Dr Claire Barber is a prime example of how to prepare for careers that are not yet part of contemporary lexicon. The chief digital officer at Spark New Zealand did not follow the career path of a typical digital and technology executive.\nBarber had a stint in the academe, completing a doctorate at the University of Northumbria in the United Kingdom, and becoming a lecturer and assistant dean at the University of Auckland.\nShe has worked across the globe in international technology and telecommunications firms \u2013 holding sales and management roles at IBM, and working with customers in China, India and the Asia Pacific region.\nThe chief digital officer was not part of the C-suite when she was working on her PhD. But her interest at that time, how data was starting to shape competition, proved prescient in its importance to enterprise, 20 years later.\n\u201cIn the early 1980s, we saw the advent of the first computer reservations system,\u201d she explains. \u201cThis was where the chance of a customer booking from the first three lines was better, so you buried the best flight at the back.\u201d\nFor Barber, this presents the very first inkling of the way the future looked like from the data that was used to change the way companies compete. \u201cThat took me down the path of research,\u201d she says. \u201cFunny enough, the topic is still very, very relevant today.\u201d\nDr Claire Barber and her leadership team at their weekly meeting.\nThe future is teams have distributed authority and are able to be creative and innovative without asking permission and can bring their whole selves to work against a common purpose, within a set of parameters.\nPioneer role\nBarber became Spark\u2019s first chief digital officer in July 2016. She is a member of the executive team, reporting directly to managing director Simon Moutter. \nAs well as holding one of thehandful of strategic CDO roles in New Zealand, she also manages one of the largest technology and digital functions. She has 1277 staff, with nine direct reports.\nShe is on top of Spark\u2019s move to implement new ways of working, as head of the organisation-wide agreement to move the entire organisation to an Agile@scale operating model.\n\u201cThe combination of things we are doing, and supported by the Agile@scale transformation, provide our organisation with the most fundamental advantage for the future which is sustainable innovation through distributed authority and a culture of empowerment,\u201d she says.\nShe believes this give Spark a fundamental advantage for the future as the organisation goes through a massive evolution.\n\u201cWe are going through a major decision to take the whole company into a purpose-driven organisation, to move away from role-based hierarchy and then into much more of an agile organisation with a real focus on customer value and agility.\u201d\nIt is all part of the massive business transformation programme as Spark transitions into a traditional telecommunications company into a customer-centric digital services provider. \nShe notes how the company has evolved from the New Zealand Post, to become Telecom NZ and into its current persona.\nSome of our staff have been with us since the days of the post office, she says. Barber recently went to a dinner to celebrate with some employees who have been with the company for 40 years.\n\u201cThey are people who are incredibly change resilient, incredibly adaptive, or they would not have continued to stay with the company.\u201d\nOn the other hand, she says, there are some \u2018communities\u2019 at Spark whose jobs are relatively task-oriented or completed manually.\n\u201cIf we bring automation, \u2018how do we deal with reskilling of these types of people?\u2019\u201d\nShe says one way to approach this is to consider this: \u201cWhat is your personal purpose and use that to guide your skills development? Think of yourself in terms of really two things,\u201d she says, drawing on a diagram representing the capital letter \u2018T\u2019.\n\u201cThe top of the T represents a good understanding of the area, your ability to bring context to the table, to collaborate, to connect with people and to share ideas and to work with the team. This is the broad set of skills.\u201d\nPointing to the vertical line below, she says, \u201cThis is your specialisation. You may start as an order entry person and your specialist skill may be keyboard skills. You may be good at communicating with the customer and coordinating activities.\n\u201cSo we talk to staff about, \u2018what is your specialism? Is your specialism likely to be diminishing?\u2019 So how are you changing your specialism? Is it possible for you to develop more than one specialism? How are you broadening yourself out?\u201d she asks.\n\u201cThis is how we are talking to people about skills and career,\u201d she says. \n\u201cThis means connecting people with purpose and helping people to develop autonomous plans, their own plans as individuals for their own career development in a supportive way. Our job is to support people and enable to help create a framework of coaching that helps people to take charge of their own careers.\u201d\n\nInclusive leadership\n\nBarber heads Spark\u2019s Diversity and Inclusion programme and is executive sponsor of the company\u2019s LGBTQI community. For Barber, diversity covers the full spectrum of culture, thought, experience and ethnicity. \nShe proudly points out Spark has received the Rainbow Tick accreditation, which is awarded to firms that complete a diversity and inclusion certification process.