Aussie CIOs will weather the storm

A series of inspiring conversations with Australian chief information officers over the past five years has led me to believe the profession and ICT industry as a whole has the attitude, skills and drive to push through the global financial crisis and other challenges to the better world ahead.

commentary For the past five years it's been my privilege to have spent a remarkable amount of time talking to Australian chief information officers, IT managers and other executives in the ICT industry about their work.

From these long conversations I've learnt several things about Australian IT management as a broad profession that I'd like to share.

News editor Renai LeMay (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CBSi)

Firstly, by and large you are remarkably patient people who can look beyond the immediate situation to envision and plan for the future.

There is simply nothing more important in the ICT industry than knowledge transfer.

I know this, because in contrast with other business executives like CEOs, CFOs and general managers, you don't straight away get annoyed or angry with journalists when we call asking about the latest IT disaster. Instead, your normal reaction is simply the opposite.

CIOs actually like to be able to discuss IT problems openly with both internal and external colleagues. So long as what you're talking about doesn't reflect badly on your organisation or your staff, you are happy to talk about the issues you're facing.

This attitude reflects the understanding that experiences must be shared with the entire industry so it can move forward in a productive way. The industry has learnt this the hard way over the past 30 years. There is simply nothing more important in the ICT industry than knowledge transfer.

Secondly, you represent the small portion of the human race that is able to build bridges between skills belonging to what popular psychology might refer to as the "right and left side of your brain". In other words, you are highly technical individuals able to deal with complicated abstract thought; but you can also communicate that thought to others in terms they can understand.

I know this because it was a CIO who first explained to me what the term "information technology infrastructure library", or ITIL, means.

It took several CIOs, a Gartner analyst, a fellow journalist and a partridge in a pear tree to explain the meaning of the term "service-oriented architecture", but that's another story.

Thirdly, CIOs are determined people on a mission who you do NOT want to mess with.

I say this because if there has been one over-riding theme that has dominated my conversations with CIOs over the past five years, it has been the belief that the application of technology to business and government goals will not only bring about better outcomes but a better society in general.

The meat and potatoes of CIOs' daily lives may be dealing with vendors, writing strategic plans, managing staff and helping in general to align corporate technology use with business outcomes, but there is no doubt their real goals are much loftier.

Put simply, the CIOs I have spoken to have predominantly been highly enthusiastic about doing more than just keeping the lights on. They want to make workplaces function more efficiently, boost revenue, break down communication barriers between staff and customers, free people from drudge labour, enhance democracy and more.

I remain an optimist about the industry and its future; and I put this down mainly to my conversations with CIOs over the past five years

Now there is no doubt that Australian CIOs are headed for a tough couple of years ahead. Many of you will already have lost staff or had your budgets cut due to the global financial crisis; still more will face uncomfortable conversations with your businesses in the next little while as you attempt to explain why some of your more ambitious projects are necessary. has been tracking the impact of the GFC on Australia's ICT industry for some time, and it's troubling, to say the least. Many organisations are in total lock-down mode and there is a great deal of uncertainty and fear out there.

Of course, that's not all CIOs have to deal with. We're also in a very uncertain period technologically. Nobody is quite sure what the incoming rush of cloud computing, virtualisation and green technologies will mean just yet, although there is a lot of thought going into it all.

But despite this, I remain an optimist about the industry and its future; and I put this down mainly to my conversations with CIOs over the past five years. As professionals, CIOs have the attitude, skills and drive to push through these challenges to the better world ahead.

I look forward to seeing what you'll do in your respective organisations over the next five years, but even more so, I look forward to having even more inspiring conversations like the ones I've had so far.

This commentary is modified from a speech Renai LeMay delivered to open the CIO Network's Sharing Best Practice to Improve Organisational Efficiencies conference on 13 May 2009.