It\u2019s the end of the road at Mainfreight for CIO Kevin Drinkwater, who officially retires on 31 December 2020. Having clocked almost 35 years, his tenure at one of New Zealand\u2019s most successful global companies has been a long one. During that time the business has expanded its operation into 26 countries and its staff count has grown from 80 to 8,600.\nDrinkwater started at Mainfreight in 1986 as its financial controller, and he has held several roles, including in sales and warehousing in New Zealand and the US. In 2001, Mainfreight\u2019s management decided that technology needed a global role, and Drinkwater became CIO. Reporting directly to the CEO\u2014first to founder Bruce Plested, and then to Don Braid\u2014he has been involved in every milestone of a business that has largely grown through acquisition.\n[ Learn from your peers: Check out our State of the CIO 2020 report on the challenges and concerns of CIOs today. | Find out the 7 skills of successful digital leaders and the secrets of highly innovative CIOs. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO newsletter. ]\nDuring the first lockdown in March 2020 when COVID-19 was set to rage across New Zealand and mass unemployment was expected if the economy crashed, he wondered if it was time to give someone else a go at Mainfreight.\nFortunately, the pandemic has been kept at bay in New Zealand and the economy hasn\u2019t taken a dive, but Drinkwater\u2019s decision to retire from Mainfreight prevailed. He will officially leave the business at the end of this year and his successor, John Eshuis, who has held finance and IT roles at Mainfreight since 2002, has been named his successor.\nWith Christmas looming, Drinkwater is looking forward to taking some time out, project-managing his family\u2019s new house build in Russell, and getting to grips with the drone he\u2019s been given. He hasn\u2019t made any plans beyond the summer other than continuing as chair of Duffy Books in Homes, but he will be looking at new opportunities that crop up.\nThe role of technology in business expansion\nIn looking back at his career, Drinkwater tells CIO New Zealand there are two ways for CIOs to measure their success: One is whether the solutions they deploy are better than people expected, and the other is whether the business keeps wanting to spend money on technology.\n\u201cThe business may have a requirement, but it\u2019s our job is to make it even better than what they thought they wanted. The other thing is to have our own ideas. We\u2019ve been very innovative to the business,\u201d he says.\nDrinkwater says the team are prescriptive about the software they deploy, and they often opt for bespoke solutions that are specific to Mainfreight\u2019s business. While they have used off-the-shelf solutions (or \u2018packages\u2019, as he describes them), Drinkwater says these often don\u2019t meet the needs of the business.\n\u201cI do want to say that there is no way we\u2019d ever go build our own email. It\u2019s the right horses for courses\u2014where we have things very specific to the way we operate, then we will build it, as per our culture, in the way we do it.\u201d\nDrinkwater says that in all the companies Mainfreight has acquired, the computer systems were inadequate. In one example, the company had spent $20 million on an accounting system and had 50 people in its finance team. Within four months of the sale, that system was ripped out and replaced by Mainfreight\u2019s bespoke system at a cost of $25,000 and the finance team reduced to three people.\nThe importance of company culture\nThe \u2018Mainfreight culture\u2019 is what has kept Drinkwater at the company for so long, which he describes as \u201clike you would expect a family to be. No matter what level you are at, people care for each other, and that\u2019s demonstrated in many ways\u201d.\nOne of the most concrete examples is the company\u2019s bonus scheme, whereby everyone in a branch is paid the same dollar amount in bonuses each year. \u201cDoesn\u2019t matter what your position is. If you\u2019re in the kitchen or the branch manager, you get the same amount of dollars based on your branch\u2019s performance,\u201d Drinkwater says.\nWhile people\u2019s salaries reflect their positions of responsibility, the idea is that at a branch level \u201cthey can only win by playing as a team. That\u2019s why we divide the profit at the branch evenly. That\u2019s at least 10% of the branch\u2019s profit, and we paid worldwide $28 million in profit bonuses last year,\u201d Drinkwater says.\nTechnology changes over the decades\nThe Mainfreight culture is also focussed on the long term, and the business has a \u2018100-year vision\u2019. This can be incompatible with technology, which is constantly changing. \u201cWe have to make decisions based on five or ten years, which means often we\u2019ll pay for more now, before we need it, but knowing that we will need it,\u201d he says.\nDuring his tenure, Drinkwater has witnessed huge changes in technology. The speed of data transmission and the \u201cpower of the compute\u201d has increased exponentially, while software solutions have become more efficient, and hardware has \u201cde-scaled\u201d.\n\u201cIn 2006 when we created our new data centre, I was concerned there wasn\u2019t enough room in that footprint\u2014it\u2019s not much bigger than a meeting room. We\u2019ve probably trebled in size since then, yet we\u2019re still using the same footprint. Yes, we are using a lot more energy and cooling, but the density of the compute has been a huge enabler.