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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

While conference calls serve Holling and Pinn for now, Ernst & Young Australia CIO Stephen Arnold still relies on physical travel to remain in contact with his peers, and he holds a firm belief in the value of regular face-to-face contact with his counterparts overseas. "Staying in touch in a global organization is something that you have to constantly work at," Arnold insists. "Attendance at formal meetings, which inevitably means travelling to Europe or the US, supplemented by late night conference calls, is the primary method. This is then supplemented by informal discussions with contacts via telephone, instant messaging and e-mail."

Arnold says establishing a personal relationship with key stakeholders is critical. Since distance and time zone differences can make this difficult for citizens of the Asia-Pacific, physically attending meetings helps build rapport. Without these close ties, he says, it can be all too easy for the local CIO to be ignored or overlooked when the big decisions are being made, or vital messages need to be conveyed.

"If the communication processes are working properly, surprises shouldn't happen. The biggest problem I think I have experienced is not being left out but just missing out on some of the less important but interesting details, or getting this additional information later," Arnold says.

For some Aussie CIOs, staying in touch with corporate head office is relatively easy. JPMorgan Chase, in the interests of achieving global standards and consistency, has been deliberately structured to ensure its global business strategy, including technology agendas, flows through the entire organization.

Liang Chen, head of global technology infrastructure, JPMorgan Australia, says regular CEO communication to employees, rich content on internal Web sites, constant global and regional town hall meetings, and regular visits by business leaders all provide continuous and effective communication. "Being part of the local management team, you are constantly engaged with the organization at regional and global levels. In addition, technology operations managers often have multiple reporting lines, one to the local management and another to the regional or global management, ensuring staff don't operate in isolation," Chen says.

The technology operating model of JPMorgan requires great teamwork. To drive an end-to-end service delivery agenda to the business in one country requires local resources to do the work, but also support services from other locations under the organization's hub/spoke model, Chen says. Global or regional product managers are also involved since so many local solutions are based on global tools and processes. Hence local CIOs are part of a regional management structure. Regular weekly conference calls, frequent cross-regional or global meetings and internal e-mails provide a good platform for people around the world to be connected and communicate.

"Achieving the level of networking needed to maximize the effectiveness of my job is a constant challenge," Chen says.

Things work a little differently at the AXA Group in the Asia-Pacific, a publicly-listed company where Wendy Thorpe is CIO. Thorpe has her own team and operates relatively independently, but also works closely with the 20-strong IT coordinating team in Paris, working under the global CIO. The global organization works very much as a federal system, she says.

The CIOs for each of the seven largest companies in the AXA group - including the Australian arm - together form what are known as the IS strategic and steering committees, which meet quarterly face-to-face - "You don't go, you don't get a vote," Thorpe says - to set the strategic IT direction.

"There are also a number of other global groups and teams that meet, which my direct reports go to," she says. "For example, there is an IT architecture board; there is a processes group; and they also combine peers from the various companies and get together to come up with proposals that come up to the strategic committee for discussion and endorsement."

It is an arrangement that works very well, Thorpe says, but only because the globally set standards are practical, sensible and limited.

"The companies are quite different businesses in different parts of the world. [They] are all in the financial protection and wealth management space, but for example, in Europe they have got property and casualty, while we don't do property and casualty here in this market.

"Therefore the systems of the businesses are quite different. So the standards that are set are around sensible things - for example interface systems such as general ledgers, e-commerce tools, those sorts of things. But in terms of applications, the regulations and the businesses are different so therefore I cannot see where it would be practical to have global systems or standards for other more business-related applications."

It is an arrangement, she says, that gives her considerable autonomy.

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