5 minutes with... Ezzel Elayadi, CIO, Assure Services & Technology

Q: what were your childhood ambitions?

Ever since the age of about 11, when I was given my first computer — a Tandy TRS-80 which had whopping 4KB of RAM, no HDD or floppy drive for that matter (everything was loaded and saved using an audio cassette deck) — I knew that I would end up doing something with computers.

Q: What was your first job?

Not counting the part-time pizza delivery job that got me through uni, my first real job was as an assistant accountant cum system administrator. Back then, most small-to-medium-sized companies didn’t have dedicated IT departments, and it was usually the accounting departments that maintained their companies’ information systems.

Q: How did you get into IT?

A Melbourne-based superannuation software company recruited me as one of its consultants in the Sydney office. Fortunately, I had the right mix of accounting knowledge and programming experience.

Q: What does your current position involve?

The main purpose of my role is to see that our information systems meet business requirements, objectives and strategies for Assure and its clients, both now and in the future. My key responsibilities focus around software development, systems architecture, and desktop support.

Q: What projects and issues are you working on at the moment?

Currently we have a number of hot projects including some integration work with our relatively-new parent company, disaster recovery planning and testing; then there’s a host of application and platform enhancements to our in-house systems.

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

Keeping my knowledge up to date. This not only includes keeping up with new and emerging technologies, but also ensuring that I understand and can plan for changes within the industry in which we operate. The financial services sector is quite heavily regulated and it is important for our business that our applications continue to comply with those regulations.

Q: How many IT professionals in your team?

The IT department currently consists of six developers, two system administrators, and a business analyst.

Q: What is the most pressing issue you face as CIO?

Results. As with most companies, it is vital that we achieve the best results for the minimum costs. Our organisation has recently adopted the scorecard approach of performance measurement for all staff. Which means that we all have agreed targets for each year.

Q: What is your annual IT budget?

Currently negotiating...

Q: Where is your organisation’s Australian head office?

Head office for us is Sydney. Our parent company (AXA Australia) is in Melbourne.

Q: What’s your average week like?

Every day starts with checking our work request system. All IT work, whether for support, system enhancements, or bug notification, is logged through this system. All valid requests are then assigned to the relevant people for completion. On Tuesdays I attend the management meetings where we update each other on the status of each department. Tuesday evenings we try to get as many people as possible to attend the local indoor rock climbing centre for some team-building and stress relief. The remainder of the week is taken up with meetings, project work and the odd bit of development or support work. Fridays are when the IT team gets together for a catch-up. It is also the day we build and deploy the latest service release of our applications.

Q: If you could walk in the shoes of any other IT professional, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Linus Torvalds. I would love to know what makes the “father of Linux” tick and what really got him started.

Q: What is your favourite IT gadget and why?

As with most IT people I have many gadgets, not all of which are purely IT. But currently I would have to go with my multiscreen display. It’s good having multiple windows open AND visible.

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

I’d love to be able to spend more time developing.

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

Cutting back the size of the team and having to tell someone that through no fault of their own, their job is just not there any more. It’s always hard when the decisions you have to make will affect someone’s life.

Q: List three likes and dislikes about your job:

Likes: The satisfaction derived when you see the end users working with the tools you developed for them. Working with a good team (not just the IT dept). Our table-tennis competitions. Dislikes: Paperwork, dealing with pushy sales reps, and junk mail.

Q: What is your company Web strategy?

As with most organisations in the financial sector, we are always looking at providing more and more of our services across the Web.

Q: Name five people, living or not, you would invite for a dinner party and why?

Albert Einstein and Elvis Presley because they both made such different and incredible contributions to shaping our society. R2D2 because I’m a Star Wars fan, and then C3PO to translate. Finally, I would have to invite Bill Gates because I believe that he has also made a remarkable contribution towards shaping our society, despite the negative press Microsoft receives (mostly due to “tall poppy syndrome”).

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

Writing a program that was meant to monitor network performance, that ended up bringing the whole network down.

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

I used to think that a losing the building through fire or earthquake would have been the worst type of disaster. But, after 11/9/2001, I now know that losing the staff would certainly be the worst disaster imaginable.

Q: What is your IT prediction for this year?

Web... I think that everyone will be testing and pushing forward the boundaries of what can be delivered across the Web.

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