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The good oil

Tim Mendham | May 3, 2013
“Giving the business the freedom to be the business” is what Peter Powell sees as his main task.

UK-born, he first joined British Coal's Compower which, at the time, was the largest computer bureau in UK. It had a substantial training program, which set him on the road to reaching his goal (which he did before he turned 40).

However, that road wasn't always straightforward.

"As I have moved through my career, there have been defining moments -- some planned, and some thanks to good fortune. But one particularly good moment for me was a step backwards. My move to my first role in a telco -- application development manager at Mercury Communications -- was one of the most career-shaping.

"I moved through the organisation very quickly, and I was exposed to other people at both management and employee levels, and I quickly understood that it was the business rather than technology that mattered."

For instance, at the National Westminster Bank in the early 1990s, he was responsible for rolling out a laptop program to bring the insurance and mortgage businesses together. "This wasn't just a tech rollout; it was a business issue. The tech fulfilled a business need."

He says it is vital to stay close to the other execs (literally in the case of Bupa ANZ's CFO, whose office is next to his).

"We see opportunities to exploit the data, the other C-levels see the potential benefits of technology. It's a collaborative situation. They ask, 'Can tech supports this?'"

"We look at latent capabilities and ask, 'What opportunities would work within the business?'"

And it's the data where Powell sees the biggest opportunities.

"Big data is one of the three key areas today. [The others he sees as cloud and mobility.] Data must be joined across the inside of the organisation so customers can access it -- it's what they expect, and what they want to access wherever they are."

"Data is the new oil," he says. "Whoever mines it most efficiently will get the best opportunity of taking the business advantage."

It's this business advantage that colours his view of systems like CRM. In fact, he doesn't see CRM as a 'system' at all: "It's a strategy of how you want to deal with a customer; it's not the system. You can't just buy a CRM 'system' and expect to be properly serving your customers and the business."

And business is the challenge for CIOs.

Enterprise technology has seen significant rationalisation over last 10-20 years, he says, adding that the CIO's role is about providing services in a variety of ways, some of which are still unclear.

"Can we imagine what cloud will be like in five years? Mobility? What data and services will need to be gathered, analysed and provided? This means changing your thinking.


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