5 minutes with. . .Valda Berzins, CIO, Australia Post

Computerworld: When did your career in IT begin?

Valda Berzins: In 1990. I went from the business planning area at Carlton united Breweries (CUB) to become a direct report to the executive in charge of IT.

My job was to look at information flows and any weaknesses, duplications, lack of integration or improvements required. I also had to implement an executive information system (EIS). Most of the executives were not computer literate so it was a challenge.

CW: As a child, what did you want to be when you "grew up"?

VB: As a child, I wanted to be a doctor. I was mainly motivated to do that for two reasons: (a) I enjoyed scientific things and was good at them; and (b) I wanted to be my own boss.

When I did my HSC, I missed out getting into medicine by half a mark in each subject. I thought it was destiny and therefore should pursue another profession.

CW: What steps did you take in becoming the CIO of Australia Post and what steps would you recomm-end other IT professionals take?

VB: I didn't need to take specific steps to become CIO at Australia Post as I was headhunted. However, the advice I would give to aspiring CIOs is to be a good business person and not just a technologist; to focus on your goals and work out what is important in your organisation to get there; to work out who the important players are in your organisation, and to be pragmatic.

CW: What major projects or issues are you working on at the moment?

VB: My major projects are, for example, delivering large systems such as Internet Billpay and the Internet Fulfilment Service whilst ensuring tax reform system changes are completed. E-commerce and IT implications into the future are significant in my thinking. It is very important that I can deliver and operate systems in a cost-effective manner. As IT becomes a larger and larger part of all organisations and competition increases, the cost of IT in this competitive world will become even more important.

CW: Who do you most admire within the IT industry?

VB: I'm not into hero worship. I do respect Leon Daphne who made it from CIO to CEO within a large non-IT organisation. There are quite a few CIOs who have become CEOs of IT organisations, but it is truly an achievement when it is a non-IT organisation.

CW: How hard has it been to succeed in what was and still is a male dominated industry?

VB: I think the IT profession is not as male dominated as others. When I joined CUB, I was the first and only female accountant.

There is too much emphasis on men vs women. If we all think of ourselves as people and work from there, we should be able to achieve what we want to if we have the right ingredients and determination.

CW: Describe your typical work day.

VB: There really isn't anything like a truly typical work day. All days, though, have administrative work with respect to emptying "in trays", answering phone calls from internal and external people, reading and replying to e-mails, and the like. A lot of my time is taken up with meetings.

I try to find time to plan for the future, be it how we should use our own staff vs how we should use service providers; what issues will be most important in the next few years, what opportunities we have, and more. I am usually in at work by 7:30am, a fair bit earlier if it is a gym morning. I like to make sure that I take a break at lunchtime to go for a walk. I also think it is important to be home at a reasonable hour for dinner. To have a successful day, one needs to be able to work on many different issues and keep a balance. Decisions need to be made quickly and effectively, therefore it is important not to get into a rut.

CW: Name five people (alive or not) you would invite to a dinner party and why.

VB: This is a really strange question and, strangely, I have thought about this in the past.

They would be my dentist, my two jewellers, and the two builders I have had perform extensions on my houses. All these people have impacted my life over very long periods and in very personalised work. All of them I have had some sort of scheduling/timing problems with. In other words, it has taken a long time to get things done.

In addition, they wouldn't understand that they have all these things in common and it would be interesting to see whether they ever came to the conclusion that there are so many similarities between them.

CW: Is there any part of the IT industry that you would like to learn more about?

VB: It is essential to always be learning in the IT industry as it changes so rapidly.

CW: Name one of your most recent IT achievements?

VB: One of my most recent IT achievements has been the nationalisation of IT from a history of state and headquarters-based units.

This will enable more cost-effective IT solutions through greater flexibility of resources and the coordination of requirements across Australia Post.

CW: What are your hobbies outside of work?

VB: My hobbies outside of work are landscape painting, jogging, sewing, gardening, building and interior design. I have many powertools that assist in building anything from bathroom cabinets to large external gates. I would describe myself as someone with an artistic eye so I enjoy creating the vision - be it for the garden or the building project, and then carrying out the work to realise the vision.

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