Making the transition from IT corporate manager to CIO: Ellis Brover

Toyota Australia CIO Ellis Brover says proven skills in people management, combined with an IT background, are essential for entering the C-Suite

Toyota Australia CIO Ellis Brover.

Toyota Australia CIO Ellis Brover.

Spending 11 years at Toyota Australia in a variety of roles meant Ellis Brover was “in a fortunate position” when the role of CIO came up in late 2013.

Brover joined the car manufacturer in 2002 as a principal software architect. After a year in that role, he became a development & architecture manager in 2004. In 2007, he stepped up to solutions delivery corporate manager for offerings such as SAP/core systems and business intelligence.

In 2010, his solutions delivery corporate manager role changed to infrastructure, end-user services, networks and security.

“Toyota gives staff great opportunities for rotation to experience diverse functional areas and different roles, so it's a great company in which to build a long-term career,” he told CIO Australia.

The former corporate manager of IT service delivery has been in the CIO role since January 2014.

Brover was able to do further business training through Toyota’s staff development program which includes classroom training, online resources, and on-the-job development plans.

“It is common to be assigned to lead or participate in significant business activities outside your day-to-day role, and in my experience these have been the most valuable learning opportunities. Going forward in this role [of CIO] I expect to continue to learn more about the intricacies of our business,” he said.

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Skills to pay the bills

A technology background on its own is “not enough” for the modern CIO, said Brover.

“You need proven skills in people management, strategic thinking, and leading change. Toyota is world-renowned for its management development system because we develop analytical managers who strive for continuous improvement, quickly grasp the root cause behind problems, and implement sustainable solutions,” he said.

However, a strong IT background coupled with an understanding of development and operations is a “huge advantage” for a CIO.

“Whilst you will no longer be hands-on in a CIO role, a technology background gives you the context to see how IT can add value, build and lead high-performing teams of technical specialists, and understand the challenges they face,” Brover said.

According to Brover, the CIO role is “very different” to an IT manager as the CIO’s gaze needs to be focused outwards on the business. “An effective CIO must drive business reform through technology and be engaged in key business decisions as a trusted peer.”

Getting engaged in business decision takes “technologists outside their comfort zone”, but according to Brover, it's the difference between an IT function that is a service provider versus one that is a “strategic enabler".

He added that Toyota’s business principles, The Toyota Way, are “just as relevant to IT” as other aspects of the business. “The IT industry has recently started adopting these principles to things such as Agile development which is similar to Toyota’s Kanban [just-in-time production] and ITIL continual service improvement which we call Kaizen.”

Toyota Australia post 2017

In February 2014, it was reported that Toyota will cease Australian production of vehicles in 2017 due to the lower costs of manufacturing in Japan and China.

Brover acknowledged that the company will be embarking on a “huge transformation” and will be “quite a different company” after 2017.

“We are currently working through a planning process to understand the implications for each area of the company, so it is too early to speculate on exactly what impact there will be to IT,” he said.

“Nevertheless, I can say that IT has always focussed a significant portion of our resources on helping the sales and distribution functions of the company, which will of course continue after 2017.”

Brover said that technology is becoming “more critical” as a differentiator to help the company get closer to car buyers through digital marketing or support Toyota dealers to be more efficient. “I expect that IT will continue to be critical to Toyota's success in Australia. The key for us will be to ensure that our activities are aligned with the overall business priorities, and that we are able to respond with the agility that the business requires.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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