Bill Bennett

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Technology top of mind with NZ bosses

This year’s New Zealand Herald Mood of the Boardroom survey shows technology dominates business leaders’ thinking.

When asked “what factors will have the most impact on business over the next five years, two-thirds of bosses nominated technological advances. Nothing else came even close.

You can interpret the question as good or bad depending on whether your business is the disruptor or the disrupted.

In comparison, online security is unequivocal. New Zealand’s bosses named it as their number one concern.

Online security has been bubbling under the surface as an issue in recent years.

In this year’s New Zealand Herald Mood of the Boardroom survey, the nation’s bosses placed it first in a list of 16 possible concerns. And by a long way.

The Mood of the Boardroom team asked ore than 100 New Zealand business leaders to rate items on this list out of ten. A score of one meant there was no concern, a score of ten ranks as extreme concern. Cybersecurity scored 7.16.

Many leaders ranked online security at either nine or ten. It came in a lot higher than the next most pressing concern; the result of the US presidential election.

If the survey was held this week, it may have ranked even higher. Most CEOs filled out their survey responses before the news of the Yahoo email breach was public

Another ugly side of technology change came up in the question about multinational tax avoidance.

While there have always been worries about transfer pricing and other was of minimising taxes, technology companies like Google, Apple and Facebook take it to new extremes. They pay next to no tax in New Zealand because they claim transactions here actually take place elsewhere.

Datacom surges to a billion dollar tech business

Pushing into the Australian market paid dividends for privately-owned Datacom.

The Wellington-based technology company reported 13 percent revenue growth to a shade over NZ$1 billion. It is the first New Zealand technology company to pass the billion dollar milestone.

In comparison profits were small. The group after tax profit was NZ$27 million, up 12 percent on the previous year.

Revenue grew 13 percent in New Zealand. The Australian and Asian business grew by the same amount.

Datacom says it’s Australia Systems division saw increased demand for hybrid cloud services and the company’s new software portfolio. It says software development in Australia gained as the company boosted delivery capabilities in Melbourne and Sydney.

The company opened four new offices in the last year and now operates from 29 locations around the world.

Comment:

Unlike Spark Digital, which now focuses almost exclusively on New Zealand, Datacom is increasingly international in its outlook.

This is paying off: the company is on a strong growth path, albeit with razor-thin margins.

Those slim margins are not likely to worry anyone during an expansion phase. And, anyway, cloud is a low-margin business. For now, the game is all about bulking up. Datacom is doing that with a vengeance.

Where open data meets open government…

open source open society panel session

Technology is the easy part of building an open society. Dealing with the human side of the problem is much tougher.

Social enterprise expert Kate Beecroft moderated a panel at Open Source Open Society looking at how open data can lead to a more open style of government.

Laura O’Connell Rapira, campaigns director at ActionStation, says she hasn’t seen any examples of how this culture of openness might work at a national level, but saw the effect of how Vancouver council had an online project allowing people to make suggestions. She says this has brought about cultural changes.

Bene Anderson who works for New Zealand’s  Department of Internal Affairs says: “There’s more to open government than being able to access data”.

GitHub head of open government Ben Balter says open source is all about communities: “It’s more than accessibility, it’s about working together”. He made a pitch for GitHub in this context describing it as a “social network for developers, if you subscribe to GitHub you become part of the community”.

Silverstripe’s Cam Findlay says: “I’d love to see government policy creation done out in the open. That requires having the information out there in the first place.”

Findlay talks about two types of openness: reflective and participatory. Participatory openness is when people are encouraged to speak out, to voice an opinion. That’s good, but it means nothing if those voices are not being heard.

Reflective openness is when organisations take time to listen, then understand what is said. For anything to be fully open, both types of openness are necessary.

Open data everything?

So should a government open source everything?

Anderson thinks not. He says only things that benefit society should be opened up.

That leaves the question of who gets to decide what data may or may not benefit society. And it’s not always immediately obvious which data has value to people outside government. In some cases that doesn’t become clear until the data is out in the open.

