by Lisa Banks

Q&A: Xtralis CIO Simarjit Chhabra

Aug 27, 2010
CareersInnovationIT Leadership

What does an average work day involve for you at Xtralis?

Like most executives in the upper echelon of the any industry, no two days are alike. I focus on strategy, specific projects and operational areas of the business and invest about 20 to 25 per cent of my time on planning and strategy – whether its alignment with the business or keeping the team on track with the current strategy.

I make it a point to reach out to the relevant internal and external stakeholders (20 to 25 per cent of my time) to ensure the business needs of the organization are met and that IT is considered as a trusted adviser – from small or large IT projects to merger and acquisition activities.

I spend around 30 to 35 per cent of my time on project work to ensure projects stay on track and are delivered without disturbing the tri-factor balance of quality, cost and time.

While I do have my fair share of challenges on the operational front, the role of CIO requires me to innovate and constantly find ways to improve business processes.

What are some of the major challenges you face in the role of CIO?

US president Harry S. Truman kept a sign in his Oval Office that said, “the buck stops here”. I believe as a CIO, each of us should adapt a “can do” attitude and accept responsibility for all our decisions.

Most of us were directly or indirectly impacted by the global financial crisis, and as we emerge from that dark tunnel cautiously, we need to focus on motivating our team and changing the thinking from operational mode to project oriented mode.

We also need to engage with the business leaders to understand their present and future challenges and provide solutions to give the business a competitive and strategic advantage. While converting the relevant stakeholders, including business leaders, as “change leaders” so they can welcome change and assist in driving it on behalf of IT. I firmly believe there is no job too big or too small. It’s all in our attitude. With years of experience in multinational organizations around the globe, there is no business challenge that I don’t welcome.

What are some of the recent projects your IT department has been working on?

Projects have been mushrooming at a faster rate than we can manage with our present team size. It’s like grass growing after the first rain.

We’re currently in the process of switching service providers. Normally the transition between service providers takes anywhere from two to six months followed by a six-month transition period where they learn your business and align business processes. However, we are working on tight timelines on both fronts with the incumbent provider.

We’re also integrating new businesses after acquiring several businesses in Europe and have the major task of integrating them.

Another two projects we’re working on include implementing virtual desktops and migrating applications to the cloud. We decided to implement virtual desktops to provide both security and lower management costs, and see cloud as being necessary to plan for.

What’s next on the IT agenda for Xtralis?

Xtralis will continue to grow organically and through acquisitions, and this requires us to implement infrastructure across the business to ensure we streamline our processes. We also plan to replace our ERP to ensure the relevant stakeholders have a better customer experience as well as adequate controls and reporting. After all, IT is the backbone of a true multinational corporation.

What are the three biggest issues facing CIOs today?

1. With ‘none’ to a ‘minimal’ increase on their operating expenses, I believe a major challenge for most CIOs is to ‘keep the lights on,’ while dealing with a double-digit increase in maintenance fees.

2. Motivating and changing the thought process of their teams to come out of an operational mode, especially after the global financial crisis, and retrain resources to gain competitive edge.

3. Continuing to engage with the business leaders, including those at the CXO level, and those representing the board to provide the right IT solutions and position IT as a ‘trusted adviser.’ For example, you may have to bite the bullet to educate them that public cloud solutions are still in their infancy and investing in a private cloud could be an alternative.

What’s your favourite gadget?

It may come as a surprise to many – but for me it’s my humble wrist watch, which I treasure. With every second, time slips away. We all need to make most of it!