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A diverse role

01 Dec 09

CIO Kevin Drinkwater tells how he cannot help but be involved in IT.
What are the biggest challenges for CIOs?
Dealing with the multiple, varying and often competing requirements of the business are the main challenges. At Mainfreight we have always had a philosophy of ‘ready, fire, aim’ throughout the business, so to IT this means we need to provide solutions fast. However, this has become more difficult as we get bigger.
What are the traits needed to be a CIO?
There are many! The ability to listen, understand and interpret what the business wants and then explain it to the IT team.
You need to be able to work at all levels too, and be capable of rolling your sleeves up and getting involved in the business when needed. The CIO also needs to be able to say ‘no’ and ask their business to choose between their priorities, not to mention having a gut feeling for when things are going wrong.
And finally they need to apply the Pareto principle in software development, ie: don’t give people everything they ask for  immediately – start with the 20% of the effort that delivers 80% of the benefit, then see what they need from there.
What is the most difficult aspect of ICT for your company?
In this environment it’s keeping a lid on costs and ensuring you are getting the best results for your development dollar.
Is the government doing enough for ICT?
In terms of business, the best thing they can do is to ensure we have the infrastructure in place, ie: high-speed broadband at a reasonable cost.
I think they are on the right track here.
The place where they really need to provide more is in education. We recently purchased 18 interactive whiteboards for Bairds Mainfreight Primary in Otara, Auckland. In 20 years we’ve invested over $500,000 in ICT for them, but why is it us buying it? The idea of providing broadband to every school is great, but what do they do with it if they don’t have the right equipment?
Is New Zealand behind the rest of the world in private sector ICT infrastructure?
In terms of pure size, complexity and availability, yes. But in terms of how well we use what we have, I find we are streaks ahead.
What about public sector ICT infrastructure?
I don’t have any direct knowledge, but there seems to be a colossal amount of money poured into public sector IT for very little and/or slow return.
There are too many failures and too much over-expenditure. They need to use the Pareto principle to get some quick runs on the board.
What is the most exciting thing happening in ICT now?
It definitely has to be cloud computing – it seems to have come from nowhere and yet it has always been there – it’s just another type of bureau computing from 20 years ago. The big enablers for cloud are the size of the pipes we have to play with and the ability of Google to show what can be done. However, from a New Zealand Inc. view we will be severely restricted if we have to continue to pay the prices we pay now for international bandwidth.
What will be the next big thing in six months’ time?
It will still be the cloud. By April next year we will have completely replaced $2 million of our server and storage infrastructure; however it could be the last time we buy equipment.
If you could have one ICT item to make your business run smoothly, what would it be?
I’d like continual, reliable, fast and inexpensive connectivity within New Zealand and to the  rest of the world.
Did you always want to work in IT?
When I left Auckland University in 1980 with a BCom I don’t think I knew what IT was; however, I kept landing jobs with major systems installations. Although I have had many roles in my 23 years at Mainfreight (CFO, sales manager and GM of a business division) I still gravitate back to IT.
If you didn’t work in IT, what would you be doing?
I’d be involved in the tourism industry in some way. I spend a lot of time encouraging people to visit New Zealand when I am overseas. I also ensure I take at least a couple of bottles of New Zealand wine safely packed in my luggage inside a leakproof wineskin! 

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