Niche players

Clayton Wakefield is providing the kind of consultancy service he sought when he was head of technology operations and cards at ASB Group in New Zealand.As co-executive director and principal of Techspace, he is aiming to provide exceptional IT services at the most senior level."We are a part of a CIO's capability to get things executed," says "Wakefield, who set up Techspace two years ago when he left ASB. "Our strength is around ensuring delivery of critical programmes of work."All CIOs have large programmes of work and they have issues they have to deal with. In a lot of situations this is a great assistance for them; somebody that they can deal with at that level of capability, [and whom] they can trust and utilise."We identified there was a gap in the market for exceptional IT services at the most senior level," he says. "We are not really providing 'rent-a-CIO'. In fact, we find that we are more aligned to very good CIOs who would like to execute on their plans."At the same time, Techspace can provide services to companies that are transitioning their ICT teams. "They have been downsizing their teams and as a result in order to get capability, they now have to contract it," he says."Clearly that is something that we could assist with -- simply by having expertise available for short pieces of work, strategy or business cases, running the project office or executing on critical initiatives."His co-executive director at Techspace is Mike Prebble, who worked at IBM and EDS. Like Clayton, Prebble has 30 years-plus ICT executive experience, which included managing outsourcing contracts with Fonterra and Telecom New Zealand. The company has a team of more than 20 senior ICT professionals, who have held a variety of roles including CIOs, general managers, senior contract project managers, programme directors and architecture professionals.

"We don't give you juniors at Techspace," says Mark Baker, who was a CIO, then general manager and programme director at Foodstuffs Auckland.Baker says Techspace places importance on providing people who have a good track record. "You get a person who has been there or done that. They have dealt with the same issues. They are not theoretical. You don't need to train them. They are astute."Baker says since joining the Techspace team, the projects he has been working on are not IT projects per se, and these include an amalgamation programme and a funds management strategy project. "As a CIO, you know a lot about the business. You can apply that knowledge to a number of different issues facing businesses," says Baker.Growth areaWakefield says Techspace began around the datacentre and infrastructure space and is currently working on projects worth more than $200 million. He says having staff who have held executive roles with strategic ICT oversight are particularly useful. "They have a wide perspective on information technology so that is very valuable to have for IT organisations," says Wakefield. "Often, a fresh pair of eyes can make a difference in something critical."Techspace has been heavily involved in assisting people developing that capability, as well as managing the infrastructure projects around it; everything from strategy around disaster recovery, datacentre infrastructure and so on that comes with it, says Wakefield.Techspace spends a lot of time on peer reviews, workshops around best approaches for clients and putting together the teams of people and the right combination for the CIO and the board. "The teams we lead are a combination of ourselves, our clients and other suppliers. We engage from feasibility studies through to the celebration party," says Wakefield. "They tend to be fairly long-term assignments."Creating a framework

Brent Powell, another Techspace team member, says the company provides "an expand and contract type of model" that suits the current economic environment.Organisations that can not afford a full-suite of executives or a CIO role, for instance, will be looking to organisations to give that strategic thinking, focus and structure to major initiatives, he says. "That is a niche that Techspace is now playing into," says Powell, who was CIO, and then GM supply chain and systems at Fletcher Distribution. "Techspace creates a framework or a programme of work that people need to be able to deliver in the coming years."It is kind of a lock the strategy, deliver it; lock the next strategy, deliver it," he says. "In the old model, the CIO went from strategic improvement to strategic improvement as a rolling process."At the same time, CIOs can turn to Techspace as a "sounding board and a validation process"."As a CIO, you are expected to bridge that gap between the business and technology," says Powell. "[But] Where is your support network coming from? If you can bring in a like-minded or kindred spirit for a particular piece of work, where you trust the individual because you both come through the same growth and development path, then it actually makes it easier."Blended teams A major project for Techspace was the building of a datacentre for ANZ New Zealand, with the migration and transition of the technology into the new centre.Peter Lawrence, CIO of ANZ New Zealand, describes the nuances of such an undertaking. "It was not a typical building construction project, because it is the nature of what you are doing in the building," he says."The skills you need to do a large construction project as the one we took on, is different with dealing with a software vendor or hardware vendor," says Lawrence. "You have got to bring people with the right skills to help you do it the transition from that to other facilities in Auckland into a new one."Lawrence says it was important to be able to work with Wakefield with his background on running programmes and stakeholder management. At the same time, he says, Prebble brought a lot of strength in outsourcing, building and commercial contracts from his work at EDS.Lawrence says Techspace proposed to construct the space for them, but instead project managed the building phase and the transition. "We had a strong team, that was the real cornerstone," says Lawrence. "It has been [around] keeping them focused on the outcome and delivery of what we were looking for, not at any time compromising on the quality of outcome that we wanted."Another project Techspace worked on was setting up a project management office at ING New Zealand. "We have really good project management skills here. We just want coordination and to get processes in place. They [Techspace] brought that skill set to my company," says Helen Troup, chief executive officer, ING New Zealand. "I believe in project management and I see how the strengths of project management improve your chances of success," says Troup. "This is a core capability that large organisations should really develop. I want that part of my business to be boring and predictable because they just work and deliver."Asked for pointers for other organisations working on a similar project, Troup says as in any change management programme, people need to believe change is necessary. "My company was ready for a change. They were ready to try something different," she says.With Techspace, she says, "we found a company whose style, culture and approach suited us.""They did not come in and tell us everything we were doing is wrong. That is a negative approach. Techspace really worked from the grassroots and did it in a positive and engaging way."Training future CIOs Wakefield says Techspace people work "exceptionally well" with in-house ICT staff, because they are an "added capability" for a defined piece of work."In a number of cases, we have brought forward the delivery time and reduced the budget simply because we could bring a lot of experience [to the project]," he says.The downside is the nature of the projects Techspace gets involved in. "They can often be the large, complex and high-risk projects," he says, "and as a result of that we tend to work pretty hard." Wakefield expects Techspace to be busy over the next six months. "In 2008 and 2009, everybody was a little tentative around IT spend. And now, having been tentative for 18 months, they realise they should get on and do some of the projects that have been on hold. Plus they have got to get on and do the projects for this year's plan."As for how his current responsibilities compare with his role at ASB, Wakefield says Techspace allows him to focus on one thing, in contrast to the range of activities when he was CIO."It is invigorating because you work across a variety of clients. It doesn't suit everybody, but it certainly [does] for those who like to do a great job and get great results and then work over time with the whole of the industry."He is realistic if their clients were to poach Techspace people. "That is just the way of the world, really," he says. "We recognise our people are high performers. There is a number of them here I would like to see as CIOs -- this is fantastic [training] for [future] CIOs."

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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