- 31 May, 2000 16:02
CIOs are taking on dual responsibilities in operations, logistics, marketing and more. Read on to learn:
* How double duties make CIOs more valuable* Why co-workers can make or break success* What skills double-duty CIOs need to thrive - and surviveAs if being CIO of a commonwealth government department, with 3050 staff and a budget of $504 million, weren't enough, Ed Kilestyn wears many other hats during his day-to-day activities. And still finds time for a round of golf.
Among his other duties Kilestyn, the CIO for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), chairs the management committee for the Cluster 3 outsourcing contract covering DIMA, the Australian Electoral Commission, the Department of Administrative Services, the Australian Securities Commission, and the Australian Industrial Property Organisation. He also reports directly to DIMA's departmental secretary, effectively its CEO, on business innovation cutting across not just IT but all other matters organisational.
And when it comes to doing double duty, Kilestyn is no slouch. He's part of a growing number of CIOs either voluntarily taking on extra responsibilities in a variety of fields, or else having that responsibility thrust upon them. Their additional duties include briefs for marketing, operations, logistics, and more. And naturally, since it's the area where commerce and computers really merge, there's already a trend of CIOs to also handle electronic commerce.
Giving CIOs double duties is common in smaller companies. However, it is also increasingly happening in those organisations where the IT function is valued so highly the organisation is keen for the executive heading it up to take on related, information-intensive responsibilities.
Advantra CIO Peter Nichol has formal titles including chief information officer, manager of the Management Accounting Group and manager of the SAP System Project Team. And that's just the formal roles. In his spare time, he's also a member of the Advantra Senior Management Team. Nichol says wearing several hats gives him experience in a variety of areas, managing a variety of people. It also helps him appreciate both the technical importance of information systems and the business value such systems offer.
A lot of CIOs already have responsibilities for e-business activities for their organisations, says Hoyts CIO Patrick Teh. That includes Teh himself, whose business card reads not only CIO but also general manager of e-business. "Being given the title merely formalises the accountability and decision-making authority for that responsibility," Teh says. "As you move into a decision-making role for a profit centre, you're taken more seriously both internally and externally. It's then up to you to transform the blue skies into dollars and cents for the organisation."
But while giving the CIO multiple roles can be a win-win situation for both the CIO and the organisation, there can also be drawbacks. As one CEO, himself a former CIO, says, "Having the wrong person in two jobs can screw things up twice as fast." And if the IT department itself has a bad reputation, accepting more responsibilities outside of IT is hardly likely to inspire confidence. Advisers say CIOs should get their own house in order before turning their attention elsewhere.
As technology becomes a bigger part of the business, it's natural that the business should rely more on people who really know that technology. Having one person filling more than one job can be a boon for all parties: the CIO develops a broader perspective on another set of the company's business processes, and the company gains a high-level executive who understands multiple facets of the business.
Both Nichol and Kilestyn say fulfilling multiple roles helps them provide their organisation with a more comprehensive understanding of its information systems. "I can combine my experiences as both a manager and user to better understand the requirements and uses for information," Nichol says. "I have insight into what people need, because of my role as a user. At the same time I also understand the business requirements for information systems. I suppose this provides me with a more balanced perspective."
Further, because he manages both the Management Accounting Group and the SAP management tool they use, Nichol finds cohesion between the two that might not otherwise exist. He says the combination of a competent team of analysts and an effective information system delivers a key advantage to the business.
Similarly, Kilestyn says his business-line background and the roles he fills give him a very well-honed view about the ways technology can service the business areas. "I guess to that extent the particular focus that I have in managing the technical side of things is very much influenced by the business perspective rather than just doing things from a technical point of view," says Kilestyn.
Teh also has no doubt wearing several hats can help the CIOs broaden their boundaries and add real value to the organisation. He points out that particularly in an end-user environment, CIOs who stay in the one role tend to spend most of their time in a support function. That can mean spending so much time fire-fighting there's none left to learn the business or strategise alongside the other senior executives.
"Although part of the function for CIOs is to work alongside senior executives to identify opportunities where IT can support the business, quite often you find that that's not the case if you're purely in an IT role. In a dual role certainly you're forced to be exposed to a lot more than just IT; and I think because officially you are given a title where you're not just wearing an IT hat, you get a lot more leeway in terms of spending time with other executives."
Teh says his key challenge is to grow quickly into the business development role and gain credibility by generating real results. At the same time he will ensure the IS group continues to look after business needs.
Like any other jugglers, CIOs balancing multiple roles need to be able to keep their eyes on all the balls at the same time. They need to excel at time management and, above all, they have to be flexible. They also need business savvy if they hope to thrive and survive in a dual role. Teh says that's the one element that can't be learned on the job. He has spent the last 10 years applying himself to the goal of acquiring that savvy and says that has been more valuable than any MBA.
"Some people would say arm yourself with an MBA. I think those paper qualifications open doors for you, but at the end of the day, it's still up to the individual. I can say that because I have an MBA myself, but I don't find a lot of application from what I studied to the real world." At the end of the day, Teh says, dual-role CIOs have to be able to contribute positively to the business - and that means fully understanding that business.
Kilestyn would agree. Just as Kilestyn performs multiple roles, so must the organisation for which he works serve numerous objectives. DIMA is a regulatory authority with a strong political dimension. And it's a service authority that - since it charges for its services - needs both a business and commercial perspective.
"But equally we're operating to a set of political masters. Understanding how those things work together I think is a fairly important part in understanding what technology can do and should be doing. There's a lot of things we could be investing in; but there's also a question of whether you would want to be doing them, if it doesn't necessarily lead to the right sorts of outcomes both from a business and a political perspective," Kilestyn says.
