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On solid ground

Divina Paredes | Aug. 13, 2013
Craig Soutar of the New Zealand Transport Agency talks about the CIO’s 'balancing act' of simultaneously leading through a growing ICT portfolio and delivering core services.

How does he see the CIO role evolve?
"The mix is changing," he says. "It used to be a service provider or service partner, and then moved on to be an enabler."

"In more recent times, it has become a true transformative leader around business process, business intelligence and business change management.

"I think there will always be a service provider and enabler elements in the role," he says. But there will also be more opportunities to be 'transformative'.

"You align yourselves to where the business needs to be, you just need to be intuitive enough to not move too late."

His top tip for a future CIO? "Relationships are what really matter — with your team, with your business, and with other stakeholders. Don't get hung up on the technology."

A fair advantage
Craig Soutar is one a handful of government CIOs with a banking background on their CV — and now in the top ICT roles in central government agencies. Is there an advantage for people from the finance sector when they join government?

Independent IT management consultant Murray Wills thinks so. "Having a background in banking systems means that the individual will have an understanding of information as an organisational strategic asset and understand the leadership and organisational structures and processes that need to be in place to ensure that the organisation's IT sustains and extends the organisation's strategies and objectives," says Wills, managing director at Maxsys Consulting.

"The discipline instilled in banking around governance, managing, and running projects, together with requirements around definition, development and testing to ensure that systems are ready to go live would serve government well. 

When Soutar joined National Bank, he recalls the following words from his boss CIO Peter Lockery: "Your years in banking will advance you well for the future."

"Little did I appreciate at the time what he meant," says Soutar. "He was right. "Banking is a very challenging environment. Looking after significant portfolios of services and projects can rapidly change the colour of your hair," he says. "But it develops you as a better professional, having to balance much responsibility whether it be across service quality, effecting change, or adding greater value to the business."

Soutar says the sector also provides a mix of scale that is not readily available in New Zealand. Banks have complexity and share certain characteristics with organisations like hospitals and airlines that demand very high quality standards, and where, he says, "Reliability and reputation is everything.

As well, Soutar reports to a former CIO, his predecessor Allan Frost, now group manager — organisational support. Soutar says he can "only think of upsides" to this reporting line.


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