CIO of the Year: Michael Han

Michael Han
Photograph John Gaucher

Michael Han isn’t doing what he was hired to do. His crusade for efficiency is actually a spin-off of the mandate that Paramount Resources gave Han when it hired him two years ago to make its information services and information technology departments more strategically aligned. While managing data and using systems to make company decisions, Han says he “simplified technology infrastructure and re-negotiated vendor contracts to drive more value from IT investments.”

Surprisingly for an IT guy, Han is more focused on departmental processes than technological gadgetry. “When I started with the company I focused on learning—seeking to understand how each department operates and utilizes information systems to get their work completed,” he says. IT strategies and focus areas are now better aligned with corporate goals and priorities. “There is always room for improvement, so we’ll keep talking to our business leaders and keep adjusting IT’s strategies to ensure we’re supporting the business in a positive way,” Han says.

Paramount’s cost cutting came in two ways. Directly, such as only paying for licenses that the company needs and getting service providers to reduce their charges—“a lot stepped up to the table as the downturn has advantaged us in getting lower rates,” Han says. “We had complete buy-in from each of our business departments in terms of what services they absolutely needed and what services we could reduce or completely stop.” The willingness of customers to make do with only what they needed helped Han’s team determine how much flexibility it had when it re-negotiated systems contracts. “We were paying a lot of money for site-to- site networks so we redesigned them, added redundancy, and renegotiated pricing to lower our network costs significantly.” Han cut more mundane costs too, including slashing the monthly smart-phone bill.

Indirect cost cutting came in the form of improving workforce productivity, improving data quality and rationalizing reports by getting more from existing systems. “This can be as simple as sending our engineering staff on training for one of their key technical applications,” he says. Data analytics is a buzz word in the industry, but not everyone is 100 percent confident in its value. So Han set about improving work processes to improve the production field data “so we trust our data analytics,” he says.

Further savings were made by using online reverse auctions with a start-up application to obtain improved services and materials.

These results, like all of the data that goes to an IT guy, require significant number crunching. “Like many of my peers, I look at our performance based on numbers we collect; how we perform against project budgets, schedules, deliverables, system up-time, down-time, email and perimeter security statistics, etc.,” he says. An advantage he leverages is Paramount’s size. It’s small and has a flat organizational hierarchy, in stark contrast to the giants such as ExxonMobil where he was previously IT manager for nearly two decades. “I try to listen carefully to every person I encounter whether it’s at the weekly leadership team meeting or a casual elevator conversation with an employee from another department” Han says. “The direct, unfiltered feedback from our customers is how I ultimately measure our performance.”

Han says he’s lucky to work for a company that puts a high value on his role. “It definitely makes my job easier because I have a seat at the leadership table,” he says. “With the growing importance of managing data and utilizing it as a competitive advantage, I hope we see more companies place a higher value on technology and information management.” After all, adding value is what IT’s all about.

Getting Personal With Michael Han

VP of information services at Paramount Resources

What is the most important quality that a senior executive can have? 
Two traits come to mind—constantly working on long-term strategies and always thinking beyond your own department or even company.

What is the least important quality that a senior executive can have?
When you stop striving for improvement. The best leaders are always looking to learn and always looking to learn from others.

What is your greatest fear?
That our children and grandchildren won’t have our standards of living.

Which living person do you admire most? 
Albertans. We’ve been through many hardships the past few years—a flood, a fire and economic downturn, yet most people are still optimistic. Albertans are a resilient group.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
On the personal front, my wife, Sue, and I are raising our two boys to be good citizens and proud Canadians. On the professional front, my transition from my previous job to this one. I was uncertain about how I would handle the transition from a big multinational integrated oil company to an entrepreneurial midcap company. The past two years have been challenging but very fulfilling.

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