5 minutes with... Phillip Coleman, IT project manager and team manager, Zurich Financial Services Australia

Q: How did you get into IT?

I did an introductory computer course in year 11 where we used “mark sense” cards to write some small routines and then ran them through a small computer. It struck my interest and from there I set my mind on a career in IT.

After year 12 I enrolled in a degree course in computing science at the New South Wales Institute of Technology, now the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Whilst studying I completed some training and work at some computer installations doing primarily computer operations type work. I completed my degree on a part-time basis whilst working for Norman Ross as a PL/1 programmer and then moved into analysis and programming, before branching into database and a DBA role before getting into systems programming. After that it was into networks and then into pure project management with a previous project management background in several IT projects.

Q: What does your current role involve?

As an IT project manager/team manager, I am responsible for running a variety of projects as they are identified and approved. Most of these are initiatives for Zurich — which has 1500 users — with varying degrees of complexity and budget. I am also responsible for a small team that looks after SAP HR and payroll, management reporting and Lotus Notes development. It is a juggle to manage the team and its activities and complete projects. The key is to ensure you have the right mix of good people working for you.

Q: What’s your annual IT budget?

$33 million and reducing all the time.

Q: What projects are you working on now?

I have just moved from one project called Caxton, which was a communication project focused on rationalising letters and documents issued to customers and implementing an archiving system. I am in the process of kicking off a new project this month which is an extension of another project that has just been implemented and is aimed at providing improved support to our brokers.

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

I suppose it would have to be juggling the management of a small team and managing new and varied projects. Every project is different and the day-to-day work is varied. Applying a few basic management and project management principles and using some simple tools lightens the impact.

Keeping up with the technology that changes daily would be high on the list.

Ensuring you have the right people with the appropriate skill set to complete the work.

I firmly believe you are only as good as the people you have working for you and am fortunate to have some good people working for me in my team.

Q: How many IT professionals in your team?

My core team used to be 14. Today it is a lean team of eight looking after SAP HR/Payroll, Lotus Notes development and management reporting. We support a larger IS team of techos, specialists, programmers, analysts and so on. My project teams vary depending on the project complexity. I have had large and small teams. I am still looking at the resourcing requirements for the project I am starting this month.

Q: What is the most pressing issue you face?

Getting the job done with limited resources and a limited budget.

Q: What’s your average week like?

Month end, quarter end and year end always present specific challenges. These aside, a normal week would start with a review of the weekend’s processing and investigating and checking as and if required, any issues that may have arisen. This is always a juggle of priorities and is fluid every day of the week.

Q: What’s been your most difficult IT decision?

Whether to remain a techo or cross over to the other side and manage.

Q: What is your company Web strategy?

Anyone not using the Web in the future won’t be around in the future. Zurich aims to provide convenience and access to customers in their own time without pressure. Make things simple and accessible to the customer. Provide a service that can be trusted and an experience that will keep the customer coming back.

Q: Do you plan to take additional training?

Yes. I am currently completing a course via distance learning at the University of Canberra with a focus on leadership and management. I will end up with a Graduate Diploma in Defence Studies.

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

A failure of critical systems only to find that backups required for any recovery are corrupt; the impact would be catastrophic.

Q: What is your IT prediction for this year?

An improvement in the IT market. It is currently very tight and hard for those in the industry.

Business is not spending as much as it has in the past. As confidence improves and the purse strings are released, more IT professionals will gain or regain employment. I think this will result in growth and a positive future for business and IT. The good thing is that the current climate is causing a rethink in approaches and priorities and this can only be beneficial going forward.

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More about Critical SystemsInto networksNormanSAP AustraliaUniversity of CanberraUniversity of CanberraUniversity of Technology SydneyUTSZurich Financial Services Australia

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