5 minutes with... Alistair Carwardine, chief technology officer, AOL/7 Online

Q: What were your childhood ambitions?

Surgeon, fireman, sailor...

Q: What was your first job?

I was a Cadet Midshipman in the Royal Australian Navy. I ran away to sea at 15, only to end up in a classroom for the next five years. (Service with RAN also included a stint in the submarine squadron.)

Q: How did you get into IT?

I fell into a programmer role at Qantas (Qantek at the time) as a graduate trainee. (Qualifications include Bachelor of Science from the University of NSW and a Master of Management from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.)

Q: How long have you been with AOL7?

I have been at AOL|7 for three weeks now. (Previous job was at Peakhour as chief IT services officer, responsible for all facets of Peakhour’s technology services.)

Q: Your role of CTO is a newly created position; why do you think AOL7 saw the need for a CTO?

In a technological sense, AOL|7 is transitioning from a start-up to systems maturity. With this change comes a whole range of opportunities. AOL|7 recognised the benefit of having a CTO who could take the lead on both strategy and implementation as we take advantage of these opportunities.

Q: What does your role involve?

All technology management at AOL|7, including technology strategy, applications, systems, infrastructure, and vendor management.

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

I am working on the implementation plan for AOL|7’s entry into the broadband market.

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

My greatest challenge is deciding how to best leverage all the fantastic opportunities available with limited resources and aggressive timelines.

Q: How many IT professionals in your team?

There are about 20 IT professionals in our team, consisting of project and vendor managers, business analysts, developers and system administrators.

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

Focusing a small team on an all-encompassing project, whilst continuing to support and enhance current business systems and applications.

Q: What is your annual IT budget (rough estimate)?

No comment

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

The head office is in Sydney, and there are about 200 end users.

Q: Briefly describe your average week:

Meetings with my team and AOL|7’s CEO, marketing and content teams to ensure we are developing and delivering the right technology and systems to meet the needs of AOL|7 customers and the business as a whole. Out of work hours, I drive “Dad’s Taxi”, delivering kids to sundry locations...

Q: What is your favourite IT gadget and why?

My mobile phone — now nearing perfection with calendar, contacts, Web surfing and, of course, telephony. I’m also keen on appliance boxes (firewalls, Web servers and the like) - they are all about making technology easier to deploy and manage.

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

I want to change the role of technology so that it evolves from being viewed as an internal department to that of a service provider focused on delivering quality services and product. This will have a positive impact on the services we provide to consumers, as well as on the bottom line.

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

Decommissioning a quality application when it has run its course: classifying a system you’ve put your lifeblood into as ‘legacy’ is never easy.

Q: List three likes and dislikes about your job:

I like being involved in the development of AOL|7’s broadband service from the ground up, being part of a great team of people and, of course, lots of challenges. I haven’t been in the job long enough to have any dislikes - time will tell!

Q: What is your company Web strategy?

It’s all about the Internet. As well as helping our members to get the most out of the Internet, the Web is central to everything we do corporately.

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

Captain James Cook, for ripping sea yarns, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for the odd tale out of Central America, George Costanza, for his life views, Robynne, my wife, and George Whitfield, a great 18th century English evangelist.

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

I conducted a daylong workshop with a rip in the seat of my trousers ... my colleagues helpfully pointed this out at the end of the day.

Q: Do you plan to undertake any additional training courses?

I do intend to continue post-graduate training- either business related, or even theology - with the aim of improving my ability to think creatively. I generally pick up current trends and technologies on the job.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years time?

AOL|7 of course!

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Lots of activities with my family - sport, school, cubs, and so on. We have five great kids. Of course, given the chaos at home anything can happen at work and it still seems like a walk in the park...

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

I lived it out in a previous role — while systems manager in a high-transaction environment, the production database failed and could not be recovered for more than two days. Fortunately it occurred over the weekend, so business continuity plans could be implemented gracefully. With the benefit of hindsight, the recovery was relatively straightforward. At the time though there was a lot of angst about recovery at all.

Q: What is your ideal holiday location?

Bali. Great place, great people, great weather - kids love it.

Q: Who are your main hardware and software providers?

Our main software provider is America Online, which provides us with proprietary AOL software, applications and content.

Q: What is the best thing about working in IT?

The gadgets!

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

I don’t really have an IT guru but I admire anyone who focuses on service delivery, not technology for technology’s sake.

Q: What is your IT prediction for this year?


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