5 minutes with... Steven Baker, IS manager, Tatura Milk Industries

What does your organisation do?

Tatura Milk Industries (TMI) is a dairy co-operative with around 400 farms supplying milk to the company. TMI manufactures a range of products such as milk powders, infant formula, specialised powder blends, cream cheese, butter and liquid milk products. About 55 percent of sales are for the export market. Although we make a number of retail products for our customers, most of the products are sold in bulk form to other manufacturers.

Where is your head office and how many employees and end users do you have?

TMI is located in Tatura which is in northern Victoria about 200km north of Melbourne. The company employees around 420 people during the peak of the season. About 150 of those would be end users.

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

I report to the business development manager/company secretary. I have three staff reporting to me. Because we’re a small team, my people tend to have multiple roles such as software development and systems administration.

What is your IT budget?

Typically around $800,000.

What are your key applications?

Our main applications are the Baan ERP system (finance, manufacturing, distribution and quality assurance), Chris Payroll/HR, Cognos BI tools, and a farmer payments system (developed in-house).

What is your key infrastructure?

Our ERP system runs on an IBM RISC/6000 with the Informix Online DBMS.

Our other servers are Compaq Proliants running Windows 2000/2003 which are used for file/print, database, and Web servers. We have around 130 PCs running a mixture of Windows 2000 and XP. We also have a mixture of MS Office 2000 and XP, although we are trying to find the time to migrate everyone to Office XP.

Given an unrestricted budget, what IT technology or service would you buy for your company?

I cannot think of any one technology that we really need to race out and buy. With an unrestricted budget I would more likely employ additional staff or use contractors to help implement some of the projects we have had on the ‘to do’ list for quite some time.

How long have you worked in IT?

I started my career at Tatura Milk nearly 16 years ago after going back to university part time. Back then I was the first IT professional employed and my role has grown along with the company’s IT requirements.

When I started we had an NCR mid-range system with three terminals and three PCs (one of which had a 10MB hard disk and a colour screen!).

Today we have a number of servers and around 130 PCs. I started as a Cobol programmer but as the only IT person, was involved in all aspects of IT from purchasing new equipment through to advising on the strategic direction of IT.

What IT technology do you lust after?

There is no particular technology that I’d say I lust over. If anything I’d say that my lust is for any IT technology to live up to the hype and meet expectations.

Which IT technology do you think is overhyped right now?

I keep reading about the improvements in wireless, but my experience has been that performance and range still leaves a lot to be desired.

What area of IT would you like to understand better?

Probably security issues such as firewalls, VPNs etc. As we increase the access of our network to the outside world, security becomes a big factor. If you don’t understand it enough yourself, then you have to put a lot of trust in the people configuring your security systems.

What are your greatest IT challenges?

Trying to keep up with user requests. Most users don’t understand the time involved in developing software, and therefore often have unrealistic expectations of how soon something can be done.

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

The purchase of the Baan ERP package. This was a big change to a company, which had always developed most of its software in-house. Users were used to asking for a change and having it done. I knew this would no longer be the case once we purchased a package.

What areas of IT do you specialise in?

Being in a company with a small IT team means that you don’t really specialise in any one area as you have to handle a broad range of activities. After saying that, my core job over the years has always been application development. I started as a Cobol programmer and have steered the company’s development environment from Cobol, to relational databases with SQL and 4GL programming, and on to Visual Basic, and currently we are doing some VB.Net and ASP.Net.

What is the most exciting IT project you've been involved in?

The implementation of our ERP system. It was both exciting and worrying, but something I believed the company would definitely benefit from. Continuing to develop all our software in-house was not the way to go.

What are the most pressing issues IT managers face?

There is always the problem of keeping up with new technology and trying to see through the hype for real solutions. But some of the bigger issues are trying to keep users' expectations under control, and educate users that most problems are caused by people and procedural mistakes, rather than computer systems.

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

About six months after going live with Baan, I did a presentation to senior and middle management. We had been having some problems and I had come up with a point list of actions that were designed to help us move forward. I started by saying, ‘The following points show the direction we are heading’. Unfortunately I placed the overhead on the projector backwards.

Where do you see your career heading and how do you plan to get there?

I’m pretty happy in my current role. There’s still plenty of work to do, especially in respect to growing IT’s involvement at the strategic level of the company.

What potential IT disaster stops you from sleeping?

Fire or some other disaster, that results in the complete loss of the server room.

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

Implementing Trend Micro’s antivirus software, which included automatic updates to all machines across the company. Prior to this we had been hit a couple of times with viruses, which was due partly to poor management of antivirus updates and patches to servers.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about BaanCognosCompaqIBM AustraliaInformixNCR AustraliaReal SolutionsSecurity SystemsTMITrend Micro Australia

Show Comments

Market Place