5 minutes with...John McCarthy chief information officer, PBR International Pty Ltd

Q: How long have you worked in IT? I have worked directly in IT for four years and indirectly with some IT responsibilities for 15 years.

Q: Where does the company do and what is its annual turnover?

The company designs and makes braking systems for automotive manufacturers in Australian and the US. The head office is in East Bentleigh, Victoria, and has an annual turnover of $1 billion.

Q :How many employees and users do you have?

There are 900 employees in Australia with 300 users. In the US there are 200 users among 600 employees; in Europe there are 300 employees and 70 users while in Asia there are 20 users and 50 employees.

Q :What is your IT budget?

More than $2 million.

Q: What are the key applications and infrastructure?

Mapics XA ERP, Lotus notes, Pro-e 3D CAD, Microsoft Office XP. Hardware: iSeries Model 810 (AS/400), Intel servers, PC desktops and laptops. Networking: IP VPN to all global sites, site Local Ethernet LANs Cisco switches. Operating systems: OS/400, NT server, Unix, Windows XP.

Q: How many IT professionals make up your team?

I have a team of 10 in Australia, four in the US and two in Italy. Our operation mode is based around the management of key global support companies. It is interesting that none of these are the big names but are highly specialised companies that get things done at the right price. It is also interesting that each of them is doing well and adding people, which I guess means they are doing something right.

Q: Who do you report to, and who reports to you?

I report to the finance director of Pacifica Group Ltd, which is the listed company. Reporting to me are five people who are responsible for a segment of the IT architecture.

Q: Do you believe that IT currently has the respect it deserves from business leaders?

I am not sure if respect is the right term. In my experience in the manufacturing industry, more specifically the automotive industry which has been for many years mostly electronic in one form or another at the B2B level, IT is an integral part of the business as much as any other function.

During the dotcom time in our business, which by the standards of the day was dubbed bricks and mortar or old economy, we looked at the benefits of the changing technology and picked up and developed that which would enhance the business.

Q: What area of IT do you want to know more about?

The area that I would like to understand better is integration of systems. At times even having in place very tight policy in regard to integration we find unplanned costs arising in this area.

Q: What are your greatest IT challenges?

They revolve around keeping our global sites at the same level of application and operation, which is critical to our business from both an operational and reporting stance.

Q: What’s been your most difficult IT decision?

Generally I find the decision not all that difficult, it’s the doing than can be tough. One of the many ‘how to’ books I’ve read is called the “Knowing Doing Cap” which is worth a look. I guess the decision to stay with Iseries OS/400 as a core ERP operating system.

Q: What areas of IT do you specialise in?

I am not a specialist in any particular area. My role and background have been in both line and service management. Having spent a good part of this in materials and manufacturing management areas and being involved with APICS (American Production and Inventory Control Society) in lecturing for its certification programs has given me a good base from which to perform a general management role within IT.

Q: What’s been the most exciting IT project or implementation you’ve been involved in?

I suppose the decision back in 1995 to drop our in-house developed ERP system and move to a package, Mapics, was the most exciting in the past. The old system was developed over many years and was not Y2K compliant.

The company’s decision to move for this and other reasons at that time was well worth it.

We also had an IT staff of 40 to support the old system with no overseas sites. This project has proven key to us being were we are today. The other memorable project was the building of our first greenfield site in Knoxville in the US. We installed our second iSeries along with Mapics and linked to Australia via a IPVPN. I lived in the US for two years as part of the plant startup team as IT was seen as core to our business operations.

I also learnt that in Australia we don’t know how to drive on freeways.

Q: What’s been the biggest lifesaver of a purchase or procedure?

Over the past three years we have had our IPVPN go down between two of our sites and as we host and deploy ERP from two iSeries boxes at two sites to all other sites this is mission-critical. The decision to have automatic ISDN backup to all our VPN points has saved the day.

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