Anderson goes on to talk about the need for information to be classified on the amount of damage it can do. Anything that can harm businesses or people needs to be kept out of sight — presumably that doesn’t apply when businesses or people are harming others.

Some information should be kept out of public view. Balter points out, it might not be a good idea for the US government to make the nuclear missile launch codes publicly available. On the other hand, he says you can’t have a firewall with a cold war style regime on the inside and publicly available information outside the firewall.

Chief information officer – CIO

The chief information officer (CIO) is a senior management job that first appeared in the late 1980s. It combines information technology know-how with all-round business skills.

Ideally a CIO can read a circuit diagram, debug programming code, navigate corporate accounts and understand the thrust of a marketing plan. Being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and stop a locomotive in its tracks don’t appear in any job description I’ve seen but they’d help.

CIO Magazine offers this mission statement prepared by the Gartner Group:

To provide technology vision and leadership for developing and implementing IT initiatives that create and maintain leadership for the enterprise in a constantly changing and intensely competitive marketplace.

It’s not a bad stab at defining CIO, but the words could apply to a kid hacking Linux out the back of an ice cream parlour.

Gartner’s statement could apply to anyone working in information technology with a smidgen of ambition. And  most enterprises regard their marketplace as constantly changing or intensely competitive.

Leadership, vision

Gartner includes leadership and vision.

These are the important features distinguishing a good CIO from the dross. Leadership and vision is not about being the first company to sign up to a new initiative being pushed by one of the big technology vendors.

It can also mean standing up to snake oil merchants.

Likewise, CIO leadership and vision isn’t about blowing the budget on expensive new toys. Though some technology vendors use the words to imply exactly that.

In their view visionaries spend money on their products regardless of whether they are proven or not.

And leadership most definitely is not about ploughing into heroic IT. The era of huge, unworkable mega-projects came to an end about the time the first CIOs appeared.

Companies recognise information technology is a tool to carry out the business plan. It is part of the CIO’s job to harness IT and related knowledge resources towards the key business goals and are not an end in themselves.

Pinnacle of knowledge work

A CIO position in a large corporation is one of the pinnacles of knowledge-workerdom.

It’s not necessarily the top knowledge worker job even for those knowledge workers with an IT background. Some CIOs have progressed to the CEO position, but the specialist nature of CIO work means such a move is unusual even in companies where the strategic application of technology and information tools lies at the core of the business.

While some CIOs climbed to their position from technical careers in programming, systems analysis or even support, you don’t need to have an intensely technical background to reach this exalted position.

That’s because in many case a CIO is more involved in applying technology to help an organisation reach is business goals than managing the technology on a day-to-day basis. That is why some people stepping into the CIO position and similar senior IT-related roles come from a user or application background.

Management education

If you do have a mainly technical background and you hope to step into a CIO role at some point, you’d be better off looking at expanding your management education and not your technical skills. Obviously an MBA will help more than Microsoft certification or any further IT qualifications. You’ll need a strong business orientation and in-depth experience working on commercial applications in a key industry.

It’s possible you arrived in IT management with a first degree in a non-technical or non-vocational subject. Some recruiters might recommend you to top up your technical education before shooting for an MBA as a stepping-stone to the CIO role.

It makes more sense to gather technical expertise on the job and concentrate your formal education resources on that MBA. Having some major project success on your CV is more likely to impress potential employers than any formal IT qualification.

Remember, CIO is more about strategy than hands on computing.

Not all top-ranked corporate IT professionals are CIOs. Directors of IT usually implement strategies on behalf of senior management. A Director of IT might give advice at the senior management level, but the job is primarily technical. On the other hand, the CIO role is more strategic. In some organisations the Director of IT reports to the CIO.

The rewards for successful CIOs can be enormous. Of course it does depend on the size of an organisation and the size of the job. There are CIOs working in Australia with salaries well in excess of A$500,000. Usually CIO positions involve more modest salary packages along with generous performance bonuses – possibly in the form of stock options.