5 minutes with... Simon Bryan IT manager, Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta

Q: How did you get into IT?

I started out as a social science teacher, and got very bored with teaching commerce, so I wrote a simple bookkeeping program for the schools Apple 11e — that got me hooked in computing. I then taught computing and wrote various courses for delivery in the school and was also a member of the Computing Studies Syllabus Committee. I came to the college as the computer coordinator with a second role to look after the administration system (three computers at the time).

As the admin system developed and more computers were placed in the school, my admin role grew to where I was finally relieved of my teaching duties and became the full-time IT manager.

Q: What does your current role involve?

Keeping everything working, finding and implementing new software, hardware and other systems. Supervising the IT support staff (we have 1.5 FTE). Teacher training and support, troubleshooting, help-desk, basically whatever needs doing it is my role to see it gets done by one of the staff or by me.

Q: What are the details of your recent rollout of QAS’ address validation program called QuickAddress for the school’s administration system — such as the costs involved and benefits you hope to achieve. When and how do you expect to see return on investment?

Our main interest was in moving 6000 ex-student details from our older DOS based system to a Windows-based system; the data needed to be cleaned and restructured on the way. QAS took care of both tasks, we now are confident that the addresses we have on file are at least valid addresses. We then used the software to clean the addresses of our current families. Given we have a small number of administration staff that do address entry, the rollout was quite simple.

Being a school we do not talk about ROI in the same terms as a profit-driven organisation. We feel that the benefits we have already achieved have more than paid for the software — it took one person a couple of hours to convert the data, as opposed to a number of people manually rekeying the data in the new format.

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

We see a big future in Web-enabled systems; we have placed our academic reporting system online so staff can easily enter all the data; we use a number of other Web-based applications to run and manage the IT department. These are all Linux-based running Apache/PHP/MySql and Postgres.

One of our big issues is reducing the ever increasing workload being placed upon teachers by community and government expectations. We need to harness the power of our IT systems especially in staff/staff, staff/student and staff/family communication.

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

Keeping up to date with the changes in IT as well as the changes in the education system and curriculums. It is important I don’t forget what it is to be in the classroom with 30 students and computers that just won’t do what they did yesterday.

Q: What are your greatest IT challenges?

User security (the students tend to share passwords around) and keeping the nasties of the Internet in terms of porn and spam away from the students.

Q: How many IT professionals in your team?

Myself, one technical support officer, one part-time technical support officer.

Q: Who do you report to, and who reports to you?

I report to the school executive and the technical support staff report to me.

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

Documenting all the processes that we carry out regularly and irregularly

Q: What’s your average week like?

No such beast! Mixture of meetings with staff, suppliers, developers. Hands on development and troubleshooting.

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

More office space to work in!

Q: What is your Web strategy?

We use our Web site (www.olmc.nsw.edu.au) as a means of communicating with the parents and general community as well as a first point of contact for staff and students to access online resources.

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

Fell down stairs, while dressed in miniskirt and stockings doing a send-up of the Robert Palmer song Simply Irresistible for the senior talent quest.

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

Losing the academic reports and backups just as teachers finish entering the data.

Q: What is your IT prediction for this year?

For us, remember this is a school, we see the ‘Webifying’ of data collection and work practices as the most significant issue.

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