Information chiefs find value in get-togethers

Once a relatively solitary species, CIOs are now regularly getting together in peer groups to swap war stories and advice.

Once a relatively solitary species, CIOs are now regularly getting together in peer groups to swap war stories and advice.

Last week some of the country’s top CIOs attended a group brought together by Microsoft to hear a Gartner Group analyst from Australia speak on industry trends and issues. It’s an informal gathering that has been going on the past two years. It started out when Microsoft invited 15 IT executives to meet company founder Bill Gates in Australia.

Microsoft southern regional manager Steven Graham had the idea of extending the group to about 40 people and giving them a place to congregate on a regular basis. There are about five meetings a year and they’re “propaganda-free”, says Graham. Apart from providing the venue and a speaker, Microsoft sends two staff, but there's no pushing of products or company views.

“For example, Gartner is speaking and they’re free to say what they want about Microsoft,” he says, stressing that it is not a Microsoft user group.

Catherine Rusby, a member of the group and strategy and technology manager at insurance company IAG (formerly NRMA), doesn't contradict him.

“Microsoft facilitates this but there is no Microsoft bent on it. We get an opportunity to share experiences and problems and then Microsoft invites speakers that can address the issues that we all agree are problems.”

Rusby says guest speakers often come from the business side of their organisations.

“For example, we had Rosemary Howard [CEO of TelstraClear] come in. One thing about IT is that it’s often perceived as not adding value and we wanted to know how IT can work more closely with business. So we invited a CEO who is very accepting of IT to talk to us about what we should do to be perceived as adding value at the CEO table.”

Auckland Regional Council IT director Tony Darby says he gets value out of the InTEP (Information Technology Experience Program) Forum, a user group for managers responsible for implementing information technology for business applications. The forum, which was devised and is managed by analyst company IDC in Australia, is member-driven and vendor-independent. The emphasis is on sharing experiences with peers and features presentations by other IT managers. InTEP meets six times a year and programme manager Peter Hind says membership is limited to bona fide user organisations on a subscription basis. He says IDC doesn't push its reports or services to members.

ASB Bank IT director Clayton Wakefield is a member of both InTEP and the Microsoft group and although pressed for time finds both useful. "They're a way to figure out what's going on in the industry from a wider perspective. You can pick up industry trends and a sense of what your peers are doing in the IT market - whether they're bouyant or not, whether they're recruiting or not and it gives you a level of confidence. It's always pleasant to talk to other people doing the same thing as you but in different industries."

Wakefield also enjoys the New Zealand Computer Society breakfast meetings which although not targeted solely at CIOs are highly applicable, he says.

Computerworld sister publication CIO runs the CIO Leaders luncheons, which are vendor-sponsored and free to attend. About 110 CIOs came to the last meeting to hear Oracle CEO Larry Ellison speak. Luncheons are held about every two weeks in Auckland and Wellington. CIO recently launched a website where CIOs can discuss matters that interest them in an online forum called the "CIO lounge".

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