Four vie for the CIO of the Year award

The finalists are Owen McCall, Tim Occleshaw, Simon Gould-Thorpe and Nigel Beach

Recommendations from staff, plus commitment to the company are driving factors behind nominations for the Computerworld Excellence Awards 2008 CIO of the Year category, sponsored by Sun Microsystems.

The finalists are Owen McCall, CIO of The Warehouse; Tim Occleshaw, CIO of the Ministry of Social Development, Simon Gould-Thorpe, CIO of Honda New Zealand, and Nigel Beach, R&D manager of Compac Sorting Equipment.

Since joining The Warehouse four years ago, Owen McCall says he has focused on creating a strong IT department based on competency. This allows you to work with the rest of the business, he says.

Projects have included modernising The Warehouse’s legacy systems and moving from a mainframe to a Wintel environment. This offered substantial savings. Opening up the code has also allowed a more SOA-based environment.

Other projects have included a new point of sale system, improved product forecasting, switching telcos, testing RFID, server virtualisation, and helping develop IT systems for the new concept store, the Sylvia Park Hyper Store.

McCall believes he has invested in the leadership skills of his team, helped drive the career paths of staff and has created an environment that people want to work in.

“For me, that’s what makes it special. The nomination has come from my own team, saying, ‘you are doing a good job,’” he says.

Checking what the customer really wants

Ministry of Social Development IT customer service manager Fenton Dalziel says his CIO, Tim Occleshaw, has created a culture of achievement, allowing people to get on with their jobs and contribute well.

The result is that the newly combined department is also well-aligned with its functions, producing good results for the department. IT systems were also integrated without disruption, Dalziel says.

The MSD makes 45 million payments a year, and has 430 IT staff who make 5,000 “significant IT changes every year”, with IT now being an integral part of business planning.

Occleshaw says he is not a technologist, so he has no pre-conceived views regarding which architectures and technologies are right. He is concerned with rebuilding capability, and rebuilding that capability in line with the ministry’s strategy.

IT bosses should never assume they know what the customer wants, but should constantly check business requirements to ensure they really do know. This insight has led Occleshaw to create IT director roles to act as go-betweens liaising with business and IT.

In addition, projects have been made easier to handle by breaking them up into manageable chunks, creating confidence both in the IT team and in the project itself, he says.

Such projects include the $54 million CMS information delivery project for Work and Information staff, dealing with Working for Families payments and creating a new data warehouse.

As well as claiming success with such projects, Occleshaw also reports growing satisfaction in the IT department from other MSD staff. Success comes from having a clear vision and communicating it well, and gaining staff trust, which also fosters an agile workplace. Having no forced redundancies also helps you keep your best staff.

Occleshaw, a familiar face at industry and government IT events, says he is proud to have brought strong capability to his department and empowered staff to do their work.

Honda trades on parts

Ask Honda dealers what makes the company’s CIO great and they’ll rave about the company workshop management planner and the parts trade website developed by Simon Gould-Thorpe.

Peter Ransby, of Bowater Motors in Nelson, says replacing the old manual workshop management systems has made the average day that much easier.

Simon Gould-Thorpe (below) visits the dealers to understand their businesses, and if there are any technical issues they are resolved quickly.

“He’s one of the most obliging guys I’ve come across and he’s very clever,” adds Ransby.

Colin Cameron, of Brown & Paterson in Christchurch, is another satisfied user of systems developed by Gould-Thorpe. Cameron says the parts website is “awesome” when it comes to having information at your fingertips regarding what is in stock and at what price.

Since Honda stopped making cars in New Zealand, in 1998, it has transformed the business, relying more on information and customer service systems to remain competitive, including CRM and logistics. For Gould-Thorpe, this has meant using the latest technology, which he says has also motivated his staff by providing them with exciting projects. Such projects are greenfield projects rather than just concerned with maintenance.

“There’s always a new project, or sub-project, every three months; always something new,” he says.

Gould-Thorpe says he has a relaxed, open management style, coupled with a passion for improving the business. His IT unit is also underscored by a philosophy of freedom, honesty, accountability, openness and alignment.

Compac R&D bears fruit

At Compac Sorting Equipment, general manager Bob Shaw praises R&D manager Nigel Beach for his commitment to the company and achieving excellence with the latest technology. Beach has a development background which enables him to produce systems, including “vision technology”, that grade fruit, either by size or quality.

Shaw says Beach leads by example and he imparts his knowledge readily, and this helps set the direction for both the IT staff and department as a whole. Having programmers sitting in pairs also helps them up-skill each other.

Beach says the company’s agile development processes help deliver leading technologies quickly. As a director, he also helps drive strategy for the company.

Staff are kept happy with interesting projects and there is a collaborative working environment. This helps deliver one of the best fruit sorting systems in the world, he says.

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