Leadership low-down helps Contact

What can an army officer teach an e-business manager? Plenty, it seems, listening to Contact Energy e-business manager Sarah Thompson, who was inspired after hearing Australian army general Peter Cosgrove speak about success through leadership.

What can an army officer teach an e-business manager?

Plenty, it seems, listening to Contact Energy e-business manager Sarah Thompson. Thompson was inspired after hearing Australian army general Peter Cosgrove speak about success through leadership at an IBM customer conference in Sydney last week.

“It rang bells on how I can lead my team. Because we’re leading edge [doing things the company has never done before] we have to be quite brave and we also have to challenge people. We have to say, why not do things differently, use the internet rather than doing it manually? I’m a great believer in trying to enthuse people about what technology can do for them and explain how the process works.”

For example, the e-business team has a product designer who sits with the marketing team and keeps the intranet and e-business at the top of their minds.

Promoting technology is one thing but she also has to keep expectations in check. “It’s complex and it’s getting more so. A lot of business people say ‘well we don’t care about that, just do it’ — until they’ve had the processes involved explained. It’s a case of mutual respect — you have to achieve what the business is trying to achieve and they have to understand how you deliver.”

Contact Energy is investigating allowing customers to give their power meter readings online. “It seems simple but it’s complex because it involves talking to our back end systems.”

Thompson is constantly getting technology and business to talk. Two years ago she became Contact’s first e-business manager and was given the task of putting together a team. Presented with a clean sheet of paper, she created four new roles — content editor, information designer, usability analyst and product designer. On the IT side Contact decided to use IBM, bringing four Big Blue staff into its offices where they are an integral part of the e-business team.

“As part of our virtual team we have a couple of developers, a test analyst, business analyst, and someone who looks after the infrastructure,” says Thompson. “If we’re doing a large release or some complex functionality I can ask for a project manager. The team functions as one. The value I get from that is that some of the IBMers have been at Contact longer than my Contact people. They know our business really, well.”

Thompson says the e-business team is fielding requests from other parts of the company seeking help on projects. “We’re becoming more of a valued resource, rather than being the tall poppies.”

Malcolm travelled to Sydney courtesy of IBM.

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