Valda Berzins would like to be chief executive officer of Australia Post; she makes no bones about her ambition. But she is not convinced that there is yet an easy transition from her current role as CIO of the organisation across into the CEO role. She hopes to move first into another senior management role in Australia Post that might help her further her ultimate ambition.
Berzins has been with Australia Post since 1995, although not initially as CIO. No such position existed when she made the move from Mattel where she was financial director. Her first role was as group manager of IT services. In December 1996 Australia Post bit the bullet, created the role of CIO, and also radically restructured its information division, making Berzins a far more strategic part of the executive team. "Previously the operations and planning were separate," Berzins says. "The IT planning manager reported to the CFO as did my role. But when the CIO role came into being I took on planning and reported to the managing director. A short while later all the state IT areas came under me as part of the full nationalisation of IT."
Berzins admits to being one of the agitators for the change, and first had to convince the powers that be that such a reorganisation would deliver efficiencies. "It took a while to get there only because of the way that Australia Post was organised in terms of headquarters and state accountabilities." The efficiencies she had promised were delivered quickly following the restructure, when Berzins sacked a lot of the contractors who were working for the organisation (contractors who often were working on non-core projects). She also rationalised much of the equipment and improved the efficiency of the now national IT network - not least by introducing common practices and tools.
It was a busy start to Berzins' tenure as CIO. Now she believes that she, and CIOs more broadly, have a much greater focus on strategy. "We are more focused on the information that we need to get to where we are going as an organisation rather than having a project focus," she says.
In addition, the broader perspective of the entire organisation's needs has allowed Berzins to help develop the in-house competencies she believes Post needs. That has improved the overall efficiency of the IT group and led to improved support from the business. "I think how we work with the business has changed. It used to be a case of IT working more in isolation. Now we work cooperatively, in a partnership mode," Berzins says. She admits though that the IT group had to gain the respect of the business before they were truly seen as partners.
Getting that respect was helped by Berzins' elevation to Australia Post's executive committee shortly after she stepped into the CIO role. This group of about eight senior executives steers the organisation, and discusses all the strategic issues and business plans of Australia Post. "Having a seat on the committee allows me a broad vision of where we are headed. I get to see the plans in detail and then I can plan for the IT," she says.