Forging the digital difference

Transformative and disruptive describe not only technologies but also the 100 leaders featured in this year’s report.

The CIO100 showcases the achievements of 100 technology and digital leaders tackling transformation in their organisations.

They keenly assess their respective environments and discern what is possible. They then forge programmes cutting through organisational and technical boundaries, while bringing their team along with them to deliver these initiatives.

They meld technology and change management strategies to ensure the programmes will benefit their organisations, customers, partners and market sectors.

They concurrently help the wider organisation navigate the digital economy, acting as strategic and trusted advisors to identify tools that will help tackle business challenges.

All these are made possible while ensuring operational excellence for the systems that are traditionally in the ICT team’s domain.

Theirs is a redoubtable task, and highlights the massive, sometimes unique issues technology and digital leaders face in today’s fast-paced environment.

All CIO100 leaders face common challenges of leading through an environment where change is inevitable, and dealing with unknowns as part of the role.

We’re in technology but much of working life is about people, people, people

Tony Carpinter, NZ Blood Service

They have shown at least 10 key traits needed to navigate through current and emerging challenges in the digital age:

1. They recognise that their mission is beyond digital transformation

The end goal is to transform the business model as well, and they are providing the technology and digital foundations that will allow this. They are also embedding the methodologies required - first with their team, and then to the rest of the business units – to ensure the organisation can respond fast to changes in the market, customer expectations, and emerging technologies.

2. They are big users of data and gaining real insights through analytics 

The CIO100 leaders are all into various stages of data management initiatives. They take advantage of the fact that the move to digital and further integration of their systems will provide the massive data they can use to improve operations, provide better customer experience, and even bring in new sources of revenue. Their data management strategies have become the foundations for some of the key projects they are working on with artificial intelligence and internet of things.

3. They make brave decisions - and act fast

They could be in the midst of a major project but know when they have to change course, aided by the data they have gathered from the systems. They place value in the minimum viable product approach, and the ethos of constant improvement.

As Air New Zealand’s chief digital officer, Avi Golan explains: “We needed to demonstrate to the business that this is a new way of releasing innovation into the market – it does not need to be 100 per cent perfect. The technology may not work perfectly initially but this approach is now very much part of an experimental culture we are fostering.”

4. They leave no one behind in the new way of working

Inclusive and supportive leadership are key as CIO100 leaders start initiatives around diversity, continuous learning, and create opportunities for their teams to work with other business units, external partners and startups.

People in the industry are comfortable with regular, ever-changing technology cycles so it’s easy to forget that innovation, transformation and change feels very uncomfortable for a lot of people, says Melissa Firth, chief digital officer at the Te Papa Museum.

“You can set the perfect strategy, but you absolutely must bring people along with you,” she says.

5. They are super focused on creating great customer experiences

This insight applies to internal users of the systems they create, and to their customers and business partners. They stress to their teams the importance of being customer-focused and upskill their staff in this area.

Chris Trigg, chief digital officer at Southern Cross Health Society, says it always comes back to user experience.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re developing a new mobile app, a web interface for your customers or a new system for your internal users – you have to think about the user experience,” says Trigg.

“I’ve seen so many cases where a business exposes its internal processes or system limitations to its customers through apps and services and it makes for a poor experience. I think this also applies to information security in the workplace.

“You have to take a pragmatic approach to giving your teams the right tools,” says Trigg.

He and his team are now applying this insight at Southern Cross.

“We have been working hard to create a better experience for internal communications and collaboration. We’ve retired a number of cumbersome, legacy applications that led to people finding alternatives.

“Having a user-centric view helps you create a better experience and helps people work in a way that’s far more aligned with your information security strategy.”

“It’s about providing frictionless interactions,” notes Timothy Kasbe, chief information and digital officer at The Warehouse Group.

“We want to make tech that is so completely invisible, that all you need to do is press a button to get what you need.”

6. They know how to accelerate innovation and balance these with operational responsibilities

CIO100 leaders scout for emerging and disruptive technologies that can fast track the digital transformation across the organisation.

They organise hackathons, inviting management, non-IT staff, customers and technology providers to work on projects that will solve a business challenge or a customer issue. They send teams to work offsite, with actual startups and partner organisations to work on these projects.

