by Nadia Cameron

Fairfax CIO: IT-business collaboration requires customer and external focus

Jan 16, 20155 mins
CareersCollaboration SoftwareIT Leadership

The tools necessary to fostering a collaborative culture are sitting outside your company’s four walls and in the hands of your customers, according to Fairfax’s outgoing CIO, Andrew Lam-Po-Tang.

Speaking to CIO Australia following news of his resignation from the media company earlier this week, Lam-Po-Tang said the most personally rewarding experience he has undertaken during his three-year tenure was rebuilding the culture of the IT and digital department to be more customer oriented.

“As a CIO, you have some responsibility for that [transformation] in that the expectations and your own behaviour, in part, set the model for the way people interact,” he said.

“But all of this starts with an external view. The important thing is to never lose sight of the fact that there are customers to be served and you can measure everything you are doing against that relevance.”

Lam-Po-Tang agreed external customer delivery hasn’t always been the priority for IT – to the CIO’s detriment.

“You can try and create a collaborative culture through being nice, and through interpersonal relationships. Sure, that’s part of this process, but collaboration is only sustainable if you have common objectives,” he said.

“In my experience, they are usually found outside of the business – they are found in your customers and competitors.

“It’s a happy meeting when you integrate that external perspective into your day-to-day view of decisions and initiatives, with looking for ways to improve collaboration and team work.”

Lam-Po-Tang finishes up at Fairfax at the end of March. The recruitment process for a new CIO is already underway. He said his contract at the media company was always expected to be three years.

“This time-frame has seen us transform the technology function through centralisation, optimisation, simplification and consolidation,” he said.

“That’s not to say there isn’t a mountain of different work to be done by the next CIO, particularly in the digital space. But it is a good time to leave, as that [first transformation phase] is what I signed up to do.”

Lam-Po-Tang has worked on a number of initiatives during his three years at Fairfax not only aimed at improving collaboration between IT and the business, but also driving better agility across the organisation.

One of these was spearheading the rollout of activity-based working in Fairfax’s Sydney and Melbourne offices. The project, which took place in 2013, involved upgrading office features, building workplace transformation processes, and changing the way people collaborate across teams, he said.

Thanks to the success of that early work, activity-based working is now being rolled out across all Fairfax’s facilities across Australia and New Zealand.

“Customer delivery is unequivocally the common ground which everyone in the business can agree on,” he continued. “It’s very hard to be agile if you don’t have common objectives as a business.”

Fairfax has also moved to a centralised IT and digital team based on a demand management model in recent years.

Previously, IT, digital and product solutions capabilities were distinct functions, often replicated across several areas of the business, such as Australia’s publishing businesses versus New Zealand. Under Lam-Po-Tang’s leadership, all of these were regrouped as a central team with two key focus points: IT and product solutions. The latter includes all digital interfacing products customers interact with directly.

Lam-Po-Tang set-up a demand management matrix and service management model, embedding dedicated technology directors into each core business unit leadership team. These hybrid roles are aimed at better shaping the technology strategy to deliver against core business objectives.

Lam-Po-Tang said digital skills were already advanced across the Fairfax business, making it easier to unite IT and digital capabilities. It also meant two-thirds of the team were involved in the program of change from the beginning. The media group maintains 350 websites, 100 mobile apps and attracts 1 billion page views on average per months across its digital properties.

“My job was more about spotting talent within and giving those staff a chance to have greater influence and impact, and be part of a bigger team,” he said.

While demand management is not a new idea for IT, Lam-Po-Tang said it was vital for technology leaders sitting in their respective business units to be “comfortable with constructive tension” between what’s right for the business, and the opportunities for scale and systems consolidation.

“I don’t have unlimited funds, and I can’t spend my way to agility,” Lam-Po-Tang pointed out. “This notion of having a robust discussion around the trade-offs between that business need and resources, versus getting good scale benefits from common platforms is important.”

Another of Lam-Po-Tang’s professional milestones was the migration of the entire Fairfax business to Google Apps, one of the first enterprise-level cloud implementation projects undertaken by an Australian organisation. Under the project, which ran in 2012/2013, 10,500 users migrated to the public cloud platform and generated significant interest.

“I still have peer CIOs asking me about that,” he added.

Last year, he also helped launch a new subscriptions model across Fairfax’s digital properties.

Lam-Po-Tang is looking for his next career opportunity overseas, and has London and the east and west coasts of the US in his sights. He said the decision to relocate was driven by family reasons.

Prior to joining Fairfax, Lam-Po-Tang ran his own consultancy business as well as worked part-time for Amcor Packaging in a global IT director’s role for four years. He also spent a year in Zurich working on a transformation project.

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