\n\u201cIt is incredibly important that we share a common purpose, and that we collaborate with people from a variety of backgrounds. I believe it is terribly important that people should be able to bring themselves to work.\u201d\nSpark\u2019s chief digital officer Claire Barber, Rainbow Tick\u2019s Michael Stevens and Spark head of diversity and inclusion Rhonda Koroheke\nInclusion is the active word, whether it will be the LGBTQI community finding a voice or people of different technical background in our tech team feeling that they can have the support for career progression\nShe acknowledges the technology industry itself is challenged, in particular, by a lack of diversity.\nWhen there are not many people of different ethnic backgrounds in the leadership positions, you know these are heavily skewed, that \u201cpatriarchy is at play.\u201d\nShe wants Spark to be different in this respect.\n\u201cI am making sure that we create opportunities for people to develop their craft and that we are inclusive,\u201d she says.\n\u201cInclusion is the active word, whether it will be the LGBTQI community finding a voice or people of different technical background in our tech team feeling that they can have the support for career progression,\u201d she says.\nHer views on diversity were aided by the years she worked overseas.\n\u201cI have a huge amount of respect for the talent that comes from all sorts of different backgrounds in our industry but I don't see that yet reflected [in the leadership teams],\u201d she says.\nShe says she has attended a number of ICT events where white men outnumber everyone else and there\u2019s no representation of ethnic diversity.\n\u201cOur industry is full of ethnic diversity and yet many of our events are not inclusive. I don\u2019t see the representation [in these events] of the kind of places I work with and that says something. When we take a table at industry events, we make sure that Spark attendees are representative of the different people in the organisation.\u201d\nSpark\u2019s managing director Simon Moutter takes the same stance. Whenasked to speak at an event where the panel is almost entirely made up of white middle-aged men, he will ask the organiser to address the imbalance before the event goes ahead.\nHe has encouraged all Spark employees to do the same. This guidance also covers an all-female line up of speakers. For instance, at a recent women\u2019s leadership symposium, Spark put forward a male speaker to ensure the diversity in gender was fair.\nBarber also finds opportunities for her team members to speak in events and develop their profiles. She believes in new ways of working, bringing cross-functional teams together to create opportunities for diversity in their own right.\nHer advocacy goes beyond gender and cultural diversity.\n\u201cI am proud of our leadership commitment that we will achieve pay parity.\n\u201cI believe that is an important foundational principle,\u201d she says. \u201cIf organisations take an honest look at where they really sit on pay parity, they will find they do not have it.\u201d\n\nYou learn by doing... The biggest failure is not to try\nPrecursor to transformation\n\nShe says the agile transformation programme at Spark started with her \u2018platforms\u2019 team.\n\u201cWe formed cross functional teams and called them \u2018car washes\u2019 for customer issues.\n\u201cIt was an experiment and it was basically around new ways of working, giving people autonomy around a purpose in wanting to be able resolve problem for the customer,\u201d she says.\nThe focus was to work on programmes to avoid customer friction.\n\u201cWe took frontline staff, developers, architects, people with different skill sets and we said to them, \u2018Define which customer problem you would like to solve.\u2019 The team members were chosen because they take real calls from customers every day.\u201d\nTeam members then work on low risk prototyping and out of that come out programmes of work. One of the early works of the group was related to the customer experience with broadband services.\n\u201cThey chose to say, \u2018how could we help a customer who is having a bad day with broadband? Wouldn\u2019t it be awesome if we knew about that before the customer did?\u2019\u201d\nThey did low risk prototyping and out of that comes a functionality that now sits in the Spark app.\n\u201cIn the first six weeks of working together, we took people from the front lines, from our technology teams and some new people outside Spark. One of the team members was a taxi driver. We trained everyone on how to do customer testing,\u201d she says.\nI said, \u201cHave fun and come back with your solutions for the future.\u201d\nThe team discovered some things that were truly extraordinary, she says. One discovery was that they thought customers love it when they are contacted proactively about their problem.\n\u201cThe customers did not believe it was us,\u201d she says. \u201cIt is an example of how you learn by doing.\u201d\nIssues were resolved by texting the customer first and then allowing the customer to go through verification. This feature was built into the app.\n\u201cWe ended up with an \u2018in-app\u2019 experience because customers trust the app,\u201d she says.\n\u201cThey know it is Spark and when we need to speak to them, we engage in a process to speaking to them through that channel.\u201d\nThe lesson from this is instead of building an entire tech solution or designing an elaborate marketing campaign, it makes more sense to experiment in small groups to find answers to customer problems.