In the Club

In the Club

Things have come a long way since the old joke about CIO standing for "Career Is Over" held much currency, but it is still generally harder for CIOs than other executives to move into more business-oriented parts of the organisation.

Peter Delprado is the ex-CIO of Zurich, but he hasn't left the building. As the general manager Investment Services and Life, he's now putting the financial services provider's money where his mouth is.

When Peter Delprado was Zurich Financial Services' CIO, he found the promises IT vendors seemed to be making constantly to Zurich's business executives a source of perpetual annoyance.

"I was forever frustrated at what I saw in the industry and in business of the way that business used to blindly hear what some IT [sales]people would say, especially the large IT vendors who would come in at the executive business level and promise the world, and tell them how their business would be 5000 per cent better once they implemented this new project or this new piece of software. Whether it was ERP or an Internet system or a back-office system or whatever it was, they were constantly being promised that the world would be a better place, and of course it never was."

Maybe business got sick of hearing Delprado tell them to ignore all those extravagant vendor claims, that they did not need to spend all that money or that they should not undertake that particular project. Maybe they just had enough confidence in his business nous to let him put his money where his mouth was, as it were. Whatever the case, by November 2002 - not much more than a year after he signed up as CIO - the business had decided it was time for Delprado to put his strong words into practice and made him general manager Investment Services and Life.

Things have come a long way since the old joke about CIO standing for "Career Is Over" held much currency, but it is still generally harder for CIOs than other executives to move into more business-oriented parts of the organisation. But if Delprado is a groundbreaker, he is a consistent one. In fact, as the CIO Delprado ran IT pretty much the way most business executives run their own section of the business, which is probably why he has now become one of them.

Delprado says throughout the course of his career he has always worked hard not to get carried away by the "toys for the boys", the "technology for technology's sake" and the "it's not invented here" mentalities that beset many more technically oriented CIOs. He has always eschewed multimillion dollar IT projects on instinct, and striven to make business people appreciate the commitment required to realise major IT programs.

He says if other CIOs have found it difficult to transition into business roles, it is probably because their departments have always been regarded as a cost centre, and they themselves have presided over serious problems, have been too focused on technology or have just plumb failed to understand the business.

"All through my particular career I was always pretty close to the business," he says. "And at the end of the day, in basically every industry other than the IT industry, the role of techos is to support the business - I mean that's what they're there to do. So I think part of the role of a CIO is to actually make sure they keep all of the technical staff in alignment with where the business is trying to go.

"Of course there are some aspects to being a CIO that are exactly the same as leading a business, especially issues around leadership, people development, teamwork and culture. I guess I have the added advantage of actually understanding the IT so there aren't any new big IT projects coming up that I'm improving, because I know what's real and what's not real."

Furthermore, he was well-used to dealing with members of boards and chief executives. Delprado says before joining Zurich he had held a number of board positions, usually involved with technical or e-commerce-type companies. For instance, he had formerly been chairman of INS, an e-commerce-type company that was ultimately sold to Telstra. And while CIO at Zurich, he served on a couple of boards around administration and IT, including the board of tech company IWL where he was on the Australian executive board for his whole term as Zurich CIO.

"So I had the ability to operate at that level - that is, interacting with board members, regional chief executives and chief executives. I probably took a fairly strong leadership position on the Australian executive board, being the oldest Australian executive at the ripe old age of 45. A chief information officer really ought to play as important a role in the strategy-setting of the business as would the CFO or, in fact, the general manager of the business," he says. "A lot of IT groups just tend to sit in the background and only talk when it is relevant to IT."

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