5 minutes with... Joe Oppedisano, IT manager, West Gippsland Healthcare Group

Q: What were your childhood ambitions?

Having emigrated from Italy with my parents and three brothers in the 1950s (I was only a baby at the time), my main immediate ambition was to assimilate into the Aussie culture and avoid the ‘new Australian’ syndrome. Having achieved that successfully, I dreamed of becoming a famous scientist, after I finished my career as a train driver of course. All I know is that I never dreamed of becoming an IT manager, as ‘computer’ was not even in anyone’s vocabulary in those days.

Q: What was your first job?

As early as primary school, I started selling newspapers in Ascot Vale (in suburban Victoria) to help my family. I recall standing on the street corner screaming out at the top of my lungs “...e..ya..herald...buy..yer..papa...”. During my secondary school holidays and my university studies I graduated to working as a barman and head waiter at the Union Hotel. Working behind the bar was excellent training for my future careers as it gave me insight into the psyche of the human mind, particularly when it was slightly inebriated. It taught me one thing — I never wanted to remain a barman.

Q: How did you get into IT?

I really got into IT as a result of trying to get out of another career. After completing my Bachelor of Science at Melbourne University and Graduate DipED, my first career was as a secondary school teacher, teaching science including senior biology and chemistry, then I realised I had virtually spent all my life in the classroom and was feeling suffocated by the education system.

In 1983 I landed a job at the Red Cross Blood Bank as a hospital scientist, but once they realised I had some computer knowledge they immediately got me involved in computer projects.

Before I knew it, they were advertising for an inaugural systems administrator for their first in-house computerised system and I have been in the IT field ever since. I later completed a part-time Graduate Diploma in Computing at Chisholm Institute just to fortify my career, and became a member of the Australian Computer Society.

Q: What does your current position involve?

Basically everything that can be conceivably related to IT, ranging from high-level strategic IT development and planning to picking up a screw-driver and fixing a printer when my IT support officer is not available. Maintenance of security and confidentiality of patient information is also a high priority.

Q: What projects are you working on?

Being a public hospital, we have a patient waiting list — we also have an IT waiting list — a list of projects, issues and problems we are working on at any one time. Unfortunately it never seems to get smaller. Recently we implemented a major PABX upgrade and expansion including a network of DECT cordless phones, patient bedside phones, and voicemail. We are in the planning process of migrating our patient data from an existing host to a larger one at a remote site. We have recently upgraded our servers from WinNT to Windows 2000 server using Active Directory, and are gradually upgrading all workstations to Windows XP.

Q: Who do you report to?

I report directly to the CEO and I have one assistant (IT support officer), who reports to me. However, we outsource software development, so I suppose I have a multitude of software developers out there reporting to me in one way or another.

Q: What is your annual IT budget?

The budget is never enough, but currently around half a million.

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

Our main site is the West Gippsland Hospital in Warragul — country Victoria. We have seven other sites as part of our group. We have about 250 end users including both LAN and WAN users. In many cases, users in hospital ward areas share a common workstation.

Q: What is your company Web strategy?

We currently have a Web site which we developed in-house; however we have a working party looking at getting it totally revamped and professionally developed so that we can serve our customers (the patients) better. We are looking at providing online waiting lists, bill payments and so on. Our aim is to better inform the public, not actually drum up more business — as we already have more customers than we can handle. We are also looking at online patient assessment data entry by various agencies both inside and outside our organisation via the Web.

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

The computer room burning down and having to reconstruct everything from backups.

Q: What is your IT prediction for the year?

That the health industry will still be beating its head against a brick wall regarding how it is going to come up with a viable, and cost-effective, fully electronic patient medical records system.

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