by Matt Rodgers

Vito Forte, CIO, Fortescue Metals Group

Dec 07, 20119 mins
CareersCloud ComputingMobile

After joining the Fortescue Metals Group as CIO in January 2011, Vito Forte now leads the company’s IT department as it assists the resources industry giant to keep pace with its strategy of rapid growth and expansion. In Part 2 of this interview, he talks to CIO about Fortescue’s challenges, centralised versus decentralised IT, and why, when it comes to IT innovation, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

What are some of your major pain points and challenges as CIO?

My chief challenges are making sure the team is motivated and making sure they understand the value they bring and are focused on the outcomes we’re trying to achieve.

As we look at a lot of the things we do, we ask: Do we need to do this ourselves? Is there something in the market that can do it better than we can?

Read Part 1 of this interview.

Do you have an opinion on centralised versus decentralised IT?

We’re using Cloud for a lot of our capability. In terms of BI and other kinds of modelling strategies, I think Cloud will continue to play an important role, because it means we can ramp up very quickly and have access to more resources than we might feasibly need, and we can also ramp down when we need. Where else am I going to get that kind of leverage? If we do it ourselves, we’re not going to get that.

As an example, at the moment we are talking to a research organisation about what they’re doing to help us solves today’s issues that I can’t solve with current technologies. And whether there is something I can gain in terms of early adoption, the ability to move quicker, in order for us to achieve the targets we need to achieve.

We were the global launch partner for the Microsoft Hyper-V platform. At Fortescue we’re moving away from VMware to Hyper-V, and HP is helping us do that with Microsoft. We’re also moving into the Cloud system matrix model that HP is using.

The maturity is there, we’re going to save money by doing it, and the performance is great and capability is what we want. These days it’s not an issue to be moving away from those sorts of technology sets.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re also moving to Office 365. We’ve been involved with the Office 365 people since the beta program. We’re now part of the customer advisory board, so we provide input into the way they model the service in the future.

I’ve been a very vocal advocate of Microsoft, but I also really get stuck into them for their licensing model… Get with the times people!

I’ve been a very vocal advocate of Microsoft, but I also really get stuck into them for their licensing model. They need to make it much more suitable, not only for our industry but companies in general. Get with the times people! You’ve got a great technical product that’s spoiled by commercial issues. Improvements need to be made. How does a -year perpetual model fit into a short term project lifecycle and the ability to scale up and down quickly? That’s the promise of Cloud and utility-based computing, but where is it?

To what extent are mobile technologies critical to your workforce?

We’re looking at how we’re going to bring together traditional commercial IT and with operational technology, process controls and those sorts of things. Smartphones, tablets, whatever — the question is: How do we leverage the consumerisation within the mining context?

Regarding consumer-style technologies, for us it is not about creating an environment of mistrust. We’re not going to lock everything down; we’re going the opposite way. We’re going to trust and looking for innovative ways to protect data when we have to. The focus has to be on data protection, not locking things down because it makes life easier for some administrator. How crazy is that? To inconvenience several thousand people just so you can keep a few administrators happy — that’s just silly.

Analytics and optimisation technologies are often touted as central to improving efficiency in the resources sector. Have you had any successes there?

We provide a lot of the platforms and are assisting in certain areas, but we’re not here to tell the mining guys how to do mining.

For example, we have a project at the moment that is looking at optimisation and a bunch of modelling activity, and we’re providing as much as we can in terms of capacity and capability. We’re offering some input around more efficient methods of dealing with the large amount of data involved. But, in the end, it’s still the mining operation’s data. [[leftquote: We want to make the business successful, not just make IT look good. ]] What’s more important to us is not to become a bottleneck. We say: What is it we can enable in order for the business to get the outcome it needs? We want to make the business successful, not just make IT look good.

Do you face issues regarding a distributed/remote workforce? How do you overcome these?

Distributed workforces are challenging in a general sense simply because of the geography associated with our locations. We’ve become pretty good at building and putting in the infrastructure we need to support our business activities. But there are always challenges when you’re working remote areas because there is just nothing there.

We have some strategies at the moment that we’re looking at to make some substantial improvements, because over the next few years the key things for us is we need substantial data transmission capacity in order to support a lot of our planned automation activities, as well as the general data growth that we’re seeing within the industry. There’s a lot of work happening in laying fibre to nearly all of our locations and along our railway lines, and we’re building that capability every day.

One of the key mantras for me at the moment is that capacity will not be a constraint for the business. We’re making sure we finish that off. We don’t want to hear we could get a lot more value out of a project if only we’d had a bigger pipe.

What have learnt over your years as a CIO? Do you have any advice for other CIOs?

I’ve learnt that anything is possible. The success that this organisation has achieved and what we’re trying to do is completely dependent on the people here. We can talk about boxes, wires, services, vendors, but fundamentally if the people aren’t right, the other stuff doesn’t matter. It’s as simple as that.

If the people aren’t right, the other stuff doesn’t matter

My advice is pretty simple: Empower your people. I see it as my job to make sure they don’t have any barriers to success because when they succeed, I succeed. I can’t do it all myself, and I’m not here to do it myself.

A little bit of ambiguity also goes a long way in terms of creating innovation. A lot of people like very formalised structures, but I’ve never seen that work. I think it creates barriers to thinking. It also creates barriers to people making mistakes. It’s ok to make a mistake. You need to understand your mistakes in order to make an improvement. If you’re only ever successful, how do you know that you couldn’t have been more successful?

A little bit of ambiguity also goes a long way in terms of creating innovation

We protect our culture fiercely. We actively make sure that as we get bigger that the core values don’t start to fade away. That’s a key message from the chief executive through to the business as a whole. We are very protective of that culture we have.

You’ll see that at the bottom of my emails is the slogan ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. I think that is absolutely true. Irrespective of how big and how fancy your strategies are, the ability to execute and the ability of your people to achieve outcomes is the most important thing.

I’ve had this discussion with various vendors who come in with a very conservative mindset. I tell them upfront: Do not think you have to come in here conservative, risk averse and all the rest of it. We do not have an environment here where people aren’t prepared to change. People here are clamouring for change and improvement — do not let yourself become the barrier.

What’s next for the company? Where do you foresee IT being able to take the business tomorrow?

We’re talking to the CSIRO at the moment about some future state technologies in the communications area that we’re looking to take advantage of as quickly as we can.

We’re talking to vendors about what they might have that we may want. The way we’re going to be delivering our integrated operational capability, we’re looking at that and saying what’s in the consumer space that’s useful for us to deploy in our operational space. What is it that we can have that enables us to have fewer people doing more things?

I’ve recently been in contact with various vendors, and my statements to them are all the same. I’m not interested in what you’re doing today, I’m interested in what you’re going to be doing in two years’ time. How are going to help me deal with the future? Some of them get it, which is great, but some of them don’t. It throws a lot of them off. And those vendors fall by the wayside.

Read Part 1 of this interview.

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