by CIO New Zealand

CIO100 2018 #17: Brian Northern, Fulton Hogan

Mar 28, 2018
CareersDigital TransformationIT Leadership

“We have three strategic objectives at Fulton Hogan,” says Group CIO, Brian Northern.

“They are to improve the margin for the organisation, enable growth through acquisition or organically and finally to foster innovation to enable efficiencies and a competitive advantage for the company.”

A recent IT innovation was an electronic timesheet application integrated with the company’s electronic Daily Job Record, allowing for a single entry of time. It captures both staff time for paid employees and claiming time against a job respectively.

“Getting information about a job electronically, increasing accuracy and more importantly timeliness of the information, is crucial to increase our claim accuracy to our clients. As we prepare our claim to the client based on our actual work performed for a lot of our jobs.” says Northern.

He cites three other significant technology innovations introduced over the past year, with two of them adopted mainstream.

The first is the use of virtual reality to create an application to train staff in a high risk activity, the bitumen boil out procedure.

“Working collaboratively with a Christchurch startup, our engineers enabled the application to be gradually refined and made more specific to the equipment used at Fulton Hogan. The innovation was a finalist in the 2017 NZ innovation awards (training and development category) and the application allows our staff to be trained safely and more efficiently.”

The second innovation which is being introduced as a proof of concept for further adoption, utilises sensors (internet of things) to determine pre-warning for the formation of black ice on roads Fulton Hogan is maintaining for clients.

This will enable the grit spreaders to be forewarned and be able to pre-empt treating black ice on the roads, as opposed to the current situation where they are sent out after an inspection and the black ice is already present.

“As well, working with one of our strategic partners we introduced a product to give real-time alerts of traffic build ups around work sites to our staff on the ground and our clients. This real time view around our work sites, not just the immediate proximity, means we can manage the traffic effects of a road closure or partial closure, sending out real time SMS alerts,” he says.

The product also allows for post travel time delay reporting (which the company can use to measure against the contract Key Performance Indicators) and this is valued by our clients (the roading authority), he says.

“All innovations have had significant operational impacts on our staff as we are now pushing technological solutions to our field staff that previously were not exposed to technology. We have overcome these with significant change management, extensive training and communication plans put in place to facilitate the adoption of the technology,” says Northern.

“I have regular board meetings where I focus on the presentation of cybersecurity updates (taking a risk based approach), the IT strategy of the organisation and progress on the strategy.

“I always have a final session on strategic technology trends. These trends are business focused not technology focused, so not focusing on the technology of the internet of things but how using sensors can drive operational efficiency by reducing maintenance costs with accurate real time predictive not routine scheduled maintenance activities as an example,” says Northern.

Within Fulton Hogan’s IT team there is a wide range of cultures, with more diversity than the organisation as a whole. There has also been a constant drive to increase the number of women in the team, particularly at a senior level.

“We now have three women in our senior management team with all having been promoted through. As part of our performance review process we also have KPIs around training, mentoring and strategy alignment.

“Within our senior management team we also have a mentoring program where each of the functional leads mentors someone in one of the other functional areas.”

Northern says the biggest career lesson he has learnt is to closely consider communication requirements and how these need to be tailored to fit throughout various levels of the organisation.

“On many occasions when I was first in the role, the alignment and understanding of the IT strategy by the board wasn’t hitting the mark,” he says.

“This was similar at the executive level and general management level. The lesson learnt here is to make the message for the board understandable and in plain language focusing on risk and governance, the language of the board.

“The executives were more interested in innovation and business enablement so ensuring the message was centered around those themes helped get all messages across,” he says.

“Finally, at the staff level, the message had to be centered around ‘what’s in it for me?’

“We have also had a few large projects that have had a high profile, and the learning is to ensure a very tight scope, with no to minimal change control, and experts in the field, even if they are from different companies, to deliver the project.”