CIO finalist was woman in man's world

Ministry of Health information chief Deidre Butler was a woman in a man's world when she joined what was then the Health Department six years ago.

Ministry of Health information chief Deidre Butler was a woman in a man’s world when she joined what was then the Health Department six years ago.

But today, Butler, who is 35, says she has much more female company.

“It’s starting to turn around,” says Butler, who plays the extracurricular role of president of the Government Information Systems Managers’ Forum (Govis). When she first joined the organisation, her impression was of an exclusive male domain, but now women are “well-represented”.

Butler is the only woman — and Wellingtonian -- among three finalists in the “CIO of the year” category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards. Auckland-based Damian Swaffield of SkyCity and Ian Rae of Auckland City Council are also in the running for the award.

For Butler, it’s the second honour she has received this year. She is a recipient of the Ria McBride Public Service Management Award, which includes a grant she will use to study advanced management at Oxford during the next three months.

“I am passionately committed to the public service,” says Butler, although her public sector career only began at the Health Department. Before that she was IS head at a Sydney-based animal health product company for five years.

The chief difference in the IS management role between the public and private sectors is that business tends to be hung up on monthly sales results, she says. That can have a disruptive effect on IT projects, which can end up on hold when financial fortunes dip.

That’s not to say Butler hasn’t experienced plenty of disruption in her present job. She has had to live through the transformation from government department to ministry, the abolition of the Heath Funding Authority and the rise, once more, of district health boards. In that time she has worked to provide information systems that allow staff to collaborate, a change from the competitive culture that had existed.

For 36-year-old Damian Swaffield, a former KPMG consultant, there’s been plenty of change to contend with as well, since he joined Sky City in October 1999. Best known for its Auckland casino, Sky City runs another in Adelaide, and has stakes in Queenstown and Hamilton gambling operations. During his time at the company staff numbers have gone from 2400 to 400 and revenue and profit have doubled from $300 million to $600 million and $40 million to $80 million, respectively.

Swaffield manages staff across the company, requiring him to pay regular visits to Adelaide.

Once a year all IT staff are brought together for a group conference, the latest one of which was staged at the Formosa Country Club in Auckland this month.

“The purpose is to focus on team work,” Swaffield says, with the aim of ensuring Sky City’s IT activities provide “market leading” service.

“The goal for the next 12 months is to go from being ‘highly respected’ by our internal customers to ‘revered’,” Swaffield says, referring to the company’s internal performance rating scheme.

Whether they get the reverence they’re seeking will depend in part on the success of a management information project — project clarity — which is being progressively phased in.

Ian Rae, whose appointment as information boss at Auckland City Council occurred at the same time as Swaffield got his job, has been at the council 15 years.

The 44-year-old has passed up the ranks through hands-on roles that include systems design, operations and support.

“The reason I’ve stayed at Auckland City so long is it continues to offer challenge after challenge,” says Rae.

The one he’s been grappling with is turning the council’s information resources into a key asset, which has involved creating an IT strategic plan, on top of which has been added an “e-road map”. Rae says that entails formulation of policy standards for information management to enable electronic delivery of services.

Rae says his department of 57 staff with an operating budget of $5.2 million came through the council’s recent financial review unscathed: the satisfying conclusion was that IT operating costs are just 2.2% of the city’s total revenue, proportionately low compared with other organisations.

The CIO of the year award is sponsored by Computer Associates.

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