Friday, 31 December 2010

Remember Who You Are.

As a teenager growing up in rural New Zealand if I ever wanted to go out I needed to borrow my parents’ car. Borrowing the car involved a pretty standard ritual of asking for it, explaining where I was going and who I would be with and when I expected to be home.  Based on this explanation I would be given access to the family car (or the farm truck, depending on what was available).  The final part of the ritual was that just before I left Dad would always say “remember who you are”.  Every time he would say this and it drove me nuts.  I interpreted “remember who you are” as an overt attempt to control me and my actions to ensure I didn’t sully the family name.  As a teenage boy I wasn’t about to be controlled by anyone, especially my father!

As time went by I left home and went to University.  There I met Jo, the love of my life.  After a couple of years I took the big step of bringing her home to meet the parents.  I was very nervous about this meeting.  Much to my surprise she liked my parents and they liked her.  One day while Jo was at my parents place we wanted to go out.  I went through after the standard “can I borrow the car please” ritual and Dad added the usual “remember who you are”.  As we left I muttered under my breath something about what a control freak my father was, although the language may have been a little more colourful.  Jo just stared at me “what are you talking about?”.  So I explained to her in simple clear (emotional?) language what the problem was.

She just shook her head in disbelief “is that what you really think?  That’s not what he means at all.  What he means is ...” and she proceeded to give me a big long explanation on what he really meant.  I don’t remember exactly what she said but it was something along the lines of don’t go and get all caught up in the moment, cave into peer pressure and do something that you know is wrong and will regret later.  Arts students!!  Always reading stuff into things that doesn’t exist.  I mean really, she barely knew my father.

Time continued on.  I embarked on my career as a consultant and over time began reading a number of book and participating in a series of personal development and leadership courses.  Many of these courses and books raised the notion of self awareness and authenticity as being critical to success in leadership and in life.  Daniel Goldman’s EQ being one good example.  Having been exposed to both highly authentic leaders and inauthentic leaders this rang very true for me.  People can smell authenticity a mile away.

As I contemplated this new learning “remember who you are” came back to my consciousness in a new and unexpected way.  It began to dawn on me that “remember who you are” was really short hand for “remember who you really are and act with integrity to that true self”.  Or more concisely be authentic.  Jo was right and perhaps my father was actually quite wise to say such a thing.  

This caused me a bit of a problem however as it posed a question I couldn’t easily answer. “Who am I really?”  It’s very difficult to “remember who you are”, and then to express that consistently if you have no idea who you are!!  

So my quest to find out who I really am and to act in a way that is consistent with this has begun.  I know that as I have become more self aware I have been able to express myself more authentically and that this has had a tremendous impact on people around me.  In those moments I am a more effective person and leader.  I also know that I mess up daily and act inconsistently with who I know myself to be.  I’m human.and to borrow a phrase this is a “never ending journey”, a journey that begins each day by asking who am I really? and reconnecting to the answer with “remember who you are”!

So now I ask you.  Who are you, really?

First published on

Monday, 15 November 2010

The "I" stands for Information

"If you can't measure it, you can't manage it". Peter Drucker. or;

"If you can't measure it, you can't improve it." Lord Kelvin

The title on my business card says's "Chief Information Officer". The CIO title is considered by many to be the most coveted in the IT industry and typically represents the top IT decision maker in an organisation. I often wonder about the title of Chief Information Officer because as an industry we dwell on technology not information. We seem to spend more time discussing Blackberry vs iPhone than we spend talking about information and the use of information to drive performance. Interestingly, as much as we dwell on technology our biggest fear as an industry is that we will be seen by our colleagues as geeks. We are needed because someone has to keep the computers running but we are irrelevant to strategy and business decision making. It's a reinforcing circle. We focus on technology therefore our colleagues see us as geeks. When we do think about information mainly what we think about is fancy new technology tools not about improved use of information per sa.

