CIO wanted change and got it

When Grahame Coles went for the job of Zespri IS group manager in January 2000 he said he was looking to get out of IT.

When Grahame Coles went for the job of Zespri IS group manager in January 2000 he said he was looking to get out of IT.

“My strategy was to get into a company, prove that I could do more than IS and hope an opportunity would come up.”

Zespri appeared to be happy with Coles’ plan. It had just implemented a large SAP system and wanted Coles to manage the change from implementation to support, something which is often overlooked, he says. The company had 60 people working on the implementation and had to move to a 25-person maintenance and support team.

“You have to say the implementation is finished and move on to support. The structure to manage support is quite different.”

Eighteen months into the job he became CIO and switched reporting from the finance head to the chief executive.

Last year Coles ran a project for four months reviewing current business processes and how they should change. “It actually originated in IS. There were supply chain system issues, and when we looked at them we found they weren’t really system issues but rather how we did business.”

Coles says that experience and the fact that he was now reporting to the CEO gave him the chance to prove himself. “By reporting to the CEO you become part of the management team and you get to express your opinions outside your area.”

Then Zespri decided it had to move from Auckland to Tauranga to be closer to kiwifruit growers and distributors.

“There are a lot of changes that Zespri has to get through in the next year or two,” says Coles. “So it created the role of strategy and change manager, which is to evolve a strategy for Zespri and implement the changes needed for that strategy.”

Zespri is reviewing its IT operations, including whether it will continue to run SAP because of high running costs and user acceptance.

“Although we say we’re running SAP, 80% of the systems we’re running down here are custom-written. If SAP can do that other 80%, that’s great, but if it can’t we may have to look at something else.”

It is also looking at its role with growers and supply groups. “We’re the last regulated industry in New Zealand. We don’t know how long that’s going to last.“

Coles, who has a post-graduate diploma in management from Macquarie University, worked in IS for 20 years, starting out at the Wanganui computer centre before moving to Goodman Fielder and spending seven years in Sydney with its milling and baking division.

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