were and the value this would provide our people and our customers.”
She then put a proposal together to change the way they were delivering the solution. This was a combination of vendor-led development with the internal team working alongside to develop skills.
In a span of three months, they have been able to accelerate progress on the project. “This now led to a level of trust and collaboration with our key business holder.”
Within her team, she is encouraging everyone to be heard and be treated equally.
“Hierarchy is non-existent, we work alongside the teams, creating a family like culture based on trust and collaboration,” she says.
“We create an environment where no one should fear challenging the status quo. Where our people are able to share thoughts and ideas openly, in order for us to gain fresh perspectives on situations.”
“We look to diversity to bring a broad group of ideas and thoughts into the environment to invigorate and stop inertia,” she says.
Downer started an internship programme with Microsoft, bringing students to help solve a business problem.
“The existing team are extremely excited about this opportunity and the students we have are already injecting bright ideas and different thinking into the team,” says Clark.
She is also working with the engineering team which has already been running a graduate programme, which she hopes to extend to the technology function.
For the first time Downer participated in a programme called Shadow Tech Day where they hosted six female students, and providing them insights to many of the different areas within Downer and the technology function.
Training is another key part as we embark on new technologies such as Microsoft Dynamics, Power Tools (BI/Apps), says Clark. She partnered with Microsoft to ensure their existing team will continue to have certified training.
“It is easy for people to feel left behind if you only continue to hire in skills rather than training the existing team.”
Clark organises technology ‘all hands’ discussions to ensure the team understands future initiatives, and how what they are doing now aligns to key business strategies and outcomes for the whole of Downer.
“We also engage key parts of the business to come and provide insight into their areas, to help our technology teams stay connected and learn deeply all aspects of our business.”