5 minutes with . . . Joe Deragon, CIO, Zurich Financial Services

Computerworld: What was your first paid job?

Joe Deragon: My first job was with McDonald's as a store manager. This was excellent training in running a business using very tight controls while producing a consistent quality of product, on demand. That was quite a few years and jobs ago, but it must have been special because it stood McDonald's well over all these years.

CW: How did you get into IT?

JD: Accidentally. I took an aptitude test for computer capability and the result has steered me down this road ever since. At the time, no one had any idea computers would become one of the major forces of industry.

CW: What does your current position involve?

JD: Participate as a member of the executive team. Ensure IT is a key contributor to business success using innovation and creativity in support of new business solutions. Work closely with other executives in the global Zurich Group to guide IT direction and standards.

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

JD: The financial services industry, including Zurich, is currently going through a major transformation. Our main projects cover e-business access, being customer centric, and business process management. Issues arising from this include developing the most effective new business models and how to design and operate business processes in the e-world.

CW: What is your company's Web strategy?

JD: We are taking the entire business 'e'. This means you will be able to transact all business with us over the Web.

CW: How many IT professionals make up your company's IT team?

JD: Right now we have about 250 to 275 people at any one time because we are in the middle of some major business solution initiatives (we're changing everything).

CW: What is the most challenging part of your job?

JD: Changing the culture of an organisation to one of innovation and change, increasing the speed at which we deliver these changes then getting a strong commitment to execution of new business processes with strong margin results.

CW: If not for IT, what career would you choose?

JD: I have absolutely no idea! I think the important thing is to do something you enjoy.

CW: What is the most difficult IT decision you have ever had to make?

JD: Most IT decisions are relatively easy to make once you include business principles in the decision making process. It gets more difficult to make decisions in a situation where a lot of time and money has been spent without the aid of business principles. When this occurs, IT projects can get really carried away, losing the original objectives. In the past my role has often been one of advising management on whether or not large projects should continue. While business management has to make the final decision, they are looking to you to provide the best advice and information as well as what your decision would be. Often, a lot of people's lives are affected regardless of the decision, so your advice has to be very professional.

CW: List three likes and dislikes about your job:

JD: I like working with groups or teams of people. I like to make seriously innovative change in the use of technology. I like the hard work and results around reducing the cost of technology solutions and operations across a business. I like travel (fortunately, since I live in Melbourne, work in Sydney and have a role in a global organisation).

I dislike people obscuring objectives and results with issues (the 'too hard' syndrome). I dislike it when people aren't living the values of their organisation (not walking the talk). I dislike getting up at 4am for the 6am flight from Melbourne to Sydney twice a week (no explanation needed).

CW: Do you plan to undertake any additional training courses?

JD: I find coming into work each day is additional training of one form or another. I do try and attend a number of specific 'innovation' and industry update outings a year. I also follow closely the progress of IT and business across a number of research subscriptions.

CW: Where do you see yourself in five years time?

JD: I see myself becoming more a manager that contracts technology solutions and services to the organisation. This means delivering the business strategy through solution contracts with disparate service organisations.

CW: What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you at work?

JD: IT people tend to be relatively conservative and I'm no exception. This means we spend a reasonable amount of energy avoiding embarrassment. Nothing really embarrassing enough to be 'entertaining' stands out in my mind. Could this also mean we are boring?

CW: Name five people, living or not, you would invite to a dinner party JD: Michelangelo - his manner of observation and way of thinking would be completely beyond anything I know. Mahatma Gandhi - how could you not be interested by someone that conquered the military without arms. Queen Elizabeth the First - good grasp of globalisation. Mick Doohan - meet a living legend and the Australian recently voted number one 'mate'. Eve - where it all started.

CW: What takes up your spare time outside work?

JD: I have a sports motorcycle hobby for fast times in the Yarra Valley outside of Melbourne. Given the Melbourne weather, sometimes I wonder about this hobby. I also like to travel in Australia. Being Canadian born I think it's often easier for me to appreciate what an incredible country Australia is to live in and travel across because it's all new.

CW: What would you imagine life to be like without computers?

JD: If you are removing all types of semiconductor processing from all types of usage, then I would expect life to move back to a more measured pace for the industrialised world. Most of that world depends on semiconductors of one sort or another to manage communications, manufacturing, financial and many aspects of our lives such as automobile operation. Without any of this in place I think it might all start to look like a quiet Sunday afternoon.

CW: What is your ideal holiday location?

JD: I like to immerse myself in a place rather than lie on a beach. I would like to go to France, Spain or Hungary next.

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