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Business leaders call for business-savvy IT grads

Media release 29 October 2008

Business leaders call for business-savvy IT graduates

A challenge has gone out to IT education providers to produce graduates who are business savvy as well as technologically literate.

The challenge was issued by chief financial officers and chief information officers at a roundtable discussion on the future of finance and IT, hosted by specialist recruitment company Robert Half.

The 11 participants, including senior executives from several business sectors, said the relationship between finance and technology was undergoing a fundamental shift.

IT was now more than just a tool to automate financial accounting functions - it had become an integral part of every aspect of business.

That meant IT professionals needed to understand not just the technical implications of their decisions, but also the business ramifications, they said, especially at senior executive level.

If CIOs wanted their role to have the same status as that of CFOs, they had to be able to speak the language of business, said Pieter Bakker, CIO of Ports of Auckland. "To really participate at the executive table and the board table, you really need to speak the language of business, you really need to understand the business ... being able to participate at an equal level in terms of business strategy development."

Kelvin Wong, CFO of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants, said senior finance executives faced a similar change in emphasis. "The jump from IT manager to CIO is the same as the jump from chief accountant to CFO - it's all about strategy and people and direction of the business rather than about debits and credits or bits and bytes. That's the gulf."

But participants said that while finance professionals were immersed in business throughout their careers, constantly focusing on profit and loss, that was not the case with IT professionals.

IT professionals started out by focusing on IT - exposure to the business view happened much later in their career path. IT was also a much younger industry, still lacking the over-arching professional organisation and career development of finance and accounting.

The challenge for the education sector was to encourage more IT students to take a business focus, combining business and technology in their qualifications, said the participants. Although some institutions, such as AUT University, offered conjoint finance and technology degrees, that combination was not yet popular.

Judith McKay, GM - Finance & Resources at AUT University said she had been told by AUT's Dean of Business that the university was revamping its business and IT qualifications for business students.

"We intend to replacing the existing IT and eBusiness majors with a new business information systems major, which better matches the needs of the students and industry. The intention is not to train students for the IT industry, but rather IT-savvy graduates for business."

Steve McGowan, division manager with Robert Half Technology in Auckland, said he had seen increasing demand from employers for intermediate to senior candidates who understood business and technology equally well.

The finance and IT industries faced another similar challenge, the participants said. Not every technical specialist wanted to be promoted to CIO or CFO level, where they must take a generalist's view. One answer, for both industries, was to develop dual career paths - one leading to technical speciality, with remuneration that genuinely rewarded individuals for their true benefit to the business, the other leading down a generalist management track.

Terry McLaughlin, CEO of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants, said the issue of technology and education was a crucial one. "New Zealand's single biggest economic problem is labour market productivity and the solution is education and technology, so it's vital really. That's the only thing that's going to get us up the OECD rankings."

Participants at the 2008 Robert Half Roundtable discussion were: Megan Alexander Senior Manager, Robert Half International; David Alley GM - Finance and Corporate Services, Competenz; Pieter Bakker CIO, Ports of Auckland Ltd; Mark Benjamin CFO, Excell Corporation Ltd; David Ingram CFO, Zeacom Ltd; Steve McGowan Division Manager, Robert Half Technology; Judith McKay GM - Finance & Resources, AUT University; Terry McLaughlin CEO, New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants; Martyn Seddon GM - Information Systems, Turners and Growers Ltd; Kelvin Wong CFO, New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants; Simeon Wright CFO, Dystance NZ Ltd.

Copies of the resulting White Paper, "Where will technology take accounting and finance in the next five years?" can be ordered free of charge at


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