5 minutes with... Greg Jones Group IT manager, Northern Co-operative Meat Company, Casino NSW

Q: How did you get into IT?

While I was still at high school I went to a careers night where I talked to an adviser about getting into the computer industry. He told me that anyone can learn a computer language in six weeks, but what businesses really need is someone who also has a business background. On his recommendation, I went to the University of NSW to do a Bachelor of Commerce with a second major in Information Systems (then very new).

Q: What was your first IT role?

I joined Wilson Computer Services in Sydney as a trainee programmer in 1984. That progressed almost immediately to WCS hiring me out to various companies for extended periods as a stand-in IT manager while implementing their new software systems. It got me heavily involved in the IT operations of various companies, which I enjoyed.

Q: What does your current role involve?

We cover all IT functions for two abattoirs in northern NSW, at Casino and at Booyong, near Lismore. We handle the management of day-to-day issues regarding software and hardware, as well as the planning and implementation of new projects.

Q: What projects are you working on now?

We are about to start building a new boning room at the Booyong plant, which will involve setting up a large part of the network and phone systems from scratch again with fibre and Cat 5 cabling. As well, we are in the process of selecting new software for the project. This week we also started parallel running a new hide grading system for our tannery. We are also reviewing various items of equipment for different projects.

Q: What’s your greatest challenge?

Providing a working solution to the constant stream of jobs requested in the plants. The fix may involve any combination of software, computer hardware, or specialist equipment such as barcode scanners or label printers. It is often a cooperative effort by the engineering and IT departments.

Q: What are your greatest IT challenges?

Trying to balance resources between keeping the plants running smoothly and making progress on projects. Also, trying to keep compatibility between old and new equipment as new standards evolve and equipment levels improve.

Q: How many IT professionals in your team and what’s the reporting structure?

There are five in the team, four of whom report to me and I report to the general manager.

Q: What is your annual IT budget?

We are in a fast-moving and rapidly changing industry so we don’t tend to allocate funds for each department for the year. For new projects, a department will put in a proposal for work to be done. If the board of directors considers the project to be important enough, it will go ahead. For all but the largest projects, what we will be working on in the next few months may not have even been thought of yet!

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

Casino in NSW. That site has about 800 employees and about 80 PCs including HEC (harsh environment computers — that’s touch terminals in stainless steel sealed boxes), wireless scanners and so on. Although the plant is heavily dependant on our various computer systems, only some of the production workers need to use a terminal.

Q: What is your company Web strategy?

For competitive reasons, I would rather not discuss our long-term aims for Web-based business. However, as with a lot of other companies, some of our users are using Web-based applications every day. Where appropriate, we are using the Web for business applications wherever we can. We also now upload and download to various Web-based meat industry databases.

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

I think a background in IT and business gives you a good opportunity to move into a lot of different areas. Either some management area or a consulting role.

Q: What iIT disaster do you fear?

A failure of a major component of the system. We are a long way from assistance, being three hours from the closest capital city, Brisbane. A lot of our suppliers and repairers are based in Sydney or Melbourne. We also get a lot of pretty spectacular lightning in this area, so there is always a chance of a strike.

Q: What is your IT prediction for this year?

One day soon, I am hoping the major manufacturers get their act together and force some industry standards for Bluetooth. I think it will travel the same path as USB, where to start with there were few products which were compatible, and few people could see a real benefit. Now, it is so common you don’t even think about it any more.

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