by Byron Connolly

‘CFOs write history and CIOs write the future’: Servcorp COO

Apr 17, 20156 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Marcus Moufarrige, chief operating officer at large serviced and virtual office space provider, Servcorp, never wanted to work in his family’s business.

Servcorp was established by his father, Alf Moufarrige in Sydney in 1978. Today, the ASX-listed organisation operates in 140 locations in 52 cities around the world, and has a market capitalisation of $620 million.

“I wasn’t supposed to work in the business, it was the IT skills that got me into the business,” he tells CIO. “My old man is a tyrant so I never wanted to work in the family business … he never wanted me to work in the family business.”

But as it turned out, there was a significant technology requirement to Servcorp’s offering which Moufarrige – with his skill and interest in computing – could help fulfill. Moufarrige has transformed Servcorp’s technical operations and was one of the first individuals at the company to recognise the importance of cloud technologies.

Over the next five years, he will oversee the company’s expansion in Saudi Arabia, potential expansion into South America and Africa, and investments to consolidate its business in the United States.

Moufarrige began his career on the IT helpdesk before moving into operations and coming back into the IT department, eventually becoming the CIO in 2000. Moufarrige remained CIO at Servcorp until 2012 before being elevated to COO.

“Even when I started here it was a temporary gig, so I wasn’t expecting to stay too long and I certainly didn’t want to stay in the help desk too long. But it’s a great business and it’s got a lot of growth and it’s got a really exciting technology platform which keeps it very interesting.”

As an operations specialist, Moufarrige says he has focused less on IT and more on business rather than the other way around. Regardless of a CIO’s background, having the right amount of “business nous” is vital if IT chiefs are to succeed, he says, as many CIOs struggle to effectively create the right image and market their value to their the organisations.

“If you are going to be a CIO, it’s not just about being the smartest propeller-head in the room. It’s about actually making business decisions.

“One of the biggest problems that CIOs have with their image – and it’s a systemic problem, it’s not necessarily with CIOs – is to do with the structure of the business,” he says.

For instance, a CIO reporting to a CFO is a recipe for disaster because both roles are diametrically apart, according to Moufarrige.

“CFOs write history and CIOs write the future. That’s the big difference,” he says. “CIOs should be building the business to be more competitive, productive and automated. All CFOs do is write history.

In fact, he believes the CIO is actually far more important to the business five years down the track than the CFO will ever be.

“The CFO is important now to record the history of what has been created but that’s it. So putting your future under the control of your past is a bad idea,” he says.

A diluted role?

Moufarrige says there are now more tools available for people to get an easier understanding of how technology works, but having a person focused entirely on future strategy is vital.

“It’s about striking the balance, so while CIOs need to be more commercial to survive – and there is that threat of everyday executives becoming more technology-savvy – it’s critical for an organisation to have a strategic position that the CIO can fight for and fend for,” he says.

Executives becoming more IT savvy presents an opportunity for CIOs to elevate themselves provided they have the right skills, Moufarrige says.

“If they don’t have the skills to have a sensible conversation with the chief executive of the business or the board, then they probably shouldn’t be at a c-level at all,” he says.

“We are not seeing the death of the CIO role but we are seeing an IT director sitting in the seat of the CIO role – and we are seeing smart technology people being elevated into executive roles and I think that’s really healthy for business.”

Still too much complexity

Creating complexity rather than simplicity has been systemic across the industry for a long period of time. Moufarrige says he became involved in IT at an executive level because he was tired of people making concepts too complicated.

“I think a lot of CIOs try and go for complexity to look sophisticated because it’s best of breed or best practice. But in fact there can be much better and simpler ways to do things.”

“Very often you’ll give a simple problem to an IT guy and they will come back with a very complex answer. I think they need to work on creating simplicity not complexity.”

Make the product simpler so that it’s easier to sell and it’s easier for people within the business to use so they can be more productive, he says.

“I think that being less technical and more commercial is a really important thing and that doesn’t diminish the role of strategic thinking, the complexity or technicality of the role – but it does mean that CIOs who aren’t getting commercial are going to damage their brand,” he says.

Moufarrige says Servcorp has had a lot of success using ‘lateral thinking’ when building ground breaking telecommunications products for its clients. There isn’t enough of this type of thinking among IT people, he says.

“IT people are very good at taking something that’s grown organically or has been built by them and then trying to bolt something on top of it.

“To do this, you have to ask exactly the right questions that fit within the tight box framework of what you’ve built. Whereas lateral thinking means you put everything that you have built in the bin and start thinking about the problem from the root,” he says.

To show lateral thinking, he uses the analogy of the toy that teaches babies how to match shapes by placing the right shape in the correct hole. A normal human response to a baby placing a circle shape in the square hole, for instance, would be to assist and show the child the hole for the circle.

“IT guys just sit there watching the baby – watching you try to put in the circle in the square hole,” he says.

He agrees that this comes down to attitude and EQ (emotional intelligence quotient).

“There’s been a lot of weight because of the mystique around IT that IQ is the driver of what makes a good CIO. But I think you’ll find that the best CIOs actually have a lot of EQ – they have an understanding of people and the ability to communicate a lot more effectively.”

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Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter:@ByronConnolly