CIO Upfront: 'If this were new, what would you do?'

Stuart Haselden, director of IT services at Victoria University of Wellington, suggests organisations should ask this question when making important decisions.

Here’s a question you should ask yourself: How would you run your business if it were brand new - looking at IT, HR, finance, marketing – everything?

In many organisations we continue to run our operations the same way because of ‘legacy’ issues. We are bound to run things a certain way because that’s how it’s always been done – the systems were set up that way and we can’t change them!

I am sure you have heard stories of how some companies are running all their applications in the cloud. This is not just small companies but large ones, too. I am not advocating going to the cloud for everything, as has been discussed in the market. It has been done by some, and it might come back to bite them. However, the cloud does bring up the possibility of new opportunities.

A number of people have asked me: "What is your cloud strategy? When are you moving to the cloud?" My simple answer is: "We don’t have a cloud strategy.”

We have a strategy that simply asks, what business issue are you trying to resolve? From an IT perspective we then look at the fundamentals of quality, cost and service – whether it be in the cloud, on premise, hosted, or has time to market requirements. At a high level, these questions deliver the initial answer very quickly.

A key requirement on starting from scratch is to ensure all costs are calculated over a five-year lifespan, not the next 12 to 24 months.

The next two years can be very different to the next five years. It is key to look at the five-year lifecycle for core infrastructure and/or cloud services. I still hear of organisations purchasing three-year warranties on storage and servers.

As you walk into your server room you will see how many different suppliers there are, how many network components there are from different suppliers and how many storage platforms. If your business was brand new, would you buy equipment from as many vendors as possible, just a few, or only one? If new, what would you do?

If your business was brand new, would you buy equipment from as many vendors as possible, just a few, or only one? If new, what would you do?

Stuart Haselden, Victoria University of Wellington

At Victoria University we review all our services as they come up for license review, or when hardware needs a refresh. We ask ourselves: Do we need to run this ourselves? What is the current cost of this service? Can we adjust the service? Do we need to provide this service at all? Can someone else run it more cheaply? Can we use other infrastructure components to run this service that once had its own individual equipment?

These questions cannot be answered in isolation, but must be planned across the entire system. Being an old established company does not mean we can change everything overnight but we can at least plan to do it over the next few years.

I recently held a meeting with one of our vendors and my staff. We were discussing a long-standing issue and after 20 minutes we were still no closer to resolving it. We stopped and asked ourselves: If we were a brand new university, setting up from scratch, how would we provide this service?

We all looked at each other and within about 20 seconds the decision was made. We all knew what we should do, but with all the history and different issues from the past it was difficult to make a clear decision. We were making decisions based on the 2 per cent instead of the 98 per cent.

If we were a brand new business setting up next week with 200 staff and growth projections of 20,000 customers, would we run our own email system? Would we run our own infrastructure, backup? Of course the answer to these questions is going to depend on what your business is but if you were brand new the options now are much larger than they used to be.

However, for some companies there may be zero strategic value in running their own email system. It just takes time, money and resource with no defined outcome that sets you apart from your competitors.

If you get the opportunity when you need to make some key decisions in the next days or weeks, have a quick mental check, “If this were new, what would I do?”

Stuart Haselden is director of ITS at Victoria University of Wellington, which ranks number 36 in this year’s CIO100, the annual report on the top IT using organisations in New Zealand. He can be reached at

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