by Stephan Conaway

The CIO Questionnaire: Stephan Conaway, head of ICT for Oxfordshire County Council

May 13, 2010
CareersGovernmentIT Leadership

One of the challenges for government CIOs in recent years has been connecting together the wide variety of e-government initiatives that have been launched over the last decade. Conaway describes his methods and motivations.

Click here to read the full CIO interview with the IT leader of Oxford City Council

CIO: Where were you born? Ohio, US. Small town with high human values.

CIO: How many people work in your IT department? Currently we have 155 IT staff and an additional 30 assigned to quasi IT areas.

CIO: What is the size of your annual IT budget? The total aggregated budget of IT is £20m, including development funds and the County wide broadband network. Core services is £10m CIO: What percentage of annual turnover does IT represent? A tad over two per cent.

CIO: What is the basic structure of your IT department? Classical structure. Head of Service, Deputy Head and then Call Centre/Service Support, Desktop Services, Servers and Storage, Networking and Telephony, Development and Deployment, Programme Office, Purchasing and Financial Admin, and Compliance

CIO: Who are your key suppliers? SAP, Serco, Synetrix , IBM, BT, Microsoft, Open Logic Solutions, Pirean, Northgate.

CIO: Who has/have been the most influential people in your career? The earliest managing officers and chief executives which whom I worked, in Florida and Germany: Jack Lake at the St. Petersburg Times and Frederich Burkhardt in Germany.

CIO: Do you believe in mentoring? Mentoring works. I have solicited mentoring for myself to positive effect and we provide mentoring for managers and staff as it seems appropriate. My own work was around seeing myself as the world seems me, and, in seeing others as their peers would see them.  We all think that we know ourselves well; few of us do.

CIO: Which tools or tactics have given you most success in communicating up/down/across? We do the usual newsletters, intranet reports etc. The most effective is direct one to one communication, HP’s philosophy of just wandering about and always being dead honest about the situation (remembering to be caring and supportive in delivering the message). It is surprising how little most senior managers know about their own operations.

CIO: What has been your biggest mistake? My big mistakes are usually around giving failing projects and managers an extra allowance to continue to try to recover he situation. Once a project, development or unit has gone sour, the best approach seems to be to cut your losses rather than back the failures, no matter what good was intended. A friend in venture capital was prone to say, “Once there is a smell of death about it, it is gone!”

CIO: And your greatest success?    New developments that push the edge a bit. Stretching technology and people to do that little bit more with the ordinary, or daring to do something that is not commonly done, can reward with unexpected results.  Doing the typical with the ordinary rarely provides extraordinary value. I was privileged to being doing development work in the early days of the digital revolution in graphic arts when there were lots of opportunities do developments and build systems for the first time.

CIO: How do you keep up to date with the march of technology? Read, talk, read, listen, read, challenge. Ask questions of everyone. Assume that any published report is promotional rubbish … but … that it contains a glimmer of truth and something previously unknown if you look for it. Know that everyone has some knowledge, information or insight that you do not have.

CIO: How do you deal with stress? By remembering that we are all only human, life is a transient state and will come to an end too soon, there are things that we can change and those that we cannot focus on the areas that we can address and not the ones that are predetermined. A good Chinon does not go amiss either.

CIO: What profession would you most/least like to attempt? Most, architecture. Least, undertaking. I love functional design; hate loss, decline and decay.

CIO: Which word or phrase do you most use/overuse? “That’s just wonderful!“ In both meanings of the phrase

CIO: Which business (or other) books have been influential in your career? Peter Drucker’s anthology and “Guns, Germs and Steel”

CIO: Do you have a sport you practice or sportsperson/team that you follow? Professional Tennis, Squash, US College Basketball and Football.  Go Duke!

CIO: What else do you do outside of work? To be honest I did not know that there was an outside of work:   Time with the family, travelling, reproductive botany and photography.