by Lisa Banks

Q&A: Tennis Australia CIO Chris Yates

Aug 26, 2010
CareersGovernment ITInnovation

What does an average work day involve for you at Tennis Australia?

As you would expect, there are always plenty of meetings to go to. However, with things running a little more smoothly these days, I am able to take more time to look in to strategic aspects of IT and talk more to external people. It is great to get a different perspective on things and use that to stimulate your thinking. Also, I like to make time for people who have good ideas and feel technology can help – I always enjoy batting around some ideas with people and coming up with some good plans.

I also deal with the day to day IT issues where I think most people are really looking for decisiveness – even if you don’t have the answer, they at least want some clear direction on where they should go.

When I can, I also like to get in a hit of tennis at lunchtime – good way to work out some stress.

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

One of the key challenges I face is people coming to me with a technical solution rather than discussing the problem. They will arrive saying we need “The Acme Database System” or something of that ilk. It can often take a few discussions to get them to be more problem and outcome focused rather than just looking for a technology based solution.

Another issue is helping people get the most of the systems that we have on offer. I actually see people making things harder for themselves by not thinking out the process and not using the software we have available properly. Of course, it’s always tricky to then try and subtlety convince people to try another way of doing things that will be easier. However, the reward of getting someone to see the light and make their lives easier is a great pleasure indeed.

Last of all is making sure my staff are getting enough growth in their job. I am a great believer in helping people develop and expand their skills to find their right path in life. I think the mentoring role of the CIO is critical these days – Senior IT people must be actively working to coach the next generation of IT people. We run an AO IT Student program which has been very successful – we have hired one of the students who has graduated and have another who is still studying working part-time with us.

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

We live in two modes – tournament mode and year round mode. In tournament mode, we run the IT for the Australian Open, Australian Open Series Federation Cup, Davis Cup and now are planning to do it all over again.

In year round mode, my team have done a great deal of work on improving our infrastructure, putting in a private IP network across Australia, established and Managed Operating Environment for automated PC builds and installed Office Communication Server.

As for specific projects, the main one has been the rollout of My Tennis, which is our platform for player registration. That has been a huge task and the team who worked on this project did a sensational job.

There has been plenty done but we are always looking forward – we get things delivered and then look to the next project.

What are the three biggest issues facing CIOs today?

I think one of the key issues is deciding what sort of CIO you would like to be: you can be strategic and forward thinking, be someone who maintains a trusted level of support, or someone who makes sure that things don’t break. A lot of this can be defined by the business and its budget but I think you have to find the right role for yourself.

Another issue is defining your growing relevance at the management table. We have spent many years hearing that we must align ourselves with the business yet the speed of technological advance is often leaving businesses flat footed. It is important for the CIO to make sure that the business starts getting aligned with that ever accelerating world.

Last of all is personal development of the CIO – not purely in technology but looking at other ways of rounding yourself out. I think it is important to look into other worlds such a science, art and music to broaden one’s outlook on life. I am always surprised that some of my best ideas come to me when I am not thinking about IT.

What’s your favourite gadget?

This is one you will not expect – A Peterson Stroboscope Guitar tuner. I couldn’t live without it.