5 minutes with.... Neil Griffin, IT director, Sitel

Q: What were your childhood ambitions?

To be a top-class show jumper. My parents owned a farm, so I was lucky enough to own a horse from an early age. I spent the best part of my childhood at show jumping and eventing competitions and always wished that I had taken this further.

Q: What was your first job?

Aside from the various fast food and retail jobs (the briefest being McDonald’s where I lasted only two shifts) during school and university, my first regular job was doing data entry work on a big old IBM AT PC; however, there was another PC there with a new operating system from a company called Microsoft. It was a very early version of Windows and I spent my lunch breaks becoming familiar with an interface that would drive computing for years to come.

Q: How did you get into IT?

My first exposure to computers was at school in 1980 where we had a TRS80 computer on which I first learnt Basic programming, then went on to assembly language programming, a natural step then to studying computing at university.

Q: What does your current position involve?

As part of the management team for Sitel Australia, I have overall responsibility for the strategic direction and operational delivery of IT. This includes management of the voice and data infrastructure, application development and end-user support.

Q: Where is your organisation’s Australian head office, and how many end users are there?

Our organisation’s head office is in Sydney, and we support between 350 to 400 users.

Q: What projects and issues are you working on now?

We are working on a number of upgrade projects at present. We are nearing completion of testing of Windows XP before rolling out over the quieter Christmas period. We are also performing a review of our telecomms platform and finalising an upgrade schedule that will take place throughout 2003.

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

I find the challenging part is ensuring that our future IT investment programs will deliver not only our internal business goals, but also position us with the right technology solutions that our current (and future) clients will be looking for in an outsourcing partner.

Q: How many IT professionals in your team?

We have eight based in the Sydney office; this meets the demands for business as usual. We then rely on external consultants for specific projects that arise during the year.

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

I report directly to the managing director of Sitel Australia; however, as part of the management team I effectively deliver to and report to all divisions of the business on a regular basis. I have two direct reports, the network and communications manager and the development and quality assurance manager.

Q: What is your company Web strategy?

I see the Web as an enabling technology for Sitel to deliver systems and services that have historically been delivered by less sophisticated means. A simple example would be presenting reports and data over the Web to our clients; this has replaced the print and fax reporting solutions of five years ago.

Q: What is the most pressing issue you face as director of IT?

Typically the most pressing issue is ensuring that we have the right resource levels, with the right skills, at the right time to meet client requirements. With project timeframes that are typically compressed it is a fine balance between having the necessary staff on hand, keeping an eye on budgets and ensuring we meet our own internal business measures.

Q: What is your annual IT budget?

Pick a number...We have a general refresh program for hardware and software, in addition if there are investment proposals we put together that can demonstrate an ROI, be that from a dollar, efficiency or an enhanced service offering, then the business is usually very accommodating.

Q: What’s your average week like?

Monday morning begins with a weekly executive management meeting; following that I have a number of scheduling and update meetings with the IT team. The rest of the week is broadly divided equally between internal and external client meetings, strategy and budget planning, and dealing with e-mail and phone calls.

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

I would like to have more influence on the strategic direction of our clients.

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

The last few years have been tough on all IT professionals in many different industries. I have in the past made positions redundant due to our business evolving and requiring different skill sets and different staffing mix. This is not and does not ever become an easy decision for any manager because it can have such a profound effect on the lives of the people involved.

Q: List three likes and dislikes about your job?

Likes: I enjoy my job because it gives me the chance to get paid for doing stuff that I enjoy. I like the fact that business at Sitel has a rapid pace of change and I am constantly challenged to deliver new technology solutions. I also get to work with a fun bunch of people, who, although the work can be tough at times, always find time at the end of the week for a few beers. Dislikes: None.

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

When I first arrived in Australia we were expanding the operation and installing a wide area network. This involved the use of Cisco “rooters” which is the UK pronunciation. It took me a little while to realise that this has a somewhat different meaning here in Australia. When enquiring if the network was “rooted”, I received the reply “Well yes it could be faster but...”

Q: What is the worst IT disaster you worry about?

Those where resolution of the problem is outside the control of myself or my IT team. This can be due to poor vendor support or shipping delays for parts.

Q: What is your IT prediction for the next 12 months?

IT continues and will continue to be a capital-intensive proposition for companies, thus I expect to see an increase in a “pay as you use” approach to both hardware and software services. As the large IT budgets of previous years are wound back permanently companies will demand that the risk and capital associated with IT infrastructure investments be shared with vendors.

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