5 minutes with... David Hirsch, general manager, IT, Australian Business Limited

Q: How did you get into IT?

I was studying surveying at university and decided it wasn't for me. It was the mid-seventies and IT jobs, or EDP (electronic data processing) as it was called then, were everywhere. So I started as a trainee computer operator on an NCR mainframe. We had punch cards, paper tape and 64K of memory. The printer was so noisy we should have been wearing earmuffs. That was 27 years ago.

What does your current role involve?

I have vertical responsibility for the organisation's IT requirements and a horizontal responsibility for strategy and development.

What projects are you working on now?

Upgrading one of two Onyx CRM implementations and implementing a customer portal for our other Onyx implementation. An upgrade from Windows NT to Windows XP and 2003, a migration from Lotus Mail/Calendar to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange as well as an upgrade of our Great Plains eEnterprise finance application, are keeping us busy. In our spare time we're implementing a new content management system, Documentum, and a Datamart BI system for our membership business.

What are your greatest IT challenges?

Apart from the usual stuff like convincing users they don't need 800MB mail files, it's getting the message across that CRM and KM (knowledge management) are not about technology.

Where is your organisation's Australian head office, what is its business and how many end users are there?

We have 24 branches Australia-wide with our largest operation located in North Sydney. From here we support 22 offices in NSW, one office in the ACT and one office in Melbourne. ABL is a diverse organisation comprising our core membership business, including a range of industrial relations, OH&S and international trade consultancy services. In addition to this we have ABEN, a new apprenticeships centre, a law firm, AB Law and SBTC, a registered training organisation.

How many IT professionals in your team?

There are 14 altogether - five people in operations, one project manager and eight people in development. I am extremely fortunate to have an enthusiastic, dedicated and talented team. This is the most rewarding aspect of what I do. We're really stretched at the moment and everyone is working overtime, but I don't need to ask people to go that extra mile or worry the work won't be done well and to schedule. Everyone still has a sense of humour - most of the time - and they're all working together to achieve a good result. Quite a few of the team have been at ABL a long time.

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

I report to the CEO/managing director. Reporting to me are the IT operations manager, application development manager and the senior project manager.

What is your annual IT budget?

It's adequate!

What is the most pressing issue you face as an IT executive?

How to do twice as much for half the cost.

What's your average week like?

Most days start with the usual e-mail clean-up - although I'm fortunate to only average about 10 or 15 work e-mails per day. This is followed by a quick catch-up with the operations staff to check that everything has worked overnight and we're ready to start the day. Monday I have a one-hour membership committee meeting followed by a two-hour (at least) Executive Committee meeting. The remains of most days involves meetings, continual coaching and support of the IT people and researching problems or solutions.

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

A couple of years ago we began the migration from mostly Lotus Notes-based applications to Microsoft-based applications. Many of the Lotus Notes people were not prepared to join the migration.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Being part of the executive committee and responsibility across the diverse areas of the organisation.

What would you change in your job?

I normally start at 6am. I'd like to break this habit.

What is your company Web strategy?

We aim to fully utilise the efficiencies of the online medium so our members and customers can source information and advice to make sound business decisions and stay competitive.

What is the worst IT disaster you worry about?

Not being able to restore from a backup tape.

What changes does the IT industry need?

IT organisations need to understand they need to solve business problems not technology problems.

What is your IT prediction for this year?

People will become tired of complaining that CRM applications don't deliver promised benefits and start complaining that content management systems don't deliver promised benefits. Some people will discover KM doesn't come in a box from Microsoft.

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