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Ken Gallacher, director of technology at the ABC

Ken Gallacher, director of technology at the ABC

A billion dollar enterprise that employs just over 4500 people. An organisation that is pushing the boundaries of new communications technologies. A corporation that is constantly developing new products and services to reach the widest audience, both within Australia and internationally. And a business that has just passed its 80th birthday, and is a technology leader in its industry.

And it all belongs to you.

We are talking of course, of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, whose market reach extends into television, radio, news, online, emergency broadcasting, books, retail, music and events.

With its increased online presence, particularly through its news, streamed audio and video reports and archival programming, the ABC has become a home for more than the traditional news, gossip and program information provided by most TV organisations. And, because of the ABC’s long-standing position in global news provision, it ranks equally highly alongside the mainstream news media.

Over the last two decades, what has been a focus at the ABC has been to keep pace with advances in technology that have lead to changes in audience consumption habits and in audience expectations. The ABC’s response to this was to innovate, or risk being lost in the wave of structural change happening across the media industry. So the ABC was to be the first Australian electronic media organisation online. First out of the gate with digital television. First with interactive TV and user generated content. First into podcasting, streaming video and first into catch-up TV.

Ken Gallacher, the ABC’s director of technology, describes the place as innovative. “It is a good place to work – the people are passionate, the environment is dynamic, and we’re doing a lot of good stuff.”

Born in Canada and a resident of Australia since the mid 1980s, Gallacher has a degree in mathematics (computer science and accounting), and retains membership of the Canadian Chartered Accountants association.

“The greatest value my academic qualifications have given me is a combined perspective of both the commercial and technology aspects of my work,” he says. “Being a chartered accountant, it’s all about the business, and with the technology training it’s all about the detail, so the two come together nicely.”

He previously worked in consulting roles with Deloitte and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and director of technology/CIO roles at CSR Building Materials, TNT Asia, AMP Asia, Westfield and now the ABC – virtually covering the gamut of industry sectors.

“One thread that existed in each of those places was that it was all about change. CSR brought five businesses under the Materials umbrella. TNT Asia was going into a new region as a startup. At AMP, I came in before Y2K and I headed up the risk management group – that’s not just technology but indeed M&As and business risk. Then I moved back into the technology side with AMP Asia and again it was about moving into new areas and markets. Westfield was moving away from being a family-run business and going into a global business.

“I think I’d go nuts in an organisation that wanted someone to come in and just fine tune the operations and the status quo.”

He says he has learned much over the years about change, something he now looks at as much from the angle of the philosophy of change as its mechanisms. He asserts that change can typically take three to five to seven years, “so you need to be very clear about what you’re doing”.

“It’s the old line – if you can’t explain it in an elevator, then it’s not going to stick.”

Two months after he joined the ABC, he sat on its technology executive committee, chaired by the MD, which meets monthly to deal with strategy and progress, projects to ensure maximum benefit, and then the biggest issues in terms of activities.

This means he works hand-in-hand with other C-level executives at the highest level, developing relationships which he describes as “always critical and always enjoyable”.

Those relationships also extend into his 350 plus technology staff.

“When it comes to working together you need different people with different skills and different outlooks – from the architects and programmers to the support and help desk centres. We need the people who have the engineering background and love the nuts and bolts and do great work with that – all those skills are necessary,” he says.

“We need people to understand their roles. Maybe they’re not all business savvy but everyone has to be customer-focused. It’s a very complex business to run a media company, and the goal is not to make it too complex.

“But by the nature of the technology it’s not easy, so the CIO needs to be not just a problem solver but also a good listener ... and the two don’t always go hand in hand.”

He suggests there are three things that can make the job of a CIO successful. One is that, as soon as you come on board, you need to get a vision and through engagement build the team’s ownership and understanding about how they fit in.

The second is to surround yourself with a very good team of people, and that’s not just the leadership team but the people in the key roles. “I’m a great believer that the people need to be better than you at doing these technical jobs.”

And the third item is to create a work environment where people can do their best.

“These sound like really sweeping statements, but you never get it 100 per cent right, and it never ends. But it’s so much more enjoyable when you’ve got those three things in place or, at least, working better than when you first arrived.”

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Tags innovationtechnology changeAustralian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)CIO roleKen Gallacher

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