Claudine Ogilvie is not your typical CIO. In fact, before accepting a position to lead the technology team at Ridley Corporation, she had never worked in IT.
In mid-2013, Ogilvie was brought into the ASX-listed animal nutrition manufacturer to give its technology team more of a commercial, strategic focus and better align IT to the business. As the organisation’s first CIO, she oversees the IT, project management, and process improvement functions.
And she was certainly the right person for the job, having spent her career in sales operations, marketing and strategy roles at KPMG Australia, International SOS, BP, and Unipath in France.
“Clearly I am not a technical CIO,” says Ogilvie. “The change and transformation part of business has really been a big part of my background.”
The daughter of a diplomat, Ogilvie was born in South Korea, attended dozens of schools, spent nine years in France and, over time, has developed an interest in the challenges brought about by diversity and organisational change.
“That diversity of change and people and all the excitement and challenges that it brings is something I embrace and enjoy. Those marketing and sales operations roles have really created quite a commercial foundation,” Ogilvie says.
This was particularly true during the three years before joining Ridley, when she managed KPMG’s consumer and industrial markets business. Ogilvie says the role exposed her to different industries and how successful companies combine their strategies and cultures to succeed.
“One thing that struck me in the role at KPMG was the importance of digital and technology. My view on this was that it’s not separate to the business – successful organisations are integrating [technology] as part of their business,” she says.
Moving into a technology role without having an IT background was a steep learning curve, she says.
“I’ve learned a lot since I started this role – particularly in the technical space. While I don’t need to be an expert, I still need to have an understanding of [IT]. But at the same time, it has been fascinating and the possibilities for businesses like Ridley have been eye opening – I’ve connected dots that perhaps I haven’t connected in the past.”
Ridley Corporation operates 20 manufacturing mills from Townsville in Queensland down to Tasmania, and 70 per cent of its 700 staff are based in rural and regional areas. The company’s approach to providing technology resources is to essentially outsource more of the commoditised services and keep business knowledge internal.
“If we implement a CRM, we use external suppliers and internalise the deep business knowledge that we need. We have a cloud-based HR system that has been integrated but it’s not something that we would ever want to develop ourselves , it’s a commoditised product,” Ogilvie says.
“Technology itself is not a competitive differentiator for the business. It’s how you align it with your business, and make it work for competitive differentiation, cost reduction, or to maintain profitability.”
A strategic team with a local touch
As an animal product manufacturer that buys from and sells to local farmers, Ridley Corporation puts enormous value on personal contact with customers, Ogilvie says.
“When they [farmers] pick up the phone because they have a technology issue, they want to know the person on the other end of the line. We are small enough to accommodate that.”
Ogilvie leads a relatively lean IT team at Ridley, consisting of 27 full time staff, which expands with contractors depending on the demands of a project. She manages a ‘technically-savvy’ group that has become more strategically-focused.
“For me, it been invigorating how far we’ve come as a team – and diversity of thought, opinion and expertise has helped the team more broadly to move in the right direction,” Ogilvie says.
Since starting at Ridley almost three years ago, she has aligned IT more to the needs of the business by overlaying ‘business unit account managers’ on top of its existing structure.
“The idea is that they have a deep, meaningful understanding of the business – not just a little bit of everything,” Ogilvie says. “We are also about to bring on an enterprise architect and really change the focus from being just enablers to being able to step up and be strategic.
“We’ve also looked at how we improve the information, governance and transparency across the business. We worked hard on putting in place a new, simpler project management and governance structure,” she says.
This enables IT to focus on projects that have a greater impact on the business and external customers. An important initiative has been the roll-out of new a business intelligence system.
“This has been hugely valuable to all the general managers of the company who want access to better information. This sounds basic, but we were working off a lot of spreadsheets and it was quite manual, so we were immature in that space,” she says.
Two years ago, Ridley created a ‘Farm Advice’ app that helps customers calculate feed conversion rates and the impact they have on farm profitability. A second ‘Dairy App’, available on the App Store, enables customers to place and edit orders with Ridley’s mills, retrieve historic or pending orders, update account details, and receive instant messages about specials and new products.
“The farming and agriculture industry is really quite technology-savvy, particularly at the top end of farming. We’ve been improving the [Farm Advice] app progressively over the past couple of years and integrating it into our ERP system.
“In the near future, we’d like to provide more live information because commodity prices heavily influence the cost of our products for farmers,” Ogilvie says.