I believe we need to re-balance our focus so that we spend our time more or less equally between use of technology and use of information, as our CIO title suggests we should. The question is how?

Peter Drucker and Lord Kelvin provide us with a clue to where to start and it is not with fancy BI tools. Step 1 is to understand your organisation and how it adds value. Step 2 is to provide accurate, or perhaps more correctly put, consistent and relevant measurement to key decision makers to allow them in optimise business performance.

Relevance is the key. The information needs to be relevant to the context of the decision maker. If it isn't then it doesn't matter how good the information is it will not be used. Those of you who have read a number of these columns, or my blog, will know that I believe that Maslow's hierarchy of needs provides a great analogy to define relevance, in this case relevance to what the decision maker is trying to understand and to guide a journey towards improving maturity. Below is my version of an Information Needs hierarchy to guide an organisations maturity in the better use of information.

As Maslow teaches us you need to begin with the most very basic needs and become more sophisticated over time. For decision making and information analytics the most basic need is help me understand what happened! While we may have access to many tools that can provide sophisticated and predictive analytics to be relevant you must start with the basics and build capability and awareness of the higher order needs over time.

First published on

The Three Blind Mice Need Your Help!!

An enthusiastic team has formed within The Warehouse Information Services who are in training to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in November to participate in Delta's Mad Mountain Challenge and our goal is to raise $10,000 for the Kia Timata Ano (KTA) Trust.

The Delta’s Mad Mountain Challenge is an attempt to cross the volcanic alpine terrain, four times, non-stop, in 24 hours, a kind of Tongariro ping-pong. The group will be walking some 77.6kms, climbing 4200 metres up and 4200 metres down... and be busting a gut (or legs) to get this done in 24 hours.

Why is The Warehouse IS team doing this? To raise much needed funds for the Kia Timata Ano (KTA) Trust. This Trust is an independent women's refuge based in Rodney’s West District. It's for real people suffering real fear and physical abuse, right now, right here, at home in New Zealand. It is a charity to help women and children escape from intimidation and bullying, caused by those most able to cause them pain.

How can you help us achieve this BHAG (Big Hairy Audicious Goal)?

1) We would love you to donate $$ directly onto our fundraising page - Click here to donate.

2) Come and get your car washed at TWL Support Office on Friday, 12th, 19th & 26th November from 9am-12noon. Email for pricing and bookings.

3) OR better still - Get me out of Car Washing!!! My PA believes there are many IT providers out there who never get past her great gate-keeping skills and would love to pay $500 for an hour of time with the CIO of The Warehouse to showcase/sell their product or services. I think she knows of my car washing skills but either way I'm committed to helping the team raise $10,000. If you'd like to take up one of these exclusive offers, please email:

For all further info on the Event, please go to

I'll keep you updated with our progress and other initiatives we will soon be launching. Thank you for reading this email – and I hope to see your support soon!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Insource, outsource, everything as a service

I have spent a long time in and around the IT industry - 24 years and counting. During this time I have been a consultant, lead an outsourcing team and now I am a CIO. As a result I have been both a seller and buyer of services.

Currently as the CIO of The Warehouse, I get approached many times a year by vendors who want to sell me something. Some of them (but not many) actually want to help me and my organisation succeed.

Trade magazines and online forums are full of articles about the merits of cloud computing and outsourcing. Most of these stories urge CEOs and CIOs to change the way they buy computing. The current theme is that everything should be bought on demand; don’t own anything as others can do it better and cheaper.

Not so long ago strategic outsourcing and ERP filled the magazines and while the buzz has gone from the media, vendors still knock down doors on a regular basis to impress upon you, your CEO and your team that their services are the ones that will make the difference. It is great to have choice, but how do you decide? Whenever I am approached by a vendor the questions I ask myself are:

Is the process or functionality being discussed strategic and/or a source of competitive advantage for my organisation?

