For Sam Gennaoui, CIO of Novell's Asia Pacific operations, being a CIO is about a lot more than managing the 23-year-old networking company's infrastructure and aligning IT with the business. Gennaoui deals with the same pressures and challenges as most CIOs, but with an added twist: he knows that the solutions he deploys today will have a direct impact on the way other CIOs use technology in years to come.
Gennaoui has worked in the IT industry for close to 25 years, on both the technical and business side, and has seen it all, not only in his six years at Novell, but at other companies in such disparate areas as banking, insurance and agriculture. Despite all that past experience, he says, he was surprised by the degree to which Novell expected him to provide input on new corporate initiatives. "When I first came to this environment, the ability to work with the development groups in the US and brainstorm with them on new initiatives and product ideas that were two or three years out was new and very foreign to me," Gennaoui says.
Gennaoui insists that even though he works for a large technology vendor like Novell, he still faces many of the same issues, challenges and opportunities as CIOs in other industries such as manufacturing or finance. "There are many common denominators," he says, citing examples like software distribution and performing hardware inventories as well as more tactical and strategic issues like alignment, shareholder value and partnering with the business.
But working as a top IT strategist in a company that builds solutions that other CIOs deploy also offers its own special brand of challenges. Gennaoui highlights two issues in particular. One is working with technology that is "untested and untried". The other is "being part of a working group that asks: Â'What will our fellow CIOs want in two years? What will this service look like in two years? What will the market want?'"But Gennaoui would not have it any other way. On the contrary, it is the opportunity to shape the future of products and services that makes his job worthwhile. "When you see a lot of your ideas coming out in a product 12 to 15 months down the track, that's exciting. It becomes partly your baby, metaphorically speaking," he says.
Gennaoui is responsible for Novell's IS organisation throughout the whole of the Asia Pacific region, an area which covers everything from corporate offices in places like Australia, Taiwan and Japan, to development labs in India. Referred to within the company as Information Services & Technology (IST), the group Gennaoui oversees employs a staff of close to 1500 people, including a small army of contractors and temp workers that routinely moves in and out of the organisation with each new project.
Gennaoui is actually one of three CIOs at Novell - along with counterparts in America and Europe - all of whom take part in a working group that meets regularly to develop the roadmap for the company's internal initiatives. The group is charged with making sure regional activities are synchronised and generally looks for new ways IT can assist the business to become more competitive. Gennaoui and his colleagues also hammer out their ideas about what the marketplace of the future might look like and what Novell's business needs will be in this new environment - ideas which often end up incorporated into the design of the company's products and services.
Such was not always the case, however, says Gennaoui. Until recently Novell's IT organisation fulfilled the same traditional role as those of most other companies, performing standard chores like managing infrastructure and looking after the availability of systems and applications. "Some 70 to 80 per cent of our time was spent maintaining infrastructure," Gennaoui says, "but a couple of years ago we decided that as a business unit, we were capable of doing a lot more than that."
The result was to refocus the IT group's energies entirely, introducing what the organisation refers to internally as "the 70/30 vision". "We shifted the emphasis from spending the bulk of our time from doing reactive support to doing proactive support," Gennaoui explains. IST now devotes only 30 per cent of its time to traditional technology support duties like managing servers, hubs and routers, and spends the remaining 70 per cent adding value to the company by way of new initiatives and solutions that are implemented internally.
"At the forefront of my mind are things like being a key partner to the business, which in turn means having to come up with new ideas and new initiatives, and to develop pragmatic solutions to implement the one Net vision that Novell has articulated for two years now," Gennaoui says - the reference to one Net a nod to Novell's oft-stated aim of providing users with information via a single easy-to-use interface.
"The challenge is to stay ahead of the game," says Gennaoui. "How do I come up with new ideas to help the internal systems and stay at the forefront of technology, but still protect the privacy of the network? How do I push the development effort in the US and push our user community here? How do I stay on the front line?"
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