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From CIO to a business leader

Divina Paredes | May 9, 2011
It is "miserably wrong" for people not to view the CIO as someone who can readily transition to a general management role.

"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?"

The strategic route

Collings had a strong background as an ICT executive. In 2004, he was named CIO of the Year for his work at Toll New Zealand. He also has an MBA from the University of Waikato.

When he left Toll in 2005 after four years, he sought out consultancy roles that used both his skills as an ICT executive and training as a general manager. Working as a consultant for Diligo and his own company @large, he worked on a lot of verticals.

At Diligo, headed by Glenn Myers, former CIO of the New Zealand Racing Board, Collings worked for about four months at Vector on a contract negotiation on the formation of a joint venture. He dealt with the IT components of all the contracts between Siemens and Vector when the two companies established Advanced Metering Services Ltd. He also helped with the restructure at Mighty River Power.

He was also country manager of IT vendor NetApp for two years. "All those very different consulting jobs enabled me to strengthen my general management capabilities and to demonstrate that I was quite versatile."

But it was at his old company that he found his opportunity to spread his wings as a general manager.

Business evolution

In 2008, Toll New Zealand sold its ferry and rail business back to the government to what became KiwiRail and was basically left without an IT infrastructure. He was asked to help the team led by Allister Lowe, Toll Group IT manager, to rebuild the system. Toll had a year to disengage from Kiwirail, which under the terms of the sale was to be their services provider during that period.

"When the Toll offer came along, I saw that as an opportunity to demonstrate lessons learned over 15 years in general freight. And yes, demonstrate that I built it the first time which means, I can build it faster the second time."

Faced with what Collings calls an 'immovable' and 'challenging' timeframe, the group partnered with a range of providers like TelstraClear, Fujitsu and Eagle to complete the project on schedule. The project involved moving to a new service desk, migrating 550 desktops from Citrix to Sun Virtual Desktop infrastructure, design and install a new IP telephony system, and virtualise more than 75 servers.

It was towards the end of the contract that Toll United, the company's business operation in the Northland, was looking for a general manager.

People were quite surprised when he put his hand up for the role, said Collings. "Interestingly enough, when they took the time to seriously think about it, most people said ultimately 'that makes sense'. This guy knows every facet of our business, he has been involved in our business over a number of years, has been involved in transport from the mid-90s."


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