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Complexity is a welcome challenge

01 May 2011

Even with a lengthy background in IT management, many would probably get dizzy at the very thought of being the one to flesh out the IT strategy for an organisation with more than 40,000 users. Despite a staggering workload when it comes to planning the IT use for the complex organisation that is the University of Auckland, Miles Fordyce appeared very relaxed in his office when he took time out for this interview. It is evident that he enjoys the atmosphere at campus."It is wonderful to have the flexibility of the University’s unrestrained attitude to technology. But the joy of the job also comes from working around people in an environment that is full of passion and vibrancy,” he said.Coming from a long range of IT management positions for large corporations, the amount of change he has seen during his time at the University is what he thinks most of all sets this job apart from his previous roles."The breadth we cover in the IT department is almost terrifying, but this degree of complexity was one of the factors that attracted me to the job.”Redefining titlesManagement roles in IT are changing, and Fordyce says the way companies deal with IT has become a bit of a "sweet spot”, as IT is an ambiguous term, which is merging with other business areas.For larger organisations, he sees the role of the Chief Information Officer changing into more of a business focused, strategic position. The traditional role as IT Manager, focusing more on technical delivery, is becoming more separated from the CIO role."Maybe it would be better for many companies to have a new position altogether as CSO – Chief Strategy Officer. This position could cover overall strategy, not just within the field of IT, and leave the operational delivery to a tech-based IT Manager,” he suggests.He still thinks the CIO should ideally have a technical background, but insists that business insight and leadership qualities are more crucial for today’s strategic IT executive. These are also traits the University looks for in future IT leaders."While we want to attract technical talent, we also look for leadership talent. It has a lot to do with the ability to learn and understanding the concept of customer service, and it is very much about listening well – to your team, customers and stakeholders.”"Leadership can be challenging, so make sure you develop a strong network of knowledgeable people to support you,” he advises up-and-coming IT leaders.Strategy to actionDevelopment is not just about adding new systems or technologies, he says, but also about assessing the optimum use of existing products."Like many other organisations, our main challenge is to figure out how we can make better use of the technology we already have, rather than only focusing on acquiring new equipment and services.”The IT development at the University is very much driven by user demands, especially from the students, who are increasingly expecting wireless access. According to Fordyce, the Government’s Ultrafast Broadband initiative is going to be important for development in this area, as today’s pricing for 3G functionality is still too high to be adopted by students."I still see our students mostly sending text messages, as 3G functions are simply too expensive for them in the long run.”One of the main challenges he sees in his job is to connect strategy to action, while keeping up with the pace of technology."Decision making takes time at a big organisation like this one, so sometimes the development simply runs ahead of us. You have to make sure you’re backing the right horse by choosing the right technology to implement.”The University of Auckland has been known as one of the early adopters of virtualisation, and Fordyce says it is still a work in progress."Our data centre is almost completely virtualised. We have about 1300 virtual servers now, and plan to grow this to 1800 virtual servers. We are now looking ahead to Private Cloud computing solutions, but while it is a nice concept, it is a bit complicated for the University, as we need to have overseas access.”He says the University is collaborating with other universities in New Zealand on their approach to Cloud computing, which he thinks is something corporate organisations could learn from."In my previous jobs in the private sector there was always this fear of revealing even the slightest detail of your intentions to any possible competitor. But as long as it does not involve business sensitive information, sharing our experiences of implementing new technology can be a great advantage for everyone involved.”

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