Captains Courageous?

Captains Courageous?

Sages claim that in difficult situations both the meek and the brave know fear; how they respond distinguishes them...

"Do you think Oz could give me courage?" asked the Cowardly Lion.

"Just as easily as he could give me brains," said the Scarecrow.

"Or give me a heart," said the Tin Woodman.

"Or send me back to Kansas," said Dorothy.

"Then, if you don't mind, I'll go with you," said the Lion, "for my life is simply unbearable without a bit of courage."

Sages claim that in difficult situations both the meek and the brave know fear; how they respond distinguishes them . . .

Fact #1: The impetus for this article came from the CEO of one of Australia's largest companies who lamented the "lack of courage" that he perceived among the current crop of CIOs.

Fact #2: During the course of researching this article more than 20 CIOs of leading companies and government departments declined to be interviewed on the subject of courage. Fewer than one in five CIOs contacted were prepared to discuss the topic.

Fact #3: Tempting as it might be, two interesting facts do not prove a hypothesis.

Accenture CIO Geoff Hunter found himself in a tricky situation when he had to tell his company's Japanese office that it would no longer receive help desk support from within Japan, instead it would be serviced out of China. While the business benefit was clear (it was a much cheaper alternative), it would be culturally hard to swallow for the Japanese.Hunter had crunched the numbers and explored the availability of skills and technology. "The numbers looked good and I thought we could pull it off. It took guts to take that to the Japanese partner and say: 'This is what will happen'," he says. "But we got buy-in from the Japanese managing partner and did some test recruiting and went live in November last year."

Hunter stresses that an important ally of courage is truth. In this particular instance, Hunter believes if he had not come clean with the Japanese partner, and acknowledged early on that there would be changes in the services available, he might have come "unstuck".

Perhaps literally.

Another CIO currently having to serve up courage and truth in equal portion is Qantas CIO Fiona Balfour, who has taken the decision to outsource much of the airline's IT. When Balfour joined the airline 12 years ago it did all its information processing and computing itself. Now with a $1.4 billion outsourcing deal inked with IBM and Telstra it has come to what Balfour admits is "the end of an era".

However bold the move appears, she herself does not cast the decision to embrace outsourcing as courageous.

"I have been the CIO here for three years and I have put in mature governance processes. All IT investment has to be based on a business case, and I want to see both tangible and intangible benefits," she says. "Once you do that and take decisions based on that you are not being brave, not courageous - just professional."

Even so, Balfour admits that "when you are in front of your board and talking about a couple of large outsourcing deals then you need a certain amount of resolve. But we had been in the old data centre for 40 years and it would have been more risky to stay in it. Now we are investing in a new generation of systems and decommissioning things that have run for 20 or 30 years.

"When you change to a new generation of systems the cost of the IT project failing is much higher than the cost of IT - and that changes the economics of risk," Balfour says.

But Balfour doesn't believe change and courage are always one and the same. In her opinion, challenging the status quo - especially in technology - is often not courageous, because sticking with the status quo might actually impose more risk and therefore take more courage. Still, she says, challenging the status quo for any reason is an innately difficult thing for most human beings.

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