Andrew Stevens: The challenges ahead


blog Over at the blog of capioT and IBRS analyst Phil Hassey, the topic of IBM Australia’s new top dog Andrew Stevens has been coming up, in the context of his future challenges taking the helm at one of Australia’s largest technology companies.

Hassey identifies a number of challenges for Stevens (pictured) as he attempts to keep the good ship IBM Australia, its $4 billion in revenues and its sometimes rebellious staff (damn those pesky unions) on track. Some of the sore points are the public sector, which Hassey says is presenting IBM with “some significant problems” (hello, Queensland) and the consistency of the performance of IBM’s teams. The everpresent ‘silo’ issue also gets a look in.

However for our purposes we’re most interested in Hassey’s statement on the overall leadership role taken by IBM in Australia — and that taken by the only other traditional IT business of comparable size, HP. Writes the analyst:

IBM and HP locally have not had recent leaders who have contributed enough profile to our industry with politicians, the broader business community and society in general. The improvement of IT in terms of education, public policy and society needs to grow. Leadership from the largest firms in IT (despite their American corporate address) is important and more needs to happen.

We can’t agree with Hassey more. Both former IBM Australia chief Glen Boreham and HP’s long-standing chief Paul Brandling, have been conspicuous by their absence from the national debate about technology over the past several years; Boreham’s Smarter Planet pitches and Brandling’s appearance at a recent datacentre launch alongside Communications Minister Stephen Conroy notwithstanding.

There’s no doubt that multinational corporations such as HP and IBM often view the managing directors of their Australian subsidiaries as little more than a glorified manager or chief salesperson; a trustworthy and seasoned executive put in place who won’t rock the boat and will ensure the local “go to market” strategy delivers as planned.

And that may be fine for those companies when they only have a few dozen staff in Australia — or even hundreds. But both IBM and HP have thousands.

The pair play an incredibly pivotal role in Australia’s economy, pulling in several billions of dollars each in revenues in every year and driving whole ecosystems of partners around them. Then too, they are key to the nation’s daily operations; with staff working right at the heart of every major government and financial services organisation and even in other industries such as the retail sector and resources.

Would we like to see their top management coming out more often and commenting on what headline issues such as cloud computing, skills shortages, intellectual property licensing in government, use of open source software, core banking strategies and so on mean for the Australian market? Absolutely. For the chief executives of HP and IBM Australia, hiding in the bat cave should not be an option.

Image credit: IBM