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View From the Other Side

View From the Other Side

Last June CIO's contributing editor Sue Bushell gave prominent CIOs the opportunity to voice their opinions on the their relationships with vendors. The criticisms came hard and fast. This year we thought we'd turn the tables, but in a kinder, gentler fashion, and find out which CIOs vendors admire.

IT vendor Rick Milinski has never sold a thing to Southcorp CIO Wayne Saunders, but he certainly admires the man.

Milinski, InterWorld Corporation's vice president, Asia Pacific, sees Saunders as a "real CIO" - one of those "guys and ladies who are not purely focused on technology for the sake of technology, but technology as it applies to the business". Like other "real" CIOs, he says, what distinguishes Saunders from the wannabes is that the business in turn expects solutions from him and not from technology.

"Wayne is hard to get to get in to see, but he's been around a while; he knows what's what, he's been through several ERP implementations, he knows which way is up and it's a pleasure dealing with him," Milinski says. "I've never sold him anything but that doesn't matter. I think Wayne is a good guy: he knows what he's doing."

A year ago, when we asked CIOs to tell us what they thought of the vendors who try to sell them things every day, many of you were scathing (see "Promises, Promises", CIO June 2000). While the first words uttered by almost every salesman crossing the threshold of the CIO's office seem to be about partnership and total solutions, the CIOs we spoke to then told us they'd learned to suspect that at least some vendors' fingers are permanently glued, crossed behind their backs.

Sure, you told us, vendors and integrators have become so practised at a spiel that's all about sharing risk, co-developing and working hand-in-glove with the client until all the wrinkles are ironed out, that you'd swear they could spout it in their sleep. It's conceivable many even believe every word they say. But while some make a fair stab at keeping that promise, and some CIOs are largely happy with the partnerships they've got, your comments to us then made clear that long, hard experience has taught many CIOs to take their words with a mountain of salt.

"I've sounded off to a couple of our vendors face to face in very strong terms," Saunders told us last June "Overall I find the whole vendor community really seems to struggle to understand who its customer is and to listen to its customer. That's almost right across the board - I've found it incredibly frustrating and disappointing."

If CIOs are so suspicious of their vendors, what do the vendors in turn think about them? This year we decided to look at the other side of the story, by asking the vendors what they thought of you. Who did they see as the toughest CIO, we asked them, who was the most entrepreneurial, the most innovative, the hardest working?

It probably won't surprise you that many vendors refused to take part in CIO's mini survey at all. It certainly didn't surprise us. Comments like "If I name seven CIOs I think are outstanding, I'll offend every other CIO I deal with on a regular basis" were commonly heard. Cowardly? In the words of Sir Francis Urquart in the television series the House of Cards: "You might think so. I couldn't possibly comment".

But some vendors with a broader philosophy, bigger hearts or greater generosity of spirit were more than happy to name those they admired most. We salute their courage. So here, in no particular order, is the list of CIOs nominated by Australia's bravest vendors as being on top of their "got to admire list", starting with Saunders.

Wayne Saunders, CIO, Southcorp.

Nominated by Rick Milinski, InterWorld Corporation's vice president, Asia Pacific.

Nominated by mbrane CEO John Armenakas.

After spending 16 years in the service industry, Saunders told CIO magazine last year he had been underwhelmed by the service offered, and in many cases the arrogance displayed, by some vendors. Point out any weakness in their service delivery, he says, and it's as if a blind comes down. "They wait for you to stop talking, then the lights come on again. They just simply don't listen to the customer. You have one meeting with them where you might beat them up, and they'll come back two weeks later as if you'd never even had the meeting. It just staggers me," he said.

Vendors clearly don't reciprocate the reservations. Not only was Saunders named by Milinski as a leading light, he also won these plaudits from mbrane's Armenakas. "Probably one of the reasons why people would admire Saunders is that the challenge he's got is he's not sitting in one vertical. I know Southcorp has been selling off some of its properties and divesting, but traditionally it's run a number of diverse businesses," says Armenakas. "Saunders is admired for his ability to be able to apply technology from a business perspective across different verticals - from logistics to manufacturing, packaging, all of those sorts of things. Versatility, that's the word."