If the answer is yes then I am unlikely to commit to an externally-provided solution. Why? Because building and maintaining sources of competitive advantage are critical to the future success of the business and core to my job as an executive and as a member of the executive team leading the organisation. While you do need to avoid the tendency to see competitive advantage in everything you do, where it is genuine I will keep that in-house. Because to outsource the most important services, is in effect to outsource the primary responsibility for your job.

Can the provider meet the service levels that I need?

Many vendors bombard you with a huge list of certifications and performance statistics to show how credible they are. ITIL and CoBIT compliant, ISO X, Y and Z certified, CMM level and so on.

Most vendors talk about availability, many are proud of there 99.99 percent or 99.999 percent availability. This list of achievements is impressive and very few corporate IS teams can match the full array of certifications and point to 5 9’s availability. The real question however is, does it matter? While some of the services I provide do need to be highly available (Eftpos for example) very few of my services need to be at 99.99 percent.

What does matter to me is geographical diversity. I need to provide services into many of New Zealand’s small towns. Greymouth, Alexandra and Kaitaia for example. The point is, I don’t want generic solutions and certifications I want my specific needs met.

Are your services cheaper than what I can provide myself for the required level of service?

It will not be a surprise that cost is a major factor in any deliberation of how to source. I have had many discussions with sales teams where they have tried to convince me that cost is not all that matters. There are the vast array of value adding services that they can bring. Value adding to who?

As the services that I am looking for an external party to provide are unlikely to be strategic or critical to my competitive advantage (see question 1!), cost for the agreed level of service that I need IS THE criteria and anything past commodity prices is added cost for no value.

Are you prepared to share my risk?

Most vendors are very good when talking about risk early in a sales cycle. Most vendors however, want no part of risk when it comes to the detail of the contract.

While you can never truly “outsource” risk as it is my business that suffers when a service fails, suppliers need to recognise the critical nature of what they do for their clients.

They also need to demonstrate they believe in the quality of what is on offer and the value of those long lists of certifications. The best way I know to do this is to put some skin in the game and agree to put things right when they go wrong.

So, how do you decide? What will you have to pay in order to meet the required level of service?

First published on

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The number cruncher’s guide to delivering IT value

I’m a qualified accountant. I even sometimes read the Accountants Journal … there, I’ve said it!

As an accountant and a CIO I am intrigued by the debate within the IT community about how businesses should account for IT. Should it be a cost centre? A profit centre? Or a stand alone, semi-independent business unit? From what I can tell, the argument is that how an organisation chooses to do its accounting determines, or is an indicator of, how IT is seen strategically in the organisation. The logic seems to be that if you want to be an IT team that is strategic and adds value, then you need to be a profit centre as a minimum, or better yet a semi-autonomous business.

If you find yourself as a cost centre, watch out, because this means that you are seen as a non-value addition and simply a cost of doing business. It gets worse. As a cost centre the only questions that are asked of you is how can you reduce IT costs even lower than they are now. You are never asked about how IS can contribute to the strategic value of the organisation by driving revenue growth or helping to open up new markets.

The recommendation is that you get out of this cost mentality by becoming a profit centre or independent business unit. Charge the business for your services, create a profit, control your own balance sheet and then the business will begin to see you as adding value. As a result, the focus will shift from how can we drive down IT costs to how can we maximise the IT profit and strategic value?

My experience is that this whole debate is spurious. If I use The Warehouse as an example, it doesn’t matter if you are a cost centre or a profit centre your costs are scrutinised mercilessly. How the accounting works does not shield the profit centres at all. I admit that The Warehouse is particularly skilled at cost management. However, every organisation I have worked for or worked in for any length of time is the same. Costs are scrutinised in detail. I hear some of you saying that this cost focus is counter productive, as a company cannot cost cut its way to greatness. This is true enough, however no organisation ever became great by being lazy about its cost control.

