commentary Dateline: 7 February, 2007. Telstra is once again looking for a
new chief information officer.
Is anybody surprised? The nation's largest telco has a history
of chewing up top IT managers and spitting them out.
Just 12 months ago, Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo
announced Fiona Balfour would leave her long-time employer Qantas
to join the telco as its new CIO. The move took many in the IT
community by surprise, given that Telstra's incumbent CIO Vish
Padmanabhan had not revealed plans to depart.
It turned out he hadn't -- instead, Balfour had nabbed his role,
and Padmanabhan had "accepted" a demotion to be her deputy.
Just one year down the track, and both Balfour and Padmanabhan
have now left Telstra, each one leaving rumours of frustration
and marginalisation swirling behind them.
In Padmanabhan's case, it was Balfour herself who usurped his
role -- albeit at the whim of Telstra's upper management.
Balfour, in turn, has reportedly had her own position overshadowed by
Telstra's "business transformation adviser", formerly US-based
"Company insiders said Ms Balfour's resignation was directly
related to the relocation of Tom Lamming, a former partner at
Accenture, to Australia a few months ago," the Financial
Review reported this morning.
"It is understood Ms Balfour thought responsibility for the
technology transformation should rest with the chief information
officer, not Mr Lamming."
Lamming will look after Telstra's IT function until the
company appoints Balfour's replacement.
Perhaps Telstra's most high-profile chief information officer
in recent years was Padmanabhan's predecessor Jeff Smith -- who
pushed the cause of open source software within the telco. Smith
was around longer than Balfour -- but still spent just three
years helming Telstra's IT operation.
It's not hard to guess why CIOs find Telstra a bit tough to
deal with. Most companies have discrete IT functions, where the
CIO is literally the top technology official, reporting directly
to the chief financial or executive officer.
At Telstra this has not been the case in recent years, due no
doubt to the fact that the company's core business
(telecommunications) is inherently tied to technology.
For example, Smith's IT function of the day came under the
wider umbrella of the Telstra Technology, Innovation and Products
division, which was headed up by Ted Pretty -- now non-executive chairman of Fujitsu Australia and New Zealand.
During Padmanabhan's tenure Sol Trujillo took Telstra's helm,
bringing with him a number of American executives. Chief
operations officer Greg Winn became the face of Telstra's
technology divisions. And Lamming -- a key advisor to Winn -- has
featured heavily in press reports about Telstra's current
transformation, while Balfour has kept a low profile.
It must have been hard for these talented and respected CIOs
to give up some of the decision-making ability that would have
been theirs at other corporations.
Would you take Balfour's job as CIO of Telstra? Or
would it be more trouble than its worth? Drop me a line directly
at firstname.lastname@example.org or post your comments below this article.