In 2002, Computing Canada introduced the IT Executive of the Year award to recognize information technology leaders who stand apart from the crowd. Readers encouraged us to expand the awards program to all levels of IT leaders, so this year we are launching the IT Leadership Awards, which recognize the achievements of IT professionals in six categories. From a large number of nominations, our judges chose the following people and projects as outstanding examples of IT Leadership in Canadian organizations.
Project Team of the Year:
Stephen Caldwell, Consultant, RBC Financial Group
Dennis McPeak, Technical Architect, RBC Financial Group
When the Royal Bank of Canada wanted to bring together all of its general ledgers from various subsidiaries into one product, it knew one of the keys to success would be hand-picking the right project leads to direct the undertaking. That, says managing director of finance solutions G.C. (Charley) Arakelian, is why the bank chose Dennis McPeak and Stephen Caldwell.
One of the first challenges, says McPeak, who is a technical architect for the RBC Financial Group, was selecting a general ledger on which to standardize. After a process that took more time than expected, the committee finally
settled on PeopleSoft’s Financial General Ledger as the core application.
“It offered the most flexibility,” McPeak says.
This was an important requirement. There were initially 41 separate and distinct general ledger systems that had to be converted into one — with a lot of different needs to meet.
The other major draw to the PeopleSoft product was that it could handle the million-plus transactions that had to be made with the ledger as a single batch. With other solutions, Arakelian says, RBC would have had to divide the transactions into batches of 1,000.
“Getting a global consensus on a product was not easy,” says Caldwell, who was brought in as a consultant on the project.
That’s one of the reasons the selection process took three months longer than originally planned, Arakelian says.
“We wanted to make sure we had it right,” he says. There were a lot of last-minute challenges to the PeopleSoft selection.
“We had to make sure they weren’t legitimate,” he says.
The project team had to distinguish between real challenges, such as regulation requirements, from those that were motivated largely through a resistance to change, Arakelian says.
The team would get together on a weekly basis and address the challenges.
Keeping a lid on scope creep was another key to the project’s timely completion, McPeak says. Some people saw the project as an opportunity to push forward their own agendas, he says.
Despite the fact that the product selection took three months longer than planned, the project was still completed in time. The deadline couldn’t be pushed back because that would have put the completion at the year-end, says Arakelian, who took over the project once implementation was completed.
Another key to the 30-month-long project, which spanned more than 400 legal entities, 34 distinct sites and 30 countries, was making sure RBC retained the knowledge of people who worked on the project as they moved onto other things. As team members completed their parts of the project, they had to make up a transition list.
“We retained a lot of processes that could have walked out the door but thankfully didn’t,” McPeak says.
The formal handover of the project from the project team to Arakelian took place in November, but he began participating six months earlier in order to smooth the process.
As a result of consolidating the ledger, the RBC Financial Group was able to increase profitability and revenues as well as reduce costs, the team says.
It has also increased speed of response to customers, which has led to greater customer satisfaction, McPeak says.
— Poonam Khanna
Stephen Ibaraki, Industry Analyst
Stephen Ibaraki’s parents always instilled in him the importance of giving back to the community, and that’s why he has spent much of his IT career teaching others in one way or another.
Ibaraki discovered his love for IT at an early age and at the age of 10, he built his own analogue computer.
But the first job he actually got paid for wasn’t in IT. The British Columbia-based company he worked for as a general helper, however, did have a digital system for taking food orders that would often break down. The company would have to fly someone from Calgary to fix it at $100 an hour, starting from when he got on the plane.
“I offered to work on it myself and I was able to fix it by reading books,” he says. Ibaraki charged the company $25 an hour. At the time minimum wage was $1 something an hour.
After that, Ibaraki got a job as a data processing operator at Datatech Systems Ltd. The company processed data for a variety of organizations, including municipalities, school boards, and manufacturing and retail companies.
“So it was a great environment.”
While working at Datatech, Ibaraki approached the local papers about writing a column on computers. He also approached a local college about teaching a course on computers for the general public. During that period, he produced more than 100 technical papers, including a marketing guide and a 400-page guide to computers and software trends for the Canadian office products industry, which was just beginning to see the importance of IT in the office.
At his job, Ibaraki quickly moved up to being a data processing manager and then into systems analysis. From there, he wanted to challenge himself further and learn something he’d never tried before: Sales.
“When I asked the managers to go into sales, they expressed surprise. But I knew if I went into sales, it would give me a better picture of how everything operated,” he says.
He made a bet that he’d make a sale in his first week and won. This, he says, was despite the fact that he was shy. He practised role-playing in front of his relatives and the mirror.
Ibaraki has put his talents to use in multiple areas. He wrote a business development plan for his company, developed a hardware innovation for monitoring mainframe performance and improving operation efficiency, and developed business applications for microcomputers and supporting software. He wrote code and donated it anonymously to the community.
At the request of the Canadian Office Products Association, Ibaraki spoke at one of their major conferences. This led him to think about becoming a full-time consultant. To accompany his talk, he wrote a 400-page guide for the industry.
He left Datatech and got into consulting.
He also concentrated more on his teaching, mentoring and writing, which he says was his way of giving back to the community. In order to further his reach, he spoke at a number of trade shows. For a long time, he worked an average of 20 hours a day, seven days a week, he says.
“Personal time was maximized into quality time.”
After teaching for 25 years, Ibaraki decided he needed to spend more time with his family. He currently consults and works on various boards. But he says, he continues to educate others through the interviews he does for the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS). The interviews focus on passing knowledge about best practices onto the community and are posted on the CIPS Web site.
“I’m still teaching, but in a different way.”
— Poonam Khanna
On Wednesday: Winners of the IT Manager and IT Mentor of the year.