\u201d\nDrinkwater estimates that just 5% of its compute is in the public cloud, with 95% in servers in New Zealand, Asia, Australia, and the US. \u201cI love the cloud concept; I don\u2019t like the cost ... so we have a fraction of our compute in the cloud ,and [yet] it costs us almost as much as all the HPE equipment we have in our primary and secondary data centres.\u201d\nIt\u2019s his view that many CIOs fall into the \u201ccloud sprawl\u201d trap. That while in theory it\u2019s possible to scale up and down when using public cloud, in reality the latter almost never happens.\nAs for new sector-specific technologies, he says that driverless trucks are on their way but the technology isn\u2019t here yet. Much closer on the horizon are electric trucks. He notes that Mainfreight favours a sustainable approach through programmes such as recycling water, installing solar panels, deploying hybrid and electric vehicles in its car fleet, and favouring rail over road where possible.\nIn New Zealand, Mainfreight has partnered with Spark on an internet of things (IoT) network to keep track of shipments, and this effort may extend to more analytical capability. \u201cOne of the critical areas that we need to improve on is using data to create more predictability,\u201d he says.\nAnd Drinkwater says that COVID-19 has changed the nature of work irrevocably by showing that working from home\u2014or from anywhere\u2014is achievable at scale.\nBetter tech education for New Zealand students required\nDrinkwater has contributed to the local CIO community and has regularly featured in the CIO50 New Zealand Awards \u2013 in 2019 he was No. 1, and in 2020 No. 3. He has also been involved in organisations outside Mainfreight, notably TUANZ when it was lobbying for a national fibre network a decade ago, and as the current chair of Duffy Books in Homes. The latter is a charity that hands out free books to students in low-decile primary schools in the belief that children in households with books achieve better educational outcomes.\nHe says education is an area where New Zealand could improve by teaching students how to create new technology, rather than just be passive users of it. The lack of enthusiasm for digital subjects may be because teachers don\u2019t have the expertise or passion for technology, and a way to solve this problem could be to have \u201cexpert teachers\u201d come into the schools and teach block courses.\nIt isn\u2019t only schools that lack technology know-how, it\u2019s also company boards, where Drinkwater says they are often led by consultants. \u201cPeople from the outside that take your watch and tell you how to read the time. That\u2019s why there are so many packages out there, because consultants find it easy to sell packages. You won\u2019t get many consultants that tell you to build a bespoke system.\u201d\nTop technology tips from Kevin Drinkwater\nDuring his farewell speech to the 50 people in Mainfreight\u2019s NZ technology team (the global IT team numbers 125), Drinkwater shared his tips for success, including these 10.\n\nSit with developers. Spend time in person with developers and the business to understand what they are doing and asking for. This will give you a better understanding and allows you to better digest and enhance what they have asked for. It also allows you to make faster decisions to help keep things on track and delivered on time and in full.\nFollow the Pareto Principle (the 80\/20 rule). The aim should be to do 20% of the work and achieve 80% of the benefit. Just get going and start with the critical things, rather than waiting until something is \u2018perfect\u2019 and complete. By the time the users start using the 80% (of the build), their view of what else they want and need often changes too.\nWork smart, not just hard. We\u2019re all busy, but don\u2019t be busy fools. Always look for ways to do things faster and better.\nAlways look for those people who complain the most. They\u2019ll either have two reasons: they\u2019re right and something needs improving, or they don\u2019t know and need training.\nEat lunch together. It\u2019s important to take a break, have a chat, and build friendships.\nWhiteboard! If you can\u2019t demonstrate something manually or explain it on a whiteboard, you won\u2019t be able to build it.\nSpread the knowledge, help others understand. Collecting a prescription at a chemist always takes 10 minutes, even if you\u2019re the only one in the shop. Why? Because they have a seven-step process to follow. They don\u2019t tell you this, but if they did then you\u2019d be more understanding on how long it takes to get what you want and are asking for. We need to do this\u2014explain what we will be doing better for our business and why the benefits are so important to them.\nReady, fire, aim. We don\u2019t want to be bleeding edge, but we still need to be leading edge. Have the courage to innovate and adopt new technologies\u2014but after the early adopters.\nSell the sizzle. Be customer-focussed. Tailor your sell and solutions to explain to them \u2018What\u2019s in it for me\u2019 (WIFM). Tell them how our technology is going to help them help their customers, save them time, etc. rather than purely what our tools do.\nIncrease revenue, decrease cost. Our role as an IT team is to help the business increase revenue or decrease costs. We are the only business unit where the costs always increase, so we have a big impact on our profits, bonuses, and operational efficiencies\u2014and we must always have this in mind.