CIO

From electronics engineer to CIO

Central Highlands Water’s first CIO, Rod Apostol, talks about why developing some business nous was so important to his career

In the early 2000s, Rod Apostol realised he needed to develop some business acumen to get ahead. A highly-technical individual, Apostol first became a CIO in 2001 at Greater Shepparton City Council in regional Victoria and spent 11 years in the role.

In the early days of his tenure at the council, Apostol completed an accelerated business course, sponsored by his employer, at Melbourne University’s School of Business which he says was vital to his growth as an IT executive.

“Up until that point, I was an extremely technical person and in one of those positions where you gain promotion for being technically unproficient at your job.

“For me being concentrated primarily on technology, it was very challenging but it [the role at Shepparton] taught me that the CIO role, the leadership role is not so much about being technically-proficient but coaching and mentoring the staff around you to be technically-proficient.”

Apostol has come a long way since entering the industry in 1987 as an electronics engineer at the WIN TV network at a time when “computers were just starting to come into the business”.

“Being the youngest I was [put in charge of managing] the computers, which was seen to be the less sexy part of working in engineering,” he says.

Apostol was information technology manager at Bonlac Foods’ retail stores division between 1993 and 1997, initially asked to fix issues with an existing point-of-sale system across the company’s stores.

“I was brought in at that time to review their rollout and remediate that,” he says. “It was a very interesting role – working with one of the big rural producers and also having to struggle with my first really big rollout of a software system that didn’t quite go the way it should have. It was one of those ones where you learn your lessons fast.”

He was also computer network manager at Hume Healthcare Network between 1997 and 2001 where he implemented networks at 14 regional hospitals, and oversaw a 2000 user network.

In June last year, Apostol was appointed as Central Highlands Water’s first CIO. The 150-year-old regional water corporation serves provides water and water waste services to 130,000 people in Ballarat, Victoria and surrounding towns.

“This is much more business-focused than any role I have been in before. It’s a government agency that is really being run like a private enterprise. It’s taken it to another level in thinking about business needs and processes,” he says.

His first priority when he started at Central Highlands Water was to do a quick scan of the organisation’s strengths and weakness with improving the efficiency of 100 field staff doing water system maintenance and taking readings was important priority.

Apostol and his team deployed 35 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.12 tablets running Citrix XenApp to provide these mobile staff with the ability to instantly capture data in field and using a Web-based interface, and send it back to asset management/work instruction and water billing systems.

Consequently, data is available in these systems in minutes rather than days, improving the efficiency of these field workers.

Apostol is also currently working on data mining and business intelligence projects to make better use of the vast amount of data field staff collect when they take readings from water meters and other sources. For instance, the organisation might use this data to get a better idea of how its water mains network operates to improve scheduling of ‘pump runs’.

“If we know there is going to be demand for water at 4pm, we might refill a lot of our reservoirs through the night with the correct amount of water rather than just running them on demand throughout the day at peak times,” he says.

The changing role of the CIO

Apostol acknowledges that the CIO’s role is changing dramatically.

“We don’t work in a bubble anymore, because we don’t walk around in lab coats, we are part of the business,” he says. “We have to be seen to be contributing to being cost-neutral or if we can actually help generate some revenue streams, we are then seen as part of the business."

He admits that some IT people would find it difficult to move from being a technical staff member to being an IT and business leader as a CIO.

“A lot of people get into IT because they love computers. To get to a position being good in what you have done, to being told to get a promotion you can no longer do what you actually enjoy doing,” he says.

“It’s a different mindset, to get away from thinking about CPU cycles, network bandwidth and those sort of things and thinking about the business justifying why you need a larger internet connection, is quite difficult."

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