John Loebenstein, chief general manager for IT, St George Bank.

Nominated by Michael Burnie, managing director, Network Appliance.

Burnie has been negotiating with John Loebenstein since Burnie's days with previous employer EMC. He says that, in his experience, good CIOs will know about a vendor long before they ever let him in the door. Like the best of them, he says, Loebenstein checks out his vendors and, when they talk about business or value propositions, he tends to be "pretty switched on and have a perfect understanding of what's what".

In Burnie's books, good CIOs are very impatient if you're going to waste their time - a good thing because, obviously, they have an important job to do, and a CIO today is as important as any head, any CFO or CEO. "Corporations today without technology really can't function. So it's important that the person, I believe, is versatile. Loebenstein is that. But a good CIO is also someone obviously who can delegate, hire good people." Loebenstein also fits that bill perfectly, he says.

Glen Mescher, CIO, National Australia Bank.

Nominated by Michael Burnie, managing director, Network Appliance.

Nominated by mbrane CEO John Armenakas.

Like Loebenstein, Mescher runs a large IT organisation, which for his company is important, especially for the banking and finance sectors. "It's clear from the time that I've spent with both of these guys that they know the market, they know what they need and they know how they're going to get it; and I think that's important," Burnie says. "I think that they both leave a lot of detail up to the people they hire, so at the end of the day you don't have to go to these two guys to get sign-off because they trust and delegate to the people below them. I think that's important.

"I guess you have generally two types of CIOs out there. You've got the ones that run the big IT departments for the big enterprise accounts, and then you've got the smaller ones that don't make recommendations, they make decisions and they sign off. That sort of person is more technically oriented, more in tune with the technical side of the business; whereas, say, a John Loebenstein and Glen Mescher would be more focused on the actual business itself - what do I need for my business to move forward?"

Armenakas describes Mescher as "tough and very, very demanding". "People have this conception that a bank is a bank; however, the National Australia Bank has probably got one of the most diverse business unit structures of any bank that I've seen. So [Mescher] has a very challenging time ahead of him - but he's the right guy to do that," Armenakas says. "He's got a fine structure in place in that he doesn't profess to be the be-all and end-all. And he's certainly not the kind of guy who has technology leading the business. He has a structure, in fact, where he's got account managers in place who fundamentally bridge the gap between what the business wants, and translates the business needs into IT lingo, and vice versa."

Mescher also has plenty of "hybrids" in place, Armenakas says, people who can bridge the gap between IT and business while fully understanding both. "That's why he's got such a good reputation and why he's very well respected," he says.

Cathy Bibby, CIO, National Foods.

Nominated by Crystal Decisions (formerly Seagate Software) southern district sales executive Stuart Le Gros.

National Foods is Australia's largest publicly listed dairy company. The company operates in the milk and dairy foods industries and has leading brands and market shares in both sectors. It is Australia's only national-market milk company. Since joining NFL in December 1998 as CIO, Bibby has focused on the standardising and centralising IT services and on up-skilling the IT department. She is also working on identifying key suppliers and building relationships with them, trying to align activity to business issues/strategy/direction, trying to educate the business on what is happening in technology and business, and thinking out of left field.

National Foods is one of Crystal Decisions' premier corporate customers, so the company's southern district sales executive Stuart Le Gros speaks from authority when he says Bibby leads an IS team that is progressive and ambitious in its plans to develop National Foods systems. The team is embracing solutions to meet the challenges of their competitive industry. Bibby is extremely hard-working and innovative, Le Gros says. "She is competing in a male-dominated industry and at the highest level. She is protected by her management team, but you can see her when she feels you have a valid reason."

Wai Tang, chief operations officer and CIO, Just Jeans.

Howard McDonald, managing director, Just Jeans Group.

Nominated by Rick Milinski, InterWorld Corporation's vice president, Asia Pacific.

Like Saunders, both Wai Tang and McDonald are totally focused on business objectives, Milinksi says. Their mantra is "don't talk to me about technology, talk to me about a business solution". While Milinski, as an IT vendor, found both were originally hard to get to see, he says, once he could prove he had value to add, that began to change. He says both are doing extremely innovative work at the cutting edge.

