Gearing for change
“I am a business person who understands technology. I have never been a ‘bits and bytes’ person,” he says.
However, Fissenden is no fraud. Starting out as chief accountant and later chief manager of finance at ASB, he advanced to holding a range of executive roles as CEO and CIO in the financial sector in New Zealand and Australia, covering both the business and ICT. He was the general manager of technology and operations for ASB in the late 1990s, when the bank launched FastNet internet banking and implemented Onyx CRM.
He then moved on to running operations and technology for Esanda Finance in Australia before coming back to New Zealand to be general manager for UDC Finance, while also holding the role of general manager of technology for Esanda.
He is currently CEO of ETITO, a training association for six industries: Ambulance, Contact Centre, Electrotechnology, Financial Services, Offender Management Security and Telecommunications and is also a director of NZ Rugby League.
Fissenden says he is a much better IT manager now, after having worked in the business, than he was when he was working full-time in IT.
“It changes your perspective. Things you thought were important are actually not that important once you spend some time running the business.”
The more knowledge you have and the more understanding of the business, the better you are as a leader, he says.
“I would gladly tell any CIO they should spend time in the business,” Fissenden says. “You can only get it by getting involved with it.”
So how can a CIO help transform the organisation to an agile beast that can respond to change immediately? Fissenden shares five transformation lessons.
1a. Some things are just right
Fissenden says he was lucky enough to be at ASB when it launched FastNet in 1997. The system was initially designed for 60,000 users. By the time it was replaced, 300,000 people were using it.
“Fundamentally, the system looked the same 13 years on. It transformed financial services,” he says.
1b. Sometimes there is no rulebook
ASB used a then unproven platform — Jade, he says, but the team had a clear objective and a clear tie-in to the business strategy.
The project was not risk-free but risks were managed. The biggest single risk with the project was around encryption technology. At the time, you couldn’t use native 128-bit browser SSL (secure sockets layer), as the use of strong encryption was restricted by export legislation, he says.
2. Focus on building capacity rather than functionality
ASB implemented Onyx CRM in 1999 and is still using Onyx for some functions, he says.
There are several reasons why Onyx (acquired by Consona in 2006) lasted so long at ASB, says Fissenden. The value you get from a system, over time, comes from getting the right architecture for the organisation, he says. Quality of the vendor is also important — are they going to be there to support the system and continue to develop it?
“You’ll keep on using the system if the vendor you chose implemented it well and understood your business.”
3. Keep the business focus
When working for Esanda in Australia, Fissenden was given a project to fix. The project — a core system replacement for a large AS/400 system developed over 20 years — had been “one month from launching for 18 months”, he says.
The problem was that the technology focus had overtaken the business need. The major drive for the project was the IT team’s desire to get rid of “unsexy old technology”, he says, while the business didn’t really care about the technology.
“All the business wanted was new functionality and the ability to streamline processes,” he says.
Being in charge of both operations and technology forced Fissenden to see the bigger picture and not just focus on technology.
4. Avoid really big projects
The bigger the project, the bigger the risk of failure. He mentions some large projects whose success could be debated, such as the INCIS (Integrated National Crime Information System) which cost New Zealand Police around $180 million.
5. The technology doesn’t matter
“I am a bit scared of saying that in front of a group of CIOs, but I have learnt that bits and bytes really don’t matter,” says Fissenden.
ASB had a teller system based on CTOS (Convergent Technologies Operating System) — a proprietary system delivered by Unisys. That system lasted 13 years at ASB.
“At Esanda we had an AS/400 system [now called IBM iSeries] that lasted for 30 years. We also had OS/2 servers that operated for some 22 years.”
ICT better understood
The role of the CIO has changed and will continue to change, says Fissenden, while also saying he believes the CIO’s role as an interpreter and a gatekeeper will continue.
“In the past we were ‘God’,” he says. “The business had to believe us. They had no other choice. Today, IT is better understood. Our interpreter role will continue, but will reduce because people actually understand it.”
At the same time, the business wants it all and wants it all the time, he says. There will always be more demand than supply.
“Everything used to be built by IT departments,” he continues. “Presently, a lot more is being built by external parties and I think in the future, even more will be built by external parties.”
Similarly, IT departments used to manage everything themselves, down to every single box.
“That has changed, and in the future IT departments will be even less involved in running boxes.”
Managing vendors has gone in the opposite direction, he believes. IT departments didn’t used to manage multiple vendors but they are going to become more dependent on a variety of vendors in the future. And when you outsource more you have to be good at contract administration. “The CIO as a contract administrator will be increasingly important,” he says.
ICT still requires a plan — more so now than ever before because the tools are so much better and deployment so much quicker, he says. In the past couple of years there has been much talk of CFOs taking over responsibility for IT within organisations.
“When the CFO can understand the diagram I’m about to show you (see box at left), I’m very happy for them to start running technology,” says Fissenden.
The toughest day of my career:
24 December, 1997. A glitch at ASB and EDS meant that 50,000 people didn’t get their wages paid three days before Christmas.
“That day started at 5am with a reporter ringing up and asking why his wages hadn’t been paid and what I was doing about it.”
My career highlight:
Having lunch with Bill Gates.
“I was lucky enough to go to Melbourne with 14 other CIOs from New Zealand. We had two hours with him and 200 others, asking whatever questions we wanted. He was absolutely fantastic. Bill Gates gave advice that you would probably spend thousands and thousands of dollars on getting from somewhere else.”
Code Blue kindly sponsored the CIO Insights Luncheon on ‘The CIO as business transformers’. Check out pictures of the eventCIO Facebook.
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