5 minutes with... James Huckerby CIO, Panthers Entertainment Group

Q: How did you get into IT?

My father had been involved in computers since the mid-1960s, so I grew up around them.

Q: What does your current role involve?

Developing and executing strategies, establishing operations, program direction.

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

The head office is (the home of the Penrith Panthers) at Penrith (in Sydney’s outer western suburbs). There are 450 standard desktop users, 1150 operational desktop users for point-of-sale and Loyalty, and 130,000-plus external customer users of the gaming systems.

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

— ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), a loyalty system, IT governance, patented promotional system, gaming system and a digital surveillance system

Q: What’s your IT budget?

More than $2 million.

Q: How many IT professionals make up your team?

In the core team there are 14 IT professionals with an additional 18 in pockets throughout the business (such as gaming analysis)

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

I report to Roger Cowan (CEO). Head of operations, head of project management and infrastructure manager report to me.

Q: What are your greatest IT challenges?

Delivering value from the IT investment. Ensuring IT aligns with business goals. Rationalising IT, so we are not spending any more than we need to, and implementing strategies — the development is the easy bit.

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

Keeping tabs on many different projects and programs at the same time.

Q: What has been the most challenging IT project(s) of you career? What happened?

European Expansion Program (EEP) for Global Crossing. There were 65 sites being commissioned in a little over a year, containing between five and 400 users, across many countries and cultures. Prior to EEP, everyone was specifying each site differently in terms of infrastructure and applications, in a blind rush to get the job done. By standardising on three types of “infrastructure templates”, depending on the site, we saved millions of dollars and provided an efficient, supportable and recoverable environment.

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

IT governance

Q: What’s your average week like?

Meet with my team to see where we are all at and resolve any issues. Meet with IT steering committee (ceo, group general manager, gaming director) to run through where the IT portfolio is up to. Work on strategies, meet vendors, meet IT project managers throughout the business, maybe go on a site visit, update budgets and forecasts.

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

Deciding on an ERP solution.

Q: What is your company Web strategy?

Have a great partner in @www — work together in a strategic manner on this. We developed an e-business policy mid last year covering many aspects of our Web strategy. We are currently developing updated strategy with marketing director, which will address this from the perspectives of marketing, sales, service and technology.

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

Anything to do with customer-facing systems ceasing to work — gaming and POS — we net a couple of million a week via these systems. The WAN links have redundancy — each terminal has stand-alone resilience but I still worry.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing IT managers now? Why?

Justifying their budget (not to mention existence). Many organisations feel they have been spending a great deal of money for very little return in terms of IT. IT managers have been partly to blame for this as they have historically looked at technology spend for the sake of technology rather than for business reasons.

In some cases business units are to blame, for example the whole CRM carry-on over the last few years has resulted from business unit managers and even CEOs making strategic IT decisions without the buy-in (or in some cases knowledge) of their IT team. It comes down to a lack of communication and participation between IT and the business.

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

Good story over a beer — not a good story to publish in Computerworld.

Q: What is your IT prediction for this year?

Wireless will go mainstream.

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