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Higher Energy

Higher Energy

When Eng Chew took over as Optus CIO the challenge he faced was considerable: find a way to get a team who didn't know one another working off the same page and heading in the same direction.

The shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines "energy" as, amongst other things: "the ability to or capacity to produce an effect"; "the exercise of power, operation and activity"; and, "power actively and efficiently exerted". Clearly, energy is a pretty desirable - perhaps even essential - quality for any IT shop.

Of course energy is also a sign of robust good health. A healthy IT shop is energised and unified in pursuit of its charge of delivering business value. But energy was a quality sorely lacking when Eng Chew took over as Optus CIO earlier this year. Coming in on the back of "Operation Win Through", which saw half the company's IT headcount pruned, its IT division re-centralised and numbers of duplicated tasks eliminated, Chew found the team's esprit de corps somewhat flagging and drive and enthusiasm hard to find.

The signs of ill health were clear to see at the first team meeting Eng Chew chaired as the newly appointed CIO: the atmosphere was tense; the argument tending to the acrimonious; many of those in the room were strangers; and there was precious little consensus about anything at all. That is hardly surprising. Staff cutbacks under the restructure - being driven by CEO Chris Anderson with the aim of achieving cost savings of $75-$100 million by the end of the next full financial year - had left Chew with an IT headcount of just 330, plus contractors. The survivors, from IT groups which previously had operated in separate units within the business, had suddenly been called on to pull together.

"When I first joined we'd been through a major change so it was quite a challenging time for all concerned," Chew says. "Our people were brought together for the first time from different parts of the business into a central group. In the first meeting many of the people didn't even know each other, including myself, and they all had diverging points of view. The discussion showed there was probably a bit of tension still, being that the Win Through initiatives were quite new. My challenge was to really energise the people towards very clear and specific directions."

What a change half a year can bring. When he chaired the most recent team meeting, the room was abuzz. The chemistry had altered dramatically. "You could feel the energy level. People were talking amicably. They were still discussing matters with strong diverging views, but they came to a common team view pretty quickly and were having very good laughter along the way.

"And they all said to me: Â'What a difference six months has made, from our very first meeting to our recent team meeting!'"There are other dramatic signs of change too. For a start, IT now appears weekly on the corporate agenda, and is visibly and explicitly - as opposed to implicitly - recognised as the crown jewel of the Optus business, Chew says. And there have been dramatic improvements on all fronts of the mantra he introduced to turn around the IT team: "That we energise our people to improve our delivery and reduce our cost". By getting the entire team to embrace the mantra, he says great strides have been made on people, delivery, cost and differentiation.

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