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Driving for change

Divina Paredes | July 21, 2011
Former CIO Garry Collings, of logistics company Toll United, has leapt to top executive posts in both the ICT user and vendor spaces.

Garry Collings said it was "miserably wrong" for people not to view the CIO as someone who could readily transition to a general management role. "It is a real paradigm shift for people to believe that an IT/CIO calibre kind of guy can run a business," said Collings, general manager of logistics company Toll United.

"There are a lot of real CIOs out there that are capable," said Collings, whose past roles include being CIO of Toll New Zealand, the parent company of Toll United; and prior to that, CIO of Mainfreight. "The one thing that IT gives you is grounding to running a business. What better way to understand how a business operates than to write an IT product for them, because you must know every facet of the business."

His advice to CIOs who want to take the step up to general manager roles and even CEO? "As soon as possible, get people to view you as a leader and a provider of business solutions, not a technology guru."

"One of the biggest pains of being a CIO is everybody thinks you can fix everything. So when people come and ask you to fix something, the worst, you can ever do is fix it - what you need to do is put them through to a member of your team that can assist them."

Biggest challenge

He said the CIO could then use this opportunity for another type of conversation. "Seize the opportunity to talk to them and say, 'I have got Peter working on it right now. By the way, what is your biggest business challenge right now?' Seize the opportunity for them to believe they can talk to you about general business situations."

It is advice Collings said he should have taken during his time as an IT executive. "I shied away from that in the early days because I didn't think people would take me seriously. The reality is that you do [need] know a lot about their business; otherwise you couldn't design, build and run those systems that support the business processes."

The secret, he said, is to regularly deal with all the business managers. "A big part of your role should be sitting down with them, asking, 'What is happening, what is wrong, what is broken, what needs fixing? What are you going to do in the next 12 months?' I reckon 40 percent of your time should be spent in the business with executive peers. Get them to understand that you are a business manager and a leader of people. They will take you seriously."

"You need to front up to the business because you as the CIO are a fairly substantial cost to their business. So start demonstrating some value, demonstrate some savings where necessary, demonstrate where they have current issues and where you think an IT solution will help them with it. Have the courage to perhaps accept that something that is an integral part of the IT infrastructure maybe isn't needed. Ask yourself, are you being anally retentive about something that is not truly necessary?"


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