Interview: Mike Ansell, IT manager, Wonderland Sydney

What were your childhood ambitions?

To work in electronics.

What was your first job?

Working for CBS records in its musical instrument division.

How did you get into IT?

I was working in an administrative role with a major retailer and was given the chance to be part of its initial use of PCs and database systems. I was given the role as part of the company's "sink or swim" program and it gave me the chance to provide some first-up data analysis, which proved very useful to the company and to my career.

What does your current position involve?

Budget responsibility and planning. Network and database administration and support, intranet development, project management and IT strategy and policy development. There's a reasonable level of data analysis and report writing involved. Wonderland uses SQL and Crystal Reports for that side of things.

What projects and issues are you working on now?

Project management of a venue management and retail point-of-sale solution rollout both in Sydney and Sunway Lagoon - the company's other theme park in Kuala Lumpur, installation of a Cisco Wireless LAN solution and a small voice over IP project. We're migrating our finance system to SQL 2000 and onto a new server, so that's good solid stuff for us; we're reviewing our business continuity plan so that's also keeping us quite busy.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Tight budget control, troubleshooting, and project implementation issues in a business that is open 365 days per year. There are very few windows of opportunity to run testing or schedule downtime when your business never stops.

How many IT professionals in your team?

Usually four, but it can change depending on projects.

What is the most pressing issue you face as IT manager?

Budget control, not surprisingly. We need to do more with less, and so on. It's a challenge, but I was in retail for almost 20 years before my Wonderland position, so there's nothing new in IT budgets being very tight.

Briefly describe your average week.

Allocate tasks for problem resolution, especially following weekend trading, meet with key managers to help resolve any customer service issues, get an hour or two "block time" each day for project management issues. It's hard to get one-on-one time with staff, but I try to make 30 minutes a week with each of my staff, even if I do it in 10-minute chunks.

If you could walk in the shoes of any other IT professional, whose would it be and why?

The CIO at Disney; they sell fun in a BIG way and I might get some new ideas. Or I might find out that Wonderland is ahead in some areas. It would certainly be great to compare benchmarks from the CIO desk.

If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be?

The noise. Theme parks are not quiet places, and if your on a deadline trying to concentrate and you've got music blaring away that you can't turn off, or animals doing their own particular noise thing, well that makes things difficult to say the least.

What is your most difficult IT decision?

Selection of a "world's best solution" for Wonderland's venue management system. It came down to the best solution in Australia against the best from the rest of the world. It took 18 months and a lot of effort with our financial team and planners, and there were several casualties along the way. Having made it though, we're now looking at rolling it out to other parks the company owns overseas, so it was really worth it.

List three likes and dislikes about your job.

Love the theme park rides and shows, it's close to home and Wonderland sells "fun"!

But it can be very noisy. It's a huge area to cover (a 200ha site) so you can get tired and new network or electrical infrastructure is a headache in a fully-landscaped site.

What is your company Web strategy?

A four-stage strategy covering marketing, tourism, interactive games and online bookings and ticketing. There are several back-end integration tasks for us; issues such as hosting are being addressed more from a corporate level. Wonderland is part of a corporation of more than 100 companies globally, and seeing large ISPs fall over is beginning to drive strategy on a more standard IT basis.

Name five people, living or not, you would invite for a dinner party and why?

Jackie Chan, just to shake his hand; Andre Segovia and Muddy Waters to get some playing tips; Sai Baba, just for his company and Imhotep to ask him how they really built those darned pyramids.

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

I'm colour blind, so I've had several terrific days of wearing completely mismatched clothes. (It's also why I didn't follow my childhood ambition in the electronics field...).

What is your favourite IT gadget and why?

Digital camera. Point, shoot, zoom, easy, cool. If only all IT stuff was so straightforward.

Do you plan to undertake any additional training courses?

Possibly in project management to formalise my credentials in that area. I pretty much see myself as more of a project manager these days. Standard IT procedures tend to take care of the day-to-day stuff.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Either here at Wonderland or perhaps involved in property management.

What would you do if you could rule the world for one week?

Make the largest bank in each country evenly distribute their total wealth among the citizens.

What is the worst IT disaster you worry about?

Total electrical power failure for more than an hour. It's happened to Wonderland before, and it certainly makes for very difficult controlled restart of many of our systems.

What is your IT prediction for this year?

Several IT recruitment agencies will go under.

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