by Byron Connolly

Cloud shift boosts CIO’s role

Apr 15, 20143 mins
Cloud Computing

GPT Group’s move to dump its on-premise hardware and shift it all to the cloud hasn’t threatened CIO Greg Baster’s job – it’s enhanced it.

The ASX-listed property investment group recently moved all of its development, test and core production systems – including SAP, Hyperion, Lync telephony, and Microsoft Active Directory environments – to Amazon’s cloud. A solitary AS/400 machine is all that remains on the company’s premises.

“We [the IT department] can now work more closely with various parts of GPT [and] spend more time making sure the solutions are really what they need. To me it’s not a change in role, it’s a change in emphasis and allowing the role to be more business-oriented,” Baster told CIO.

“We are solving different problems … they are much closer to business outcomes than putting up servers,” he said.

At a time when some organisations are removing the CIO role, Baster said departments inside GPT – marketing and technology for instance – are working more closely together.

“I know there has been a lot of discussion around chief digital officer, chief marketing officer versus [the] CIO – I think that organisations need to look at those roles and look at what mix is right for them,” Baster said. “I don’t think there is a formula,” he added.

“In larger organisations we have seen a few examples where CIO roles have been removed or have had their reporting lines changed, but in the case of GPT … [they] recognise the value of technology, which allows us to work closer with [the business] on new revenue initiatives and growth,” he said.

One of those initiatives is “Space and Co”, a subsidiary set up by GPT following its investment last year in Silicon Valley startup LiquidSpace. GPT was the lead participant in a $6 million round of funding in the company, which leases very short term office space.

“We’ve been able to focus on what [technology] solutions make sense to help operate Space and Co,” said Baster.

“In the past, we would have had to worry about putting up servers, the time frames, where they were going to be located, would they be in our data centres or out at a new business location. These days it’s not a problem, we locate those servers in Amazon and it’s easy to provision new services.”

Moving to the cloud has also given Baster and his IT team of around 30 staff more time to consult internally to get the best results for technology refreshes in its shopping centres and office spaces.

“Some of our assets are looking at digital infrastructure in a very visionary manner … they are now thinking about provisioning advanced services for operating those assets, whether it is around monitoring electricity [consumption] or providing better information for our tenants,” he said.

The number of staff in GPT’s IT department has remained largely unchanged since the move to the cloud, Baster said.

“It’s had a minimal impact on our infrastructure group,” he said. “People have asked me why that’s so. They’ve asked, ‘Surely, you don’t need to do your infrastructure upgrades so people don’t need to be there.’

“It goes back to the GPT model, we keep a core inside GPT, then we go to market and work with best-of-breed providers to do things like infrastructure upgrades whether it’s storage or networking or whatever. So we’ve already had a lean culture; what this does is free the time up to expand what we focus on within GPT,” he said.