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Humble Ambitions

Humble Ambitions

Profile: Jeff Smith Corporate CIO, Telstra

Jeff Smith is a man on the move. Although he has been Telstra's corporate CIO for less than six months, he already has a huge and ambitious timetable. He also has an eye on new and even more glittering prizes, and he knows just how he plans to get there.

While it is true few CIOs have yet found the path to general management and CEO positions, Smith says he not only knows the route but also has a timetable in mind for moving to bigger fields. And while he is confident of his abilities in this regard, it is almost certainly an aptitude for humility that will play the major role in helping him achieve his ambitions.

Only when CIOs can deliver results as consistently and reliably as the heads of other businesses will more companies want to move them on up, Smith says. And he says he is just the man to do that. Having seen first-hand the value of repeatable, reliable processes in the manufacturing industry, Smith is pushing hard to apply such thinking throughout Telstra. Colleagues say anyone within earshot quickly becomes familiar with his mantra: "leverage and reuse". He's confident the two bywords - as long as he remains humble enough to deploy them consistently - hold the key to giving him the results to make him a credible business leader.

"I think Telstra has a number of different opportunities in the businesses and products and services it is expanding into, that are very IT dependent - probably more than any other industry," Smith says. "I would like to take some of the experience that I've had from a general management point of view and in the strategist role, as well as experiences that I've gained in different CIO roles, and be able to utilise that in helping run a business."

Over the next year or two as Telstra CIO, Smith hopes standardisation will become ingrained and manufacturing concepts will become leaner, while focusing on the overall management system and delivery processes. Once Telstra's IT system is running as smoothly and efficiently as Toyota's production system - which he says is the best manufacturing system in the world - he hopes to take that experience into running a business.

Officially, the office of the Telstra CIO focuses on company-wide information/data management and IT architecture, the establishment of corporate IT policy and the integration of strategy, planning and implementation. Some $1.2 billion of Telstra's $1.5 billion IT budget - excluding the network side - is spent internally. Smith's head count is roughly 3000 people.

But whatever the official position, Smith sees his job in simpler terms around encouraging efficiency and extracting as much value from the company's assets as possible. "I'm a big believer in reusing everything you create, and eliminating non-value added activity," he says. "So the office of the CIO is really about finding and sharing best practices and leveraging these across all business units."

He argues that such leverage is uniquely important in the telecommunications industry, given the large number of different market segments and the fact that in many cases Telstra is producing products for the same customer across these markets. Leverage also opens the way to new market opportunities, he says.

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