IT needs to be a trusted and engaged business unit partner, says Charlie Sukkar, CIO with building products firm CSR Ltd. And that is exactly what he has set out to do – building strong relationships with other C-level executives which have a focus that is “more about achievement than it is about hierarchy”.
With iconic brands like Bradford, Monier, PGH and Gyprock under its belt, and revenue last year of $1.8 billion, CSR has come a long way from the old Colonial Sugar Refining company founded in the mid-1800s.
Not that Sukkar has been around that long, but he has spent more than 20 years in the IT industry, initially specialising in large scale software development in the early 1990s and then moving into packaged ERP system implementations, enterprise application and integration architecture. He spent the last 10 years in general management of IT/CIO roles both at Alcatel-Lucent and currently at CSR. He adds to that mix with considerable experience in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in SE Asia and China.
Specific areas he has worked on include global mergers and acquisitions during the Alcatel-Lucent merger; divestitures, most notably being the Sucrogen sugar refinery, mills and energy renewables business; and IT transformations which led CSR’s IT group “from being perceived as an ‘external’ service provider to a genuine business partner”.
Interestingly for an IT executive, he has a biomedical science degree. Maybe that means he uses that qualification in his CIO role to ensure a lively and healthy environment, but he has also APICS certification in resource management and most recently completed CSR’s executive leadership ‘mini MBA’ program.
“My role is predominantly about building relationships at all levels across the enterprise, especially but not limited to C-level executives.” This is supported by what he calls “a very constructive and humanistic culture” in the company, with “open and fluid interaction across all levels of the enterprise”.
He reports to the CFO, but extends that relationship with regular interaction with the company’s MD/CEO, and “a reasonable level” of exposure to the Board.
“These relationships with the C-suite have been built on demonstrating the IT contribution to their relevant business unit – delivering against the day-to-day operational needs to support the running of the business, and then earning the right to work on opportunities to help grow and transform the business.
“Our C-level executives have recognised that the digital world of doing business is turning old business models upside down or killing them off entirely.” To this end, he says that the IT department “is uniquely placed to be delivering against some exciting digital initiatives which the business perceives as a point of differentiation in the market”.
At the moment, this means disruptive technologies that have provided a significant opportunity to shift the focus of CSR IT from back office process and systems optimisation to front of house digital projects.
“I believe that the digital economy presents a unique opportunity for the future state CIO to explore opportunities for building online revenue streams for the enterprise.”
Achieving that ‘future state’ is not necessarily straightforward.
“You need to get the fundamentals right – never drop your eye off the operational ball as this gives you the ticket to play. Have a relentless focus on building relationships across the enterprise, not just the C-suite.
“And remember, running a successful IT organisation is not just about technology; it is primarily about your people. Therefore, I would stress that leadership and statesmanship need to be at the centre of everything you do.”