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The CIO as peacekeeper

Divina Paredes | Aug. 30, 2013
In the next six months, John Holley will be taking time off from being an ICT executive to work in an area where few, if any, CIOs venture.

"My IT and strategic planning background comes from my military training. What the Army taught me about strategic and operational planning, I apply to IT, not the other way around.

As to what he will be able to achieve, Holley says he has spoken to some people who have completed similar assignments. "There is a strong sense of personal satisfaction when you have gone out to do the stuff. It may just be a small contribution but it all adds up to making the world a better place," he says.

"Often, we spend so much time stuck on the business. This will allow me to step back and reflect.

"There is a lot to be learned when you are doing a lot of planning where people's lives matter.

"If someone's life is really at risk, and I have been in those situations when you know people can die, it is no longer an academic exercise, or something for the business.

"If we get this wrong, we put people's lives at risk and that is a significant responsibility. It is not about [saving] a few dollars here and there."

He believes other CIOs can benefit from a similar experience. "Some sort of sabbatical, moving sideways from your normal role or into a different organisation or culture adds real context and strength to your job," he says, especially for CIOs who work on a lot of innovation and organisation change.

"CIOs can work for a period of time in a sister organisation in the company, do some volunteer service abroad," says Holley. He says he has friends who have taken three months leave of absence to help build schools in Cambodia.

"It is all about enriching you as a person because the technical side is quite easy; the leadership and how you engage with other people... that is the challenge.

"That is an experience I can apply when I come back to my CIO role," he says. "This is about sideways, picking up on other skills, which is often why you have senior managers taking a sabbatical or work in a different area."

At the time of the interview, Holley was finishing pre-deployment training and taking on the inoculation shots for diseases such as typhoid, cholera and rabies.

"To be honest it would be nice for the next six months not to be doing any IT strategy work," he says, smiling.

The upside of the job? "You are helping grow a country and that is a pretty cool thing to do."


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