CIO of Year: market thyself

The Computerworld CIO of the year, Tony Darby, says the past 15 years of IT has forced change on business.

The Computerworld CIO of the year, Tony Darby, says the past 15 years of IT has forced change on business.

Darby, who is information chief at Auckland Regional Council, says today’s networks mean people are better connected than ever and can instantly access information on which to make sounder decisions. When it comes to implementing those systems, he’s not averse to locally created products. But he believes New Zealand software developers must make their products better-known if they are to be adopted here.

Darby, who was honoured as the country’s top CIO in the 2001 Computerworld Excellence Awards, says the IT industry “is littered with bad decisions”. IT managers consequently are scared of making poor choices that land them in the headlines. This may encourage people to play safe sticking to well-known overseas brands.

New Zealand produces “great products”, he says, but the best are often “snaffled up” by overseas firms, as was the case with Ghost, bought by Symantec.

When it comes to purchasing, Auckland Regional Council uses local companies for support and configuration but products must stack up in terms of cost, quality and efficiency. Thus, ARC chose SAP for its enterprise systems, in preference to Aoraki’s Jade, with Darby saying the German software offered a greater breadth of applications. But an Auckland company is providing a content management package for internet development, because it stacked up against a number of big offshore players.

Darby says the IT world believes Kiwi software producers must get out more and market itself to the corporations and organisations around them as purchasing decisions can be made on convenience. “It’s an awareness thing. It’s no good having a great product if you don’t market it.”

Looking back

Looking back over the past 15 years, Darby says the prevalence of IT is both a boon and potential bane to business, he says. If systems fail, organisations could grind to a halt in a matter of hours. Yet newer technologies also allow organisations such as councils to offer greater services at lower cost.

Fifteen years ago Darby was an assistant manager in Taupo, working for the Tourist Hotel Corporation. The company used a Burroughs central reservation system running Cobol applications, plus a Commodore lookalike called Sword for the payroll that used 5.25in floppy disks.

Darby was sent to head office in Wellington and became an IT manager because he could write software programs and had experience of VAX technology, which was also used by THC.

He eventually ended up at ARC, which today has a plethora of new technologies. But underlying it all, he says, the business concepts are the same and capital investment must stack up. Technology runs payroll, park bookings, payments and many other services.

Forrester Research, he says, estimates the cost of answering a phonecall is $32 because of the cost of staff, the building and infrastructure. Answering by email costs an estimated $9 and a web-based service costs about $1. Such savings are making councils, firms and others look at using technology to help the bottom line, says Darby. Consequently, the ARC website also offers payments online, procurement online and its rideline website gives bus information, in preference to a call centre.

Future developments include Rideline information on mobile phones, developing a portal with other Auckland councils and other government websites. Darby sees nationwide dog registrations, nationwide payment of rates, fines and voting online all happening this decade.

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