Home and Away

Home and Away

Nemawashi might be the perfect model for Aussie branch office CIOs wanting to build influence among their global peers, wherever head office might be

Multinational CIOs must also overcome a range of practical difficulties including time and distance barriers, and then summon up the charisma needed to shift their organization from a local mind-set to a global one, and sometimes, the humility needed to take others' leads. That said, many of them say the rewards of working in multinationals, including the ability to share ideas and worries with peers without fear of giving away competitive secrets, and the chance to learn from CIOs in other regions, can be immense.

How much say the local CIO gets in a multinational IT set-up - or indeed whether there is even a local CIO - varies from organization to organization.

Ericsson Australia, for instance, has no formal CIO role, with much of the CIO work done at the Stockholm head office. Ericsson globally employees 60,000 people, with 2 percent of that number - just over 1000 people - employed in Australia and New Zealand. "On that basis we do have a team that is responsible for our IT facilities, and then the team that sits within our finance function, but we in the global organization have partnered with Hewlett-Packard to provide IT on a global basis and most of our desktop support, our application support, is performed by IBM," director of marketing and business development Tony Malligeorgos says.

The situation is vastly different for Sukkar. He is responsible for supporting eight other countries as well as Australia under a shared service office arrangement. And although the Alcatel head office is in Paris, his department reports into the regional head office in Shanghai. "We have a CIO based in Shanghai and we have also got a global CIO as well," he says. If headquarters sometimes forgets to tell Sukkar things he needs to know, or leaves it until the last minute, he is thankful that he has been able to react reasonably quickly. "I cannot think of a time when we were not told or we were told very late and it caused some massive inconvenience so far, but perhaps that is more good fortune than anything else."

There are plenty of other models Aussie CIOs in multinationals work to. For instance Fresenius Medical Care Asia-Pacific IT director Thomas Pinn says while Fresenius is headquartered in the US, he works much more closely with the regional head office in Frankfurt, Germany. "A very high percentage of our IT work - say 80 to 90 percent - is done in our own shop in Asia as the company is very decentralized," Pinn says. "But there are globally imposed standards that make a lot of sense and the company has recently set up a global IT steering committee to look at new technology."

By contrast Kerry Holling, IT country account manager for Hewlett-Packard, South Pacific, says HP has a corporate headquarters in the US where the CIO sits, then a regional management structure, with Australia and New Zealand (known as the South Pacific region) sitting in the Asia-Pacific region. "I don't actually have a direct relationship to the office of the CIO, because I need to collaborate with my colleagues at an Asia-Pacific level and they really have the linkages up to the corporate office," Holling says.

Standards, systems, policies and strategies are all set by HP's corporate CIO, and although CIOs at regional and country level have input into such decisions, their main job is to implement the decisions made by others. Sometimes that means being left out of the decision-making loop altogether, Holling says.

"To be honest I would prefer to have a more direct relationship with the corporate office, but that is just not the case in terms of how we are structured today," he says.

Overall, Holling says his communication links with the Asia-Pacific office are strong, with weekly two-hour management conference calls (unfortunately held on Friday afternoons, which does not always suit him all that well) keeping him pretty much in touch with what is going on. Even so, without the close relationships he has forged with some people at corporate headquarters, which provide some "back channel communication", he says there would be a constant danger that he would remain ignorant of important issues until some time down the track.

Although Holling goes to Singapore perhaps three times a year for a get-together of regional IT managers, HP no longer sees the need to stage global CIO events in the US. "It's a very costly exercise and it's really not something that's on the radar any more," Holling says. "It's a big trip to go to the US. I have formed some relationships and continue to foster communication via those channels as a consequence of those global meetings, but it has been a while since the last one so from that point of view those contacts tend to diminish over time."

Like Holling, Pinn does relatively little travel, primarily communicating with Frankfurt via video and teleconferencing. The downside is that those meetings are frequently in the middle of the Sydney night. Fresenius relies heavily on NetMeeting and stream sharing so that conference participants can view the same data and information.

Pinn knows well the feeling of being forgotten. He says in earlier years when the organization was growing and a corporate IT shop was setting standards, he did often feel he was left out in the cold and wished for more corporate support. As soon as he learned that he had to help himself by raising his profile and credibility to get anywhere, all that changed. "Now we are really working with the corporate IT organization in a way where I am sourcing more and more through them, because they are starting up in Asia. So a good relationship is developing," he says.

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