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The Strategic CIO: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

The Strategic CIO: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

There comes a time in every CIO’s career when it’s time to move on. Here’s how one CIO handled the changing of the guard with grace and style. . .

Stregic CIO Columnist Peter Dart spent 25 years working in IT at Pearson Australia Group, most recently as information services director.

Stregic CIO Columnist Peter Dart spent 25 years working in IT at Pearson Australia Group, most recently as information services director.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish is the fourth book of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series written by Douglas Adams. Its title is the message left by the dolphins when they depart Earth just before it is demolished to make way for a hyperspatial expressway. The phrase has since been adopted by some science fiction fans as a humorous way to say “goodbye” and a song of the same name was featured in the 2005 film adaptation of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The strategic CIO also needs to think about the time to move on, say thanks for the good times and to let the company take a new direction. It could be downsizing caused by the GFC, a buyout, a merger or market changes that force a company to change direction, but whatever it is, when it happens the CIO needs to facilitate it. Being loyal to the company, aligned with objectives and true to the profession can also mean helping to facilitate a changing of the guard when the time comes.

Doing the Right Thing

After 25 years and many adventures, I found myself recommending my own redundancy, almost hoping it wouldn’t be accepted but knowing it was the right thing to do for both me and my organisation. If the roles were reversed, as they have been for me in the past, I certainly would have made the same decision. The experiences that followed are certainly worth sharing and maybe they will give some insight into the process from the other side.

My background is in the book industry, a market that is changing fundamentally, as a recent cover story in CIO (Publishing 2.0) explained. The Google Book settlement will add spice to the mix as it is being reviewed by the US Department of Justice and European authorities and decisions are imminent. Google has 10 million books already scanned, and Amazon has upped the competition by announcing a new browser to emulate the Kindle.

The future of delivering hard copy to bookshops and schools is likely to contract. Being the best and most efficient at that only helps a bit in the long term when the margins are going to be eroded by electronic substitution, as has already happened for reference books, encyclopaedias and travel guides. The new world will require systems that can support micro-transactions and that will deliver the electronic version before the hard copy. Publishing companies will need to be more efficient and leaner, as the requirement to maintain profits and quality are put under pressure. This will mean new skills, and the quickest route to deliver that is with new people in a new structure.

So after winning Australian book distributor of the year, my company decided to rethink its emphasis on the advancement and improvement of its ERP, warehousing and related systems. My core skill set was no longer required.

The immediate process was very clinical. Having done it from the other side, I knew what was likely when I was ushered by the COO into a room where the HR director was waiting. She quickly read from a prepared script, it was stated that my position was being made redundant from the next Friday, and that the decision was non-negotiable. The package offered seemed fair and was consistent with company guidelines. I think I said “okay”, certainly not the time for smart lines or histrionics. I was then reassured it was a tough decision and not made lightly and was complimented on my professionalism. Well actually I agreed it was the right thing to do, my only real surprise was the timing.

Yes, I could keep access to e-mail, my mobile number and no, I didn’t need to be escorted from the building. I would also get the “platinum” package from the outsourcing consultant, and they already had someone waiting to see me. Her first question was how do you feel? Well, relief actually. I was glad it was no longer my problem and I didn’t have to do those four midnight teleconferences next week.

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