Neil Thelander's philosophy for a modern-day CIO is "strategic laziness", or getting the most value from the least effort.
"Focus on the strategic issues. Don't worry about the fine details unless they're critical or there is some significant risk attached to them, and let's get the best we can out of the dollar and the very finite resources we have," decrees Thelander, who is currently director of information technology services at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
Thelander believes that the CIO role is now much more extrovert and less about the internal business of delivering IT. Whereas just a few years ago CIOs were struggling to maintain basic operations, these days he claims it is much easier to demonstrate a reliable level of operational IT services and to move on to a much more effective and strategic relationship with the rest of the organisation. Those at the top end of IT who have failed to reinvent themselves in that way have gone the way of the dinosaur, he says.
Thelander has a colourful and wide-ranging background. His IT career began at the Australian Taxation Office, where he says he rode through the technical ranks quite rapidly before spending a few years in Australian Customs. He then moved on to a senior executive position in what was then the Federal Department of Community Services and Health.
In the late 1980s he moved up to Queensland to establish and manage Oracle Corporation's professional services unit in the state. A few years of consulting followed, chiefly in large-scale project management, which Thelander says is a passion of his. This led to him getting involved in health again and becoming director, information management, at Queensland Health, a position he held until being headhunted to QUT more than three years ago.
While his executive level roles have all been IT-related, Thelander believes he is recognised as having some general management expertise and for being able to assist organisations get broader strategic value out of IT. When he spoke to CIO for this story, he was temporarily acting as director of teaching and learning support services at QUT. His role at Queensland Health also entailed responsibility for statistics, the library and a number of other information management functions in addition to IT itself.
The worst experience in Thelander's career occurred during a merging of federal government departments, which resulted in a massive bloodletting and reduction of staff over a four-month period. Worse still, he was heading up the area affected at the time.
On a more positive note, Thelander cites a number of highlights of his career. With the federal government, these include building some of the first tax avoidance monitoring systems for the ATO and a review for the Prime Minister's department of the way federal government went about purchasing information technology (prior and unrelated to the Howard/Fahey outsourcing debacle).
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