As someone who enjoys yacht racing, Ian Campbell seems very well placed to be at the helm of The Corporate IT Forum (tif.), helping to map its future strategy, and giving its members what they want.

And for the former group IT director of British Energy, the waters over the last three years have been particularly choppy. Not only did he spearhead a complete change programme there, but he also took on a new role at the Royal Mail, as well as becoming an integral part of one of the IT profession’s most effective member groups.

The Corporate IT Forum is a rare beast in the IT industry – a member organisation totally devoid of vendors or consultants, and it is highly protective of that independence. It relies solely on its corporate members to pay for and dictate its agenda, and does little in the way of marketing.

Campbell only became aware of tif. in 2005, when he began working for British Energy and he attended a member workshop on Business Process Management. “I was blown away by how people used the forum,” he says. By the end of 2006 he had become its chairman. “The Corporate IT Forum doesn’t have a peer-to-peer networking ethos in the same way that other organisations like CIO Connect do, and in a way that is one of its strengths. The industry is incestuous so you do tend to mix with your peers through the forum, but that is not the main purpose.”

His reaction to tif. was all the more convincing given his wide experience. Campbell is an IT person through and through, and he has worked for some of the leading global organisations, including Citigroup, where he had a global role growing corporate and retail financial services, Energis, PA Consulting and Logica.

Tif. has a special place in the IT profession, according to Campbell. It does not compete with other CIO forums, but complements them, and offers members important, practical benefits. “My target as chairman of The Corporate IT Forum is to work alongside the CIO groups, like CIO Connect. We have a CIO meeting once a year, so we are not competing with the other individual forums, we have an affinity with them.”

Membership of tif. comes through corporations and companies, which are the subscribers, not the staff themselves. It is very much a practical body, not a consulting group, Campbell says. The knowledge exchanged within tif. is drawn from the practical experience of users in meeting real corporate business needs with IT solutions. And this knowledge is shared in a trusted, sales-free environment. “tif. members are practitioners not consultants, so workshops and activities are member driven, with the members deciding which issues they look at,” he says. “A principal in each company organises membership within the company, with access to documents and research from tif.”

Above the parapet
Senior IT people tend to live in a fairly small world, says Campbell. They have a passion and commitment for their organisation, but don’t mind sharing the utility stuff, which is discussed at the workshop level. Most members who attend activities are at the level below the CTO or CIO, so are senior IT managers who can pass the information back to the rest of their organisation, but who won’t give away any commercial secrets. “tif. isn’t about that and its members wouldn’t expect it.”

One of the most effective tools tif. offers members is the ability for the principal to see the pattern of usage by staff of tif.’s resources. This gives them a very accurate handle on the types of issues they are handling, commitment levels and how cost effective membership is.

The Corporate IT Forum is aimed squarely at larger organisations where enterprise is a reality not a theory. Campbell says this means that members who attend tif. workshops really contribute to the agenda, sharing experiences and advice. The members deal in absolute truths – things they have actually done in their IT departments, and have a horror of vendors and consultants, according to Campbell. “If you take the golden shilling inevitably you have to compromise,” he says. “We operate Chatham House Rules, and the meetings are quite in-depth with special interest groups where appropriate.”

There are about 150 UK organisations that belong to tif., and they have a collective turnover of more than a trillion euros, and spend around 35 billion euros annually on IT, employing about 100,000 IT staff. “Obviously vendors would love to speak to our members, but tif. is not the right vehicle for that, it is more about sharing real experiences with other members,” says Campbell.

Campbell is convinced that tif. saves its members time, allows them to be more cost effective and to avoid implementation mistakes. “If I had to pay to go to workshops for the information other members have provided I would have done it,” he says. “I have saved tens of thousands in avoiding mistakes, and by knowing about effective shortcuts. We know for sure, for example, that there is no truly successful SOA application out there at the moment, because it is something the members have discussed. When you are also looking at long-term IT investment in the business cycle, as well as practical solutions, the information provided by the forum is very valuable.”

Although tif.’s main role is to share information between its members, consultants are not included in the membership, because members don’t want to be sold to. “It is like the situation with vendors,” explains Campbell. “We also deal with what happens in practical terms, rather than theories. There is obviously a place for consultants, and they can offer benefits, but it isn’t here.”