\nShe says that for the team to engage in these programmes, they first of all had to re-engineer IT. One of their first tasks was to create a lab for customer experience design inside the Spark building.\nShe says they did a number of these \u2018car washes\u2019 or \u2018small experiments\u2019 in different teams which resulted in some interesting outcomes.\nShe says based on these experiences, the leadership team at Spark was able to say, \u201care we brave enough to explore the full potential of this?\u201d\nBarber believes role-based hierarchy is not the thing of the future.\n\u201cThe future is teams have distributed authority and are able to be creative and innovative without asking permission and can bring their whole selves to work against a common purpose, within a set of parameters. I believe passionately that the future of work is tied to this concept of individual skill development model, T-based concept of people development,\u201d she says.\n\u201cIt is not about progressing to upper role-based hierarchy, you eliminate the role-based hierarchy. Your career progresses based upon your mastery, your ability to contribute and do,\u201d he says.\n\u201cThis is a very exciting future and we are greatly committed to this,\u201d says Barber, who explained this concept in the 2o18 CIO100 report where she was one of the top ranked leaders.\n\nIt is about taking blinkers off hellip; traditional organisations that fail to change will be like the Kodaks of the future\nA distinctive role\n\nBarber has a multifaceted role, very distinct from her peers in the business technology community in New Zealand.\n\u201cI am privileged to work with developers and to be responsible for customer operations 24x7," she says. "I am working with talented technical people from around the business and accountable for platforms across the company. That does not make me a traditional CIO."\nBarber says she is also responsible for customer experience design, and data. She says Spark is investing actively in a new set of capabilities using big data and artificial intelligence.\n\u201cWe are in the frontier of some of these cutting-edge areas but we are not experimenting timidly, we are experimenting with bravery and that bravery is what creates opportunities for people. \n\u201cThis is what allows people to maintain the currency of their skill sets,\u201d she says. \u201cThe ability to play while still at work as part of creating value for our customers is critical to how you create a new future.\u201d\nShe says one of the basic skills in this environment is having an absolute passion for customers.\n\u201cAlways start with customers. Without customers, there is no business. They should have an empathy focused on delivering value for customers whether they are in 24x7 operations roles, working in night shifts, doing whatever they are doing.\n\u201cThe characteristic that helps you most in staying in future focus is curiosity,\u201d she says, of her personal experience. \n\u201cIf you are interested in things and if you are interested to ask the next question, you have an opportunity to learn,\u201d she says.\nBut that curiosity, she points out, needs to be coupled with a healthy appetite for risk.\n\u201cYou learn by doing, but you also must have curiosity and are not too afraid to do things. The biggest failure is not to try,\u201d she says.\nAbove all, work on delivering things that matter to customers, she says.\nThe exponential curves of change we are on are so great that it is almost overwhelming and in the next three years, we will see 30 times the level of change that has occurred in the last three years, she says.\n\u201cIn this environment, the constraining factor is not the technology, it is the capacity of humans to absorb change.\u201d\nReadying our organisations, our people and ourselves to participate in that world is important and it\u2019s a message that resonates with CIOs, she says.\n\u201cIt is not about the technology anymore. It is about how we engage with it, how we learn what kind of ethical frameworks we need to put in place in the world of machine learning, big data and AI,\u201d she says.\n\u201cExperiences of the customers are our products; this is different from a telco where broadband is the product.\u201d\nShe cites Uber as an example of customer experience being right at the centre of the product that is being offered.\n\u201cI don\u2019t like their ethics but the experience of ordering the drive and the payment of it is the service they provide. What you pay for is the ride home, so experience is the product. That is the thing in which revenues are attached.\u201d\nShe believes the concept of job titles will also change. \u201cIn the future we may carry a portfolio responsibility,\u201d she says.\nShe sees organisations with autonomous teams of people, with cross functional people working collaboratively with some strategies around common architectures.\n\u201cWe won\u2019t see this kind of heritage multi-layered organisations as we have in the past. It is about taking blinkers off hellip; traditional organisations that fail to change will be like the Kodaks of the future,\u201d she says.\nToday\u2019s CIOs are in good stead as she says they understand extremely well how things connect, but the challenge is how they will create a voice on the table that is broader than technology.\n\u201cNo-one is interested in technology. People are interested in what it can do.\u201d\nDr Claire Barber at the panel discussion during the 2018 CIO100 event in Auckland.