5 minutes with . . . Sean Wain, General manager, technology services, David Jones Limited

CW: How did you get into IT?

Sean Wain: I never really chose IT as a career, I sort of fell into it. When I left university in about 86 I was contracted into various accounting and desktop roles, and I actually moved into the British Cabinet office in 87 in an IT management role -- in London under Maggie Thatcher -- very much a 'Yes Prime Minister' setup.

The Cabinet office was exactly like the television show. The whole of the government is run by the civil service . . . I had to sign the State Secrets Act, and I was looking after top civil servants in terms of . . . setting up database systems for people.

From then on I got stuck [in IT]. IT always had the challenges, that was the key thing. I came out to Australia on a working holiday, and I've never actually left Australia -- I arrived, loved the place and I've been here for nine years. I've been at David Jones (DJs) for two years -- a very interesting place to work. Retail is one of those areas where if you haven't been in it you've got to do it at least once -- and it's great.

CW: What is it like being an IT professional in a retail environment?

SW: The pressures on IT at David Jones include making sure the systems are readily available for everybody because obviously we're at the beck and call of every customer that comes in, so if a system's not working -- even a register -- then it reflects badly on DJs. From an IT point of view, there's that constant pressure-- if there is a problem then make sure it's fixed very quickly.

The key thing I love about the job are the challenges -- keeping up with the IT industry is very, very hard; there are so many things out there. And DJs was never state of the art but it's actually progressed so quickly over the last two or three years.

CW: What's on the your IT agenda in 2000?

SW: Unfortunately, like a lot of organisations GST will hit us really big -- there have been numerous articles about the cost of GST outweighing the cost of Y2K. I feel that's definitely the case as Y2K was $5 million or $6 million for the company and GST will cost three times that.

Not only does it affect the IT systems, but it changes the whole of the way the business works. Every sales person has to be trained to understand the impact of GST. So PricewaterhouseCoopers is now our GST partner -- helping us through the whole process.

The other big thing that's happening this year is that we have a lot of new stores -- DJs has acquired Aherne's in WA and we actually take over the business on February 1, 2000. The plan is to have that organisation fully integrated into our own in a similar sort of timeframe to GST!

Aherne's IT infrastructure is quite dated -- the easiest thing for us would be to do a like-for-like replacement.

CW: What is DJ's Web platform of choice?

SW: We don't have one currently -- it's not decided at this point. As an organisation we are coming up with our Web strategy. We want to clearly understand what the Web means to us. We are closely monitoring the US environment and watching a lot of people make a lot of mistakes, especially in retail. We're quite happy to watch other organisations make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. However, it's very likely that by Christmas this year we'll have a Web environment, but what form it will take I couldn't tell you at the moment.

CW: What are your reflections on Y2K?

SW: From our point of view if we hadn't done all the work on Y2K we would have had problems. I sat through the whole night and monitored the systems and ran tests with the team here -- and I can guarantee if we hadn't done the level of testing and the level of change, we would have had problems everywhere. We did have one minor glitch -- which was just a command -- and we were over the moon. A lot of people obviously put a lot of effort into Y2K across business, and it's obviously paid off.

CW: What are the worst things about your current job?

SW: In every organisation I've ever been in the worst thing I've ever come across is petty politics; people with either hidden agendas or people that are trying to do the best by themselves but not by the business.

CW: Will you stay in IT?

SW: If the challenges remain and I'm actually still learning then I probably will stay in IT, or IT management. I don't know if I'd like to become a director in any organisation because then I'd be playing the game I hate the most -- the game of politics and I don't know if that's me at all. Probably in 10 years' time I'll be in something completely different -- if it's on the beach somewhere, watching the waves roll in, that's probably me!

CW: What career would you chose if not ITSW: That's easy -- definitely sports administration. I've grown up organising various sports (from multi sports events to triathlons, hockey, soccer) in England, the US and Australia. It's on a voluntary basis and I get so much enjoyment out of seeing people enjoy sports, especially when they're well organised.

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