As an example, Milinski cites the Web site of Just Jeans' newly acquired sleepwear business, Peter Alexander, which the company is using as a vehicle to drive sales in its youth-focused jeans products. The Web site is an integral part of Just Jeans' strategy to get 3 per cent of its total revenue from online sales.

"A technology investment is a strange thing for a fashion house to do, so they make their decisions carefully," Milinksi says. "Not only is their e-commerce project right out there, it's extremely innovative. When you see a lot of traditional retailers saying ‘no, no, no' to e-commerce, Just Jeans grabbed the bull by the horns and put up a very good site, and it is getting some good results.

Valda Berzins, CIO, Australia Post.

Nominated by mbrane CEO John Armenakas.

Nominated by Rick Milinski, InterWorld Corporation's vice president, Asia Pacific.

The reason why Australia Post would get a mention is [because] their biggest challenge is really moving from this public service mentality to now having to be competitive against, and taking on, the likes of FedEx and DHL in various aspects off their business," Armenakas says.

"While their competitors have been using technology to their advantage for many, many years, Australia Post hasn't. So part of the reason why they get a lot of kudos now is how quickly they've taken a real commercial and business approach to what they're doing, and effectively applied it," he says.

Milinski also has high praise for Berzins. "[Berzins] is like [Saunders], and in the same category," he says. "She is in a large corporation, with lots and lots of people and a big IT budget, and is in a position where she can't have a hands-on evaluation of every single piece of technology and sales guy who walks through her door. "She has a good team of people that she's assembled that feed her information, and she gets involved when and as she needs to, but she's totally business focused. Her line tends to be ‘don't talk to me about anything unless you can tell me how it is going to help me do my business better'."

Milinski says any CIO able to pull off a successful implementation of an e-commerce platform is someone to be admired. To do so in a large organisation with lots of complicated interfaces and systems and legacy systems is even more impressive. "The thing I like most about Australia Post is that it had a vision for what it wanted to do and the vision was itself innovative: to provide an e-commerce platform to all of Australia with all of Australia able to utilise it for fulfilment," he says.

David Boyles, head of technology e-commerce and payments, ANZ Bank.

Nominated by Michael Burnie, managing director, Network Appliance.

Nominated by Steven Lloyd-Jones, general manager and director, MRO Software Australia.

Nominated by mbrane CEO John Armenakas.

When we asked CIOs for their thoughts on vendors last year, ANZ Banking Group CIO David Boyles told us overall his company's relationships with its vendors were "dramatically better" than a couple of years ago, partly because ANZ had taken steps to greatly improve its own communications with its suppliers.

Maybe that stance is why vendors like him so much. Boyles certainly has the admiration of Michael Burnie for much the same reasons as for Loebenstein and Mescher. "David's focus has definitely been the e-commerce part of the business, and I think you'll find that in John Loebestein's workload, as well as Glen Mescher's, a lot of their focus is the e-commerce part of the business," Burnie says. "You have to understand your business and the technology world to be able to provide e-commerce strategy for your organisation. Certainly ANZ.com, NAB.com and stgeorge.com are sites that are being widely used in the marketplace by people who do personal banking, and they are doing very, very well."

Boyles also won plaudits from Steven Lloyd-Jones, general manager and director of MRO Software Australia, who described him as an impressive individual. "He's a [quiet] kind of guy. He's in what seems to me an extraordinarily difficult position and it's a very difficult job. He's got a huge number of stakeholders in the bank, all with their own initiatives, and he's got a pretty tough audience too, because many of the systems and the infrastructure that he runs and the strategies that he has to put in place serve the public and business community. There's a lot of tough critics out there and I think he handles that very well."

Lloyd-Jones says ANZ's ebiz.com marketplace was an initiative that grew up outside Boyle's immediate area. Instead of being turf-oriented, Boyles, who has a big say in the e-commerce and payments area, was actually supportive and tried to lend his weight to the whole thing. Armenakas is another admirer of Boyles, and describes him as an extreme pragmatist.

