Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Winning control of information

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Knowledge is strength, but well-organised knowledge is better

Information LeadershipWhile technical knowledge is vital in some areas, says Sarah Heal, people skills can be just as valuable. Photo / Dean Purcell
Information LeadershipWhile technical knowledge is vital in some areas, says Sarah Heal, people skills can be just as valuable. Photo / Dean Purcell

When Sarah Heal started out in business nearly a decade ago, she really did write the book.

Working with partner in life and business Grant Margison on the publication Flapping to Flying: Getting value not grief from information technology meant spending a lot of time "talking and figuring things out", says Heal.

"That was, I suppose, the intellectual property that formed the basis for the business, so I think in that respect we are a little bit unusual in that we really went through a process where we looked at our experiences, talked to other people, we found out about their experiences, then we wrote that all up and that became the platform from which we launched."

That business is Information Leadership, a Christchurch-based company specialising in helping organisations understand and get control of information.

"We help them know what they've got, we help them organise it well and we help them deliver it to their staff whenever, wherever it's needed," says Heal, 42.

Information Leadership combines the skills of its two founders: Heal's background in archives management and Margison's former work in senior management overseeing technology functions.

On day one it had two clients, Otorohanga District Council and North Shore City Council, but it has now worked for more than 150 organisations and has a turnover of around $5 million.

Information Leadership goes up against some of the technology heavy hitters - firms with hundreds, if not thousands on the payroll, but Heal says there is no aspiration to build the business to that size.

She says successful IT projects are often about having competent, well-trained people inside a client's organisation, and by freely sharing knowledge with their clients they can not only boost the success of the project but also make up for the firm's lack of size. "The stuff that we do isn't always particularly sexy but we think there is a need for it and we think that one of the ways we can contribute is by sharing our insights and sharing our ideas."

Making customers self-sufficient is one the features that sets Information Leadership apart from its competitors, says Heal.

It is also open to employing people from a range of backgrounds alongside those with specialist records-management and technology-based skills.

This has seen a number of engineers, a lawyer and a probation officer join the ranks at Information Leadership.

"There are certain areas where you do have specialists," says Heal.

"Having said that, a whole lot of what makes implementation successful is actually understanding what users want and being able to describe that well, being able to bridge that gap between technical people and business users, being able to deliver change management programmes, being able to train and support people and I suppose what we've found in those particular areas is that people who've had some sort of a background in soft skills, some sort of a background where they've been working with people, like our probation officer for example, they're actually unbelievable at finding out what users need and then articulating that clearly because they've had that training in listening to people."

They've found former engineers in particular are good at unpicking users' needs and using technology to build solutions that make sense.

A turning point for the business came in late 2006 when three separate clients approached Heal and Margison asking for help with Microsoft SharePoint, a web-based content and document management system.

At that point Information Leadership was consulting across a range of technology solutions for information management, records management and knowledge management, but not SharePoint.

Even though it had no SharePoint expertise, the organisations trusted the advice they got from Information Leadership and in effect provided the seed money to develop a practice in that area.

SharePoint work now makes up 75 per cent of the business, boosted 18 months ago by the arrival of former Microsoft consultant and international SharePoint expert Ian Morrish, which has seen the Wellington office where he is based grow to 10 staff.

The firm is now travelling the country to introduce clients to a new version of its SharePoint-based records management software, designed to help public organisations comply with the Public Records Act, legislation that covers the creation, maintenance and disposal of information in public organisations.

Heal says they've had inquiries from Australia but have no ambition to cross the Ditch, preferring to focus on customers here.

"I would see us growing to match that demand. Where there are great customers and projects we'll grow and build and deliver on those."

After nearly 10 years in her "family company" Heal says she couldn't imagine stopping and doing something different.

"It sounds corny but it really, really helps if you love what you do and so being passionate about what we can deliver for people, being genuinely interested in the kind of problems our customers have, that's been huge."

- NZ Herald

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Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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