“If we can get a live feed going at some point – those kinds of technologies are what we are focusing on – the ones that make it easier for Ridley to deal with our customers and meet their expectations. We don’t want just to keep up, we want to lead in the animal nutrition space.”
Ridley is placing more emphasis on using Agile development methodologies to deliver innovations quickly to internal and external stakeholders, and the farm apps were a good example of that, says Ogilvie.
“We got an app out there that broadly met some value criteria, and then we got some feedback from our farmers and the sales team and gave it another shot,” she says.
“Like a lot of other companies, getting the buy-in [from users] for different technologies requires a lot of testing and not just telling them but showing them that there’s value in what you are doing.
“We’ve always used Agile in iterative projects but we are putting more rigour towards it. Some projects still need a waterfall approach – mostly infrastructure projects – sometimes you can’t get around that.”
Ridley will also upgrade its existing Dynamics AX ERP system over the next two to three years using a different approach to many other organisations, says Ogilvie.
“We are currently doing process and systems mapping with ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ processes. We are actually going to spend the next year doing business readiness projects – implementing as much business change as we can before we even touch the technical upgrade process,” she says.
The idea is to get the business as ready for such an enormous change as it possibly can be, she says.
Almost an Olympian
Before landing in IT, Ogilvie almost became an Olympian, sailing a two-person 470 dinghy. In 2009, Ogilvie was selected to be part of the Australian Olympic Development Team after being spotted by Olympic sailing coach, Victor Kovalenko.
“I filled in for another girl and he asked me to stay. It was a simple matter of being in the right place at right time. I gave it a go and worked part time so I could fulfil my responsibility to the Australian Institute of Sport,” says Ogilvie.
“It was the most incredible experience, but it was a very humbling experience, and you learn a lot about your limits – both physical and psychological. You learn a lot about leadership on the water and with your team.”
At the time, Ogilvie was training six days a week and working part-time, rising at 5am to be on the water by 6am, and off to work by 9am.
“Sailing a 470, you have to be in complete and utter sync with your team mate – you practically need to know everything that they are thinking, when they are thinking it, and vice versa,” says Ogilvie.
It’s a way of thinking that Ogilvie brings into her role at Ridley. She recognises the value of teamwork and how to manage failure.
“You’re on the water and you might have a shocking race, but it’s about sitting back and analysing why it happened and learning from it,” she says. “It is something that I have taken away with me and absolutely bring into my [work life],” she says.
Ogilvie had a lot of success on the water, reaching the Sailing World Championships in Copenhagen.
“It got to a point where my sailing partner bowed out for personal reasons so unfortunately we didn’t get to the Olympics in London,” she says.
Despite being encouraged by her coach to shoot for Rio in 2016, she decided to go back to full time work.
“I had lots of fun but I sat back and asked myself, ‘do I want to be an Olympian?’ People spend a big chunk of their lives being an Olympian or striving to be one. I didn’t want to be in that position. But I still would have given 200 per cent in London and even if we didn’t get a medal, it would have been amazing,” says Ogilvie.
Making a case for diversity
Like many technology leaders, Ogilvie is passionate about improving gender diversity across business. In a November 2015 article for Asialink Echo, Ogilvie rightly says it’s a challenging yet far from impossible task to strip away ‘unconscious bias’ in men and women when it comes to hiring for roles.
Work needs to be done to deal with these biases, she says.
“We are all a bit biased in some way, but if we know that, we can manage it. It’s not an evil thing but we need to do more work and at a pragmatic level, organisations really do need to have an unofficial policy that [hiring] should always be based on merit,” she says.
Ogilvie is adamant that organisations with more women in executive positions tend to do better. She quotes McKinsey research, which found that companies with the highest proportion of women in leadership positions demonstrated, on average, a 47 per cent return on equity, and 56 per cent improvement in earnings margins.
“Just from numbers, diversity matters to company performance. And it’s not just gender diversity, it’s broader diversity as well, cultural diversity. I think all of that is really important.”
Ogilvie says that to encourage more women to enter the IT workforce, a “pipeline of work needs to happen from university up.”
“I didn’t have an appreciation of the importance or how much fun digital and IT can be until later in my career. I had this pre-conceived idea when I was at university that IT was too technical and geeky.”
When Ridley advertises for a position in IT, at least one female candidate should be considered in the first round of interviews, says Ogilvie.
“We don’t suffer from lack of cultural diversity but there’s a gender diversity challenge in my team – we’ve got a few women but we need more.”