Options for trans-Tasman IT providers 'very, very skinny'

Infratil's technology boss Rhoda Phillippo on the challenges of finding ICT providers that cater to businesses in NZ and Australia

The Infratil group of companies includes Z Energy, TrustPower, and Wellington Airport in New Zealand and Lumo Energy in Australia. In part two of a Q and A interview with its head of technology Rhoda Phillippo, she discusses the challenges of looking for trans-Tasman suppliers.

What topics are the CIOs in Infratil look at now

At the moment we're looking at cloud. Private versus public and how do you leverage the cloud, what do you do about the cloud for data management in an organisation like Infratil where some companies are partially owned, some are wholly owned.

The concern is data sovereignty, that’s always up there at number one. Also, who do you choose as your supplier because locally if you start looking just in New Zealand you’re a little restricted as to what the offerings are. Z Energy has a preferred partnership with Gen-i, so are very interested in Gen-i’s cloud offering that they’ve got out there. But again you don’t want to be captive necessarily to one organisation when you’re looking at cloud.

I think the other thing about the Australian IaaS providers is that they truly have looked to differentiate themselves. Some very innovative companies are based in the Queensland market. I am always a great believer that in any new rising trend, as cloud is at the moment, you watch, listen and you read a lot to compare and contrast. And you are always a fast follower as opposed to an early adopter.

When will you make a decision on cloud adoption?

That bit of consulting work will probably run until November/December time. We don’t have to make any descisions about where we’re going until next year. We’ve given ourselves a nice little run up to decide — rather than just running to the end of our existing contract and rolling over.

One of the things we’re looking at is which of the models give you the most flexibility. [Although] for some of our companies you don’t want that level of flexibility — you want to be able to say: ‘this is the cloud my data is going to be in for the next 3 years’.

But for other companies, because they might acquire, divest bits, change shape and size, you don’t necessarily want to be locked into long term perspective. One of the parts of work that we’re looking at is what are those models that are ‘buy as you go’ models. That give you the flexibility to use just as much as you want to use, when you want to use it.

Those have tended to be public cloud models but the private cloud model is starting to replicate that in a little way. We’re just going to find out what’s out there and what’s available.

Infratil is a trans-Tasman company, how do you find dealing with IT vendors?

The options you have for trans-Tasman providers are very, very skinny. The group you would always use in New Zealand, don’t mirror the group that you would always use in Australia. Gen-i has a tiny Australian presence for example, Telstra has a strong Australian presence but a smaller one over here, although that might change with what’s happening with Telstra and Vodafone.

When you go to Australia the variances of IaaS provider are much greater. There are more innovative companies packaging their solutions in different ways, but they haven’t thought about breaking into the New Zealand market because they are looking at Australia and Asia.

What do you think about the Vodafone/TelstraClear deal?

It’s a fascinating merger I think it will be good in New Zealand as I think it will really give us two strong players, fixed and mobile players, between Telecom and Vodafone/TelstraClear. We will start to see, from a business perspective, that combination of Vodafone’s flair and TelstraClear’s business nous.

From a trans-Tasman perspective I haven’t read enough yet to see whether the merger keeps any of the links to the wider Telstra network direction. My understanding is that over the last several years TelstraClear has moved lots of their business customer services so they are now run out of Telstra in Australia, as opposed to Telstra in New Zealand.

Is Kordia going to sell Orcon? (Phillippo is on the Kordia board of directors)

We are in discussions with the Crown about the whole strategic future, about what Kordia looks like because the analogue switch-off changes the nature of that business quite a lot. We’re involved with them in a strategic review at the moment and we’ll make the right decision about all parts of that business. We’ve just submitted our Strategic Indicators for the next twelve months, so I would imagine that would be part of a conversation within the next five or six months. But if you look at the priorities the government has with State Owned Enterprises, Kordia’s not it’s biggest issue by a country mile.

As you worked with him previously, do you think Simon Moutter will make a good Telecom CEO?

He’ll do a great job. I used to say about Simon Moutter that he could land the budget for Telecom New Zealand on a postage stamp every year. He is certainly financially very astute and operationally very, very capable. Simon was always focused on appropriate operational cost and efficiency as anybody who runs that type of business should be. And he was always looking for new ways to do it.

You’d have to look at his time at Auckland airport and say he’s done a stunning job, it’s unrecognisable. The retail footprint, the growth in parking, hotels. That’s truly tremendous. I don’t think he ever wanted to leave [Telecom]. We all left within three or four weeks of each other. I think he’s probably had a fantastic time doing what he’s doing, but I know he loved that business [Telecom] inside out.

Why did you change your surname from Holmes to Phillippo?

Phillippo is my maiden name and it has an unusual spelling and we’re all girls so when we go it goes with us. And when my husband and I married it was incredibly important to our kids that we have the same surname, so we just did it. And now the boys are 19, 26 and 29 and we were just having a chat about what we wanted for Christmas and I said: ‘I fancy my name back, I am Rhoda Phillippo.’

Finally, what do you do to relax?

I take part in Iron Man competitions and I run marathons.

Part one of Q and A interview with Rhoda Phillippo is here.

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