They also make sure there is a sustained focus on keeping the operational systems in order, which gives them the space and the trust of the organisation to embark on innovative projects.

A number of them explain vendor management and collaboration are keys to allow them to manage this balancing act. They take advantage of the different vendor relationships such as outsourcing and as a service options.

Nicholas Fourie, vice president, ICT for Fisher & Paykel Healthcare works hard to ensure the technology team is seen a trusted advisor across the organisation and to be called upon for insights.

“The fundamental goal is that the business sees ICT as an innovation house, not only for digital solutions but for any business challenge,” Fourie says.

7. They work with nontraditional partners

These could be startups, a vendor in an adjacent or even an unrelated industry.

At Downer Group, there is a team of ‘non-traditional collaborators’ who provide advice that allows them to learn faster than the competition, says Glen Willoughby, general manager information technology.

One of these is NASA JPL, whose chief technology and innovation officer Tom Soderstrom works with the Downer team on innovative, technology-led research projects.

At Vector, chief digital officer Nikhil Ravishankar, worked with Israeli company mPrest Ravishankar for its mDERMS (Distributed Energy Resource Management System). The latter is Vector’s answer to the ‘Internet of Energy’. This is the first time the company has sought collaboration from an unrelated industry to produce innovative work in electricity management, he explains.

8. They are good communicators

CIO100 leaders share a range of strategies to communicate IT’s value to the organisation.

They and their teams hold regular town hall meetings, contribute articles to the intranet and internal newsletters, organise brown bag lunches, technology fairs, showcases and competitions (A Dragons’ Den theme is a popular one). Or, they simply have regular face-to-face meetings with their executive peers and the other business units.

They also encourage the IT team to do this.

Anthony Bitossi, CIO at Stevenson Constructions, says apart from him and his team providing updates at management and operational meetings, they make sure they are ‘walking the talk’ at an operational level. The IT team members are regularly in the field, talking to everyone, from truck drivers to management.

“I encourage all my staff to ride in a concrete truck for a day,” he says.

The CIO must clearly articulate why making a technology investment is adding value to the organisation and convince stakeholders to see and understand that value, says Simon Clarke, GM, business solutions and technology at Trustpower.

He notes, “risk and compliance investments are not as exciting. But they are just as important to the long-term sustainability of any business and it is up to the CIO to ensure that stakeholders understand that."

9. They take a long term view of the industry and development of their teams

Leadership at any level goes beyond one’s respective organisation and this perspective makes for a better leader, says David Kennedy, CIO at Transaction Services Group.

Kennedy is involved in several activities outside TSG to help with the industry in New Zealand. Kennedy is the current chair of NZ Tech leaders, a group of New Zealand’s leading Tech Executives that provide guidance to the government and industry on ensuring the future prosperity of New Zealand.

He is also chair of the advisory board for the Auckland University Future Leaders Programme. “It is our responsibility as senior leaders to prepare the country for a future of successful international partnerships and domestic longevity.”

 Fletcher Building is developing a growth mindset with staff, says CIO John Bell.

Bell says the programme includes encouraging personal development through a new learning and development portal and online courses, regular training for all staff (three monthly, one-day day training sessions), and regular lunch and learn sessions.

Find My Study has created an ‘intern incubator’ model where students work on software programs and immerse themselves into agile processes, says CEO Lyndal Stewart.

This also upskills them with the latest technologies and techniques, she says.

Stewart encourages other businesses to open their doors and minds to having interns as part of an ongoing strategy for a successful workplace.

10. They drive and lead the digital transformation because they have earned it

The programmes they have implemented, their efforts to create a more innovative mindset for the team and the wider business, allow the CIO100 executives to take lead responsibilities for reshaping the organisation for the digital era. They have earned the trust to forge the digital difference in their organisation.

One of the questions the leaders shared is their greatest lesson as a CIO. The answers varied, going back to the time when they started in their career, to their current role.

A theme that emerged, again and again, among the group is to value what matters most.

And they cite the Maori proverb:

He aha te mea nui o te ao

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

As Tony Carpinter, CIO of NZ Blood Service, points out:

“We’re in technology but much of working life is about people, people, people.”

The author presented this overview of the 2018 CIO100 report at the CIO100 events in Auckland and Wellington.