"There's not much beating around the bush about Boyles," Armenakas says. "Everything with him has got to be very, very well quantified. Everything that he does has some key performance indicators - everything is measurable. And in the world of IT, when sales people are trying to sell stuff, without being able to build a strong business case they ain't likely to get far with David."

Paul Morris, CIO, Ford.

Nominated by Mark Camilleri, former Onyx Software Australia managing director.

Camilleri first dealt with Morris when he was CIO of Inchcape Motors and describes him as "probably the most outstanding CIO that I have experienced in my time in the industry".

For one thing, Morris treats vendors with respect - something Camilleri says is often missing from the industry, although he admits, with some vendors acting like cowboys, that can be a big ask. "What I like about Paul is that he has clear definition of where he wants to go while at the same time opening his mind to creativity," Camilleri says. "Just look at the industry he is in - which is quite conservative - and the way that he's taken Inchcape into the e-commerce arena. Where other corporations and CIOs talk about it, he has really done it, particularly when it comes to CRM-proper implementations rather than just putting in a call centre. "He has really put in a truly enterprise customer relationship management system. The other thing that Paul has is outstanding management skills with his own people, where there is a realisation of what it takes to make these projects successful in terms of, first, the commitment and, second, the training. Most CIOs around the country just pay lip service to training and tend to not allow enough budget."

Firm, fair and incredibly creative in the task at hand, is the way Camilleri sums up Morris. "He knows what it takes to make projects successful," he says.

From Camilleri that is high praise indeed because, when we asked him if there were other outstanding CIOs around the place, he said: "No, I don't want to put my name to anybody else because I really think most of them are mediocre."

John Dunne, CIO, Australian Guarantee Corp.

Nominated by mbrane CEO John Armenakas.

In our article last year, Dunne told us some vendor company managing directors were better at getting out and meeting clients than others. "We've spent a lot of money with people like Oracle and Hewlett-Packard, and they haven't made the connection at the very highest level within our parent company, which is Westpac, while others like IBM are putting those connections in place. "The managing director of Westpac gains advantage from talking to IBM CEO Lou Gerstner because he then gets a global view of what's happening with technology." Dunne said that, in his experience, it was only the potential for [a vendor's] business that moved your company up the hierarchy. That made it especially hard for smaller organisations to develop partnerships with their vendors. It was maddening enough when vendors treat their big spending customers poorly, he said - even with the massive buying power, and hence serious muscle, those big spenders can bring to bear. It was just plain frustrating for smaller corporations that didn't have the buying power to carry so much influence.

As one vendor CEO more than happy to spend time with Dunne, Armenakas is full of praise. Dunne has been around for a long time, he says, knows his stuff and copes admirably with the great deal of pressure he is under to quantify everything he does.

Jeff Seed, GM IT, Sugar Australia.

Nominated by Rob Pearsall, director, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

My nomination for hardest working CIO would be Jeff Seed," Pearsall says. "Jeff has recently managed the successful completion of the third milestone (of four) in a Trans Tasman ERP implementation, juggling the demands of new technology, processes, systems and staff." A relative newcomer, Sugar Australia has been implementing a project called Operation Crystalise for the last 18 months, designed to lead to a complete change of IT infrastructure across Sugar Australia and its New Zealand sister company. As general manager for IT for Sugar Australia, Seed also has overview of the IT responsibilities in New Zealand. "The major component of Operation Crystalise has been implementation of the JD Edwards ERP system, and that's required a complete redevelopment of their IT infrastructure across Australia and New Zealand," Pearsall says. "They used to rely on CSR's infrastructure - being part of that organisation - and they've moved away from that in the last 12 or so months so they've had to build that infrastructure themselves while putting together a fairly new organisation. So everyone is fairly new to the business processes and putting in place this fairly significant ERP implementation in parallel [is notable].

"Jeff runs a fairly lean IT shop that he has had to build up over the course of this project," Pearsall says. "He's [carried] the project from the business case, the selection; we're actually now well into the implementation and he's taken on more or less the project leadership role from the Sugar Australia perspective while still doing his general IT work [as] general manager IT. It's a complex solution."

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