That tricky balancing act is made easier by having a leg in both the technical and business camps, according to Kilestyn.
"I like multifunction jobs, because I get a different point of view from each area," Coles-Myer CIO Jon Wood told US CIO recently. "You have to keep both perspectives when you're listening to both the marketing and technology guys." Wood gained supply chain management experience at Ford's Australian division as a design engineer, before working in Coles Myer's strategic marketing and catalogue retailing areas. He cut his systems teeth on revamping the company's frequent-shopper program.
Delegate or Perish
CIOs doing several jobs know they have to be able to rely implicitly on their subordinates. And they have to be able to delegate. "You can't do this if you're a micro-manager," Wood says.
Peter Solvik, who as US CIO of Cisco Systems also heads up its Internet Business Solutions Group, a division devoted to consulting, agrees. Because he can attend only about half of IT staff meetings, he delegates responsibilities that would normally be in his purview, Solvik told US CIO. "I empower my IT management team to manage without me there all the time. A lot of decisions are made without my participation."
Solvik points out that delegation has the advantage of broadening the experience of employees who might be more inclined to stay than stray on the basis of the extra training they can get at home. But he warns CIOs not to even think about taking on multiple roles unless their staff excels at collaboration.
And it's not just co-workers within your immediate management sphere that can make or break you as a double-duty CIO. Kilestyn points out that the cooperation of co-workers across a range of organisational structures is critical. "To that extent it's about those people that can shore up the gaps in your knowledge, particularly in this area, about technology and technology directions. But there are also your co-workers in the business lines - and we very much take a role of managing the infrastructure, dealing with the applications, and providing services to those business lines," That strikes a chord with Nichol, who's had plenty of experience in delegating at Advantra. "We must learn to let go' of certain tasks and responsibilities and trust our people to perform," Nichol says. "We must also have exceptional time-management skills. There are always so many projects on the go it is critical that I have the skills to prioritise my workload."
Nichol's position as CIO of Advantra has changed considerably in the last 12 months. He has effectively outsourced the implementation and maintenance of Advantra's PC standard operating environment (SOE), Filesystems, e-mail and intranet to a delivery team. As a result, he now finds himself relying 100 per cent on the skills and competencies of the delivery team to deliver the bulk of Advantra's information systems.
"Being able to rely on this delivery team means that I can focus on additional projects, such as the operation, development and expansion of the company's SAP system," Nichol says. The end result? Advantra is able to grow its information systems and processes much faster.
Kilestyn says his role gives him plenty of opportunities for exposure to the ways technology might be taking or could be taking the business. That makes his relationship with co-workers running the business lines critical, as he works with them to evaluate opportunities. "Convincing them that these technologies are worth investing in, and worth them getting interested in, is one of the important elements of creating an environment where the technical side and the business side move together, rather than one trying to outdo the other or moving at different points," Kilestyn says.
One of the biggest boons from holding two jobs within the one organisation is the perspective it brings.
Jim Mitchell is CIO with the Audit Office of NSW and also happens to be Deputy Auditor General. Whether that is a good or a bad position in which to be is irrelevant, he says - it's the only workable situation available to a small agency like his.
Is filling dual roles good for his career? "Well, I have a responsibility for all corporate service functions and so I have that wide view - so that's probably right," Mitchell says. "I mean I'm not the owner of all systems. I just arrange for whatever systems we buy to run for other owners, other users; I've taken that view fairly strongly in here and I assume others do that as well; it's not unique. So I'm a provider of a service, and a giver of advice from within corporate services to other operating areas."
Mitchell is too close to retirement that putting the dual roles on his resume can make much difference to his long-term career prospects. However, he has always advised those who work under him to gain as much experience as possible across a range of business areas. "And I do think that that type of broad experience is beneficial to other people in developing their career," he says.
Nonetheless, there can be great personal satisfaction in performing dual roles, says Teh - even without any guarantee that wearing several hats will lead to bigger and better things. Teh says his focus doesn't go far beyond his current position. "When given a role I throw myself into it and do the best job that I can. If something good comes out of it, that's great."
Likewise, given that the multiple hats he wears had little to do with personal choice, but were rather thrust upon him, Kilestyn also says the arrangement is personally fulfilling. While at the end of the day he gets more satisfaction out of managing a business program than handling the infrastructure support side, he says wearing several hats is a way to get the best of both worlds.
With a brief to look for innovations and different ways DIMA can do business, Kilestyn says filling several roles means he also gets the fun of "playing in the sandpit" on the job.
"I guess the best example would be one that most organisations would be encountering at the moment: the way in which e-commerce can be applied to different business arrangements," he says. "So much of the drive for particular e-business implementations within DIMA is coming from within the business solutions group, my division. Now that presents both the fun of playing in the sandpit and also the challenge of ultimately getting the business-line area that has the responsibility for it to see it as an opportunity and therefore also to get interested in it."
Rising to the Challenge
Plenty of CIOs have been given short-term responsibility for special projects and therefore know the havoc it can play with their schedule. When that extra work is intended to become a permanent part of the job, prepare for a significant period of adjustment. As well as top-notch time-management skills, double-duty CIOs need masses of energy and follow-through. If you can't handle that, don't bother considering the possibility.
Is it necessarily a lot more stressful than filling only one job description?
"Yes, it can be," Teh says. "But I guess it comes down to how well your team is able to support you. I think if you have a relatively strong team that can rally behind you, by and large it's okay. But if you've got to do everything from technical to strategic, then I think that's going to wear you down."
So how does Kilestyn get time for that game of golf? It's all a matter of organisation and how you manage your time. Or so the man says.