Face to face with a virtual CIO

Barry White thrives in the ‘as a service’ economy, providing technology and business advice to a range of organisations.

I am more like a surgeon. If I do a good job, I get a company on the right trail and in the right direction.

Barry White

Barry White took the traditional route to CIO - he started working in technology projects and software development, and then moved to executive leadership roles.

After working with a major technology vendor, he took a different path and now works as a ‘virtual CIO’ and principal consultant  - business transformation and intelligence - at ICT systems integrator SoftSource.

In this role, he and his team provide CIO-level guidance and planning systems to organisations, “as a service”.

That is one facet of his working life. He is also a director of The Big Hospitality Group, which manages an accommodation, function and conference centre in the midst of a vineyard at Waimauku, in West Auckland.

Transitioning to the cloud

While overseas, White started working in ICT in the '80s, the “pre-Windows, pre-Apple” days, he says, He returned to New Zealand to work as a product manager for a printer manufacturer and he also worked for an Apple reseller, then moved to software development.

This work led him to his first CIO role at Allied Farmers, when the group was merging with other companies. He led the ICT component of the merger of multiple finance companies.

Among the challenges the team faced, were the different IT cultures for the highly distributed staff. Each of those offices had different systems and there was a replication of resources.

“Our challenge was to consolidate disparate systems that we had, into a single platform,” he says.

What they created, essentially, was a private cloud. “We amalgamated eight data centres into a single data centre in Wellington, with a disaster recovery platform in Auckland.”

From there, he got involved in ICT projects that included implementation of cloud technologies. This led him to work as practice partner recruitment manager at Microsoft.

He looked after Azure for the SMB team in New Zealand, working with the software giant's two and a half thousand partners.

Travelling around the country, he talked to a lot of organisations.

“What most struck me during that time was businesses understood the benefits of the cloud and the value of those technologies,” he states.

However, the businesses told him of the obstacles they met along the way.

At that stage, he says, Microsoft told its partner network across the globe they need to change their business model. This was because they are no longer selling hardware or selling licenses in the traditional way.

They are trying to solve real business problems, he states.

He had enjoyed working with the partner community, but realised he could deliver a different kind of service to organisations, as a ‘virtual CIO’.

At SoftSource he started as the first virtual CIO.  “I am  taking my own experience as a CIO sitting on the other side of the fence,” he says.

He now works with a team, providing a range of services to help companies around their opportunities with technologies and also in security and compliance.

“I am surrounded by a number of our people in our company, all specialists. We have a security specialist who is an expert in threat prevention and penetrating testing for companies, and security reviews.”

There are also specialists in data and business transformation, he adds.

The company's clients range from corporates, to SMBs and not for profits. “We work on all those spaces in a different capacity.

“In the enterprise market we are working with other CIOs,” he explains. “My work there is to act as their sounding board.”

IT is an industry of passion. If you have it and you really want to turn that into actionable outcomes, the work is very satisfying.

Barry White

The CIO’s sounding board

White also works with CIOs on their presentations to the board. “I am very much acting as a right-hand man for the CIO in that capacity”

He and the team also run workshops with board members, talk to stakeholders in deconstructing business strategy around disaster recovery and look at current operational standards.

On the other end of the scale, he works with SMBs and NGOs.

“They all suffer through the same problems that big companies have around IT support, data silos and security. At the same time, they do not have the budget for big enterprise.

“It really enables them to rationalise their ICT spend and have a much more strategic application of their IT budget, as they don’t have a lot of money to play with.”

These organisations benefit from a virtual CIO role because they are able to really think about not just cloud, but modern transformations strategies in a way that helps them.

“I am more like a surgeon. If I do a good job, I get a company on the right trail and in the right direction. I find gaps in their skills and help fill them.”

For instance, one of the workshops SoftSource runs is around business intelligence.

“It really drives home the importance of data as the new frontier, while driving a new line of thinking in terms of the skills organisations need internally.”

The company also demonstrates the agile model in deploying something quickly.

"We demonstrate that capability and provide some real value upfront.”

White says this gives organisations confidence and can sometimes find they have got these people internally, who can work in this area. These could be business analysts and other staff, who can understand financials and translate the data into actionable outcomes.

“This is a business analysis strategy conversation, rather than an IT conversation,” he says.

Barry White with some of the guests at the Vineyard Cottages in Waimauku
Barry White with some of the guests at the Vineyard Cottages in Waimauku

The vintner’s passion

As to what works well for CIOs who will want to step into a similar role, he says, “surround yourself with good people”.

He smiles and proffers a vineyard analogy on how he built his career path.

“You are putting grape plant in the ground, they do take time to bear fruit.  

“You have got to be passionate as well, that is a good winemaker analogy,” he states.

“Some people used to call the CIO the chief inspirational officer. A lot of my role is to inspire organisations.”

“You should have a genuine passion for technology and when it comes to transformational technology like cloud, you should have the experience and therefore be able to translate the opportunities to organisations," White says.

“IT is an industry of passion. If you have it and you really want to turn that into actionable outcomes, the work is very satisfying. You see organisations change … I personally find that extremely satisfying.”

Barry White at the Pinot Noir Cottage in Waimauku
Barry White at the Pinot Noir Cottage in Waimauku

Related reading

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State of the CIO: ‘Be prepared for anything’

The CIO’s broadening role: Business strategist, futurist, change agent

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Why providing speed and innovation should be top of the CIO agenda

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