To me this whole cost centre/profit centre discussion is a waste of time. In the complex world that we live in value is primarily about perception, not accounting numbers. If you are seen as a non-value addition cost of doing business, your focus should be on understanding why that is and putting in place an action plan to correct it. Most likely the issue will be in one of three areas, or a mix of all three:

  • The services you are delivering are not meeting the service level expectations of your business. This can be both under delivery of service and over delivery of service which embeds higher costs.
  • You are seen as slow and bureaucratic in working with your colleagues to plan and deliver changes. That is, you are not agile enough.
  • And finally, when you do deliver, the projects are late, over budget, cause disruption on going live and do not deliver the planned benefits (or some combination of these).

Delivering solutions to these three issues is core to a CIO’s job. If you have these issues, or are perceived to have these issues, it means you are perceived by your colleagues as not doing your job properly. Mucking around and arguing about how the accounting works is not going to solve this problem. The only resolution to these issues is solid, customer-focused delivery day after day.

First Published on

Monday, 1 February 2010

Using IT for Competitive Advantage

Over the Christmas break I read Nicholas Carr's "Does IT Matter". I figured it was about time I read it as I believe passionately that IT can make a difference to companies and within the community we operate. Based on a very quick skim read of his article and all the hype and hysteria it seems that Carr disagrees with this. If he was right or at least made some relevant thoughts I really should know.

My synopsis of his book is as follows. Competitive advantage is typically gained by "owning" items that are proprietary in nature. This makes them hard to replicate as it is expensive and takes a long time. Thanks to the long running effects of Moore's law and IT's relentless march towards openness and standardisation IT has rapidly become cheap and widely available. As a result competitive advantage cannot be obtained from IT as anything you do can be easily replicated by others so individual organisations cannot use IT for competitive advantage.

This is not true however for countries and or regions. Increasingly IT is becoming an open and easily accessible infrastructure. If a country or region does not have a "world class" IT infrastructure in place to support their local economy then they will be at a disadvantage compared to regions that do. The use of the word infrastructure is deliberate as this is how Carr sees IT evolving like other key infrastructures such as electricity, rail roads and the much more closely related telephone. A region with a good stable electricity supply has an advantage over one that doesn't. However individual firms cannot use electricity per sa to gain a competitive advantage as it is comparatively cheap and widely available.

His arguments make sense. The book appears to be very well researched and very well written and while there is likely to still be some way to run for true commoditisation of IT, particularly software, I have come away from reading the book believing that it is the most likely outcome.

So, if Carr is right what could this mean for the IT industry?

Hardware Manufacturers

Equipment manufacturers will continue to try and differentiate themselves by building bigger, better and only available here features. While this may allow one firm to perform better than their competitors at the margin increasingly this will become irrelevant as Moore's law will overtake all their efforts and continue to drive the industry to commoditisation.

Software Companies

Carr argues that traditional software companies provided the first major step towards commoditisation for software as packaging software made the IP widely available at a fraction of the price of in house bespoke systems. This model however will come under increasing pressure by the next wave of innovation/commoditisation. This includes both SaaS and open source software solutions which threaten to undermine the current model of licence, maintenance and on going expensive upgrades.

IT Service Providers

Whether they are currently software companies, hardware companies, Telco's, outsourcers or one of the many other service providers and contractors to the IT industry the IT service provider of the future will be the equivalent to the electricity company of the present and their support infrastructure. They will truly be "service providers" rather than product companies.

Corporate IT teams

Probably my main area of interest as this is where I work.

I don't see this as the death of the corporate IT team, at least not while I am still in the workforce. I do see the rise of the truly services oriented IT organisation. Many, maybe all, IT services will be outsourced to standardised utility providers. This can only be achieved successfully if the internal IT organisation is service oriented. That is, a service oriented IT department is be a prerequisite to be able to outsource standardised services to service providers. The main focus of the internal IT team will be to integrate these services both with each other and into the businesses operating model. I expect that an increasing number of these standardised utility providers will be open source communities. Corporates will actively contribute to these communities developing the open source software as well as using it for their core operations.

So my starter for 10 from my Christmas reading. I may well revisit this as I think some more about it.