As well as offering members an information forum, tif. also operates as a lobbyist, for example, it successfully lobbied Microsoft over software licensing some time ago. Currently the organisation’s CEO David Roberts is talking to the government about e-crime. Its security sector, tiSS, shares important information about security threats, and how to deal with them, preventing fraud and keeping data safe. “Members are looking at finding a central way to do security, and because of our membership and independence we can say look this is a hot topic – listen to us,” says Campbell. “The same is true for other issues, like green IT, we can show government departments best practice.”

Relationship help
Tif. also offers two other services, benchmarking, and help to form strategic supplier relationships. The continuous performance improvement (CPI) benchmarking service is for both enterprise IT and outsourced IT. “It was something the members wanted, and the benchmarking we do can be compared with figures a year later, and can show which relative changes have taken place,” says Campbell. “We can show and demonstrate the progress, and allow members to focus on different areas and improve performance. It has been a huge success with the members because of its integrity.”

About: The Corporate IT Forum (tif.)

The forum was set up in 1996 by a group of corporate IT users. Vendors and consultants can’t join, and membership is aimed at enterprise-sized corporations. There are three core services:
Question and answer tif. staff guide members to the organisation’s database, or provide a contact point to other members.
Knowledge centre A searchable database of practical knowledge, which includes a contacts directory, output reports from workshops and Q&A exchanges.
Activities A range of on and offline events and workshops that focus on collaborative discussion.

Since it began 12 years ago tif. has evolved, and is now beginning to attract the attention of other departments in organisations that rely heavily on IT, like HR and procurements, according to Campbell, and this illustrates how the perception of the role of IT in business has begun to change. “Both of these departments have a very high IT focus, and in the case of HR recruiting for IT is very different from recruiting for other parts of an organisation,” says Campbell. “In terms of procurement, effective IT buying is absolutely critical to a business, and people working in procurement want to understand it better.”

Campbell says tif. has a very high member retention rate, and relies on word of mouth recommendations from its members. It has a core team, with relationship management and one which runs events, web executives, automated anonymous or named to cater for everyone’s needs. Campbell as chairman handles strategy, and the vice chair runs the workshops and operations. “Basically if there is value in a subject area for our members, and demand for it, we will do it. Of course networking opportunities come from this too.”
Given the continued consolidation and globalisation of corporations, tif.’s evolution has to be linked to the larger international markets, especially as most of its members are large corporate companies with an international interest. So it has begun to work with similar organisations on mainland Europe with, says Campbell some early success. “What we are doing is creating a loose federation of corporate forums across Europe, with EuroCIO as an umbrella organisation for individual country forums,” says Campbell.

European links
EuroCIO includes Club Informatique des GRandes Entreprises Françaises (CIGREF) in France and CIO Colloquium in Germany, as well as tif., with the three organisations represented on the board of EuroCIO. “This network has members with best practice in a range of IT disciplines across Europe,” says Campbell. “Many people in tif. already have a lot of international experience of the IT issues around international work through mergers and acquisitions, which is priceless in this arena. It will be a huge benefit to members. The numbers of people involved means that sometimes there are language barriers, but not often.”

Last November there were around 130 members at EuroCIO 2007 in Geneva. Campbell says there were only four UK organisations represented this time, but is convinced of its value. “Because it is all facilitated by members, if they need and want this additional international contact and information it will come. We can learn a lot this way.”

Unlike tif. in the UK, some of the European events are vendor sponsored, for example they might have a vendor panel where members can interrogate suppliers, but there is no promotion of products involved, or a sales side to events.

CV: Ian Campbell

2008 Royal Mail Group
2006 Chairman of The Corporate IT Forum
2005/08 Chief information officer for British Energy
Pre-2005 Board-level operational role at Energis (now Cable & Wireless).
Global role at Citigroup growing the corporate and retail financial services.
Senior management consultancy roles at PA Consulting and Logica working for top FTSE and S&P companies.

Interests Campbell races 72ft yachts long distance for fun, and enjoys skiing in Europe and the USA.

Campbell believes the IT profession has gone through a number of evolutionary stages, and that the evolution of The Corporate IT Forum must reflect that. “In the 1970s it was data processing, in the 1980s linear programming and engineering, then there was analysis and problem solving, but IT was still very much a black art,” he says. “It is now becoming far more consumerised, and commoditised, so it is not longer that different from other disciplines. But you still have to deal with the IT legacy from earlier.”

This makes IT as a profession more flexible, according to Campbell, allowing business people to enter the profession at different levels, and allowing IT people to use their experience to enable business. “tif. gives members a direct and independent channel to get practical information, and to share ideas on the IT issues that affect every large corporation,” he says.