25 Q&As: The power of the spreadsheet

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Jeff Hodder, Group IT manager, Australand Holdings Limited, Sydney, shares his experiences with David Beynon.

Q: What IT technologies have brought the most benefits?

The humble spreadsheet. For being a number cruncher, database, wordprocessor, in fact almost anything a user wanted, it put the power of data analysis back into the hands of the business. With this power the business was able to unlock the data held in early IT systems and turn it into information and thence knowledge. The availability of this knowledge, in the business’s hands, allowed business decisions, both large and small, to be made with far greater confidence and speed. In doing so, it forced IT to deal with such issues as the floppy disk ‘sneaker net’ leading to the development of the ‘connected everywhere’ focus of today’s networking. It also forced IT to evolve from data processing to information systems to knowledge management.

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

In the post-Y2K hiatus the business announced, mid-January 2000, a takeover which doubled its size overnight. Despite development efforts, by June none of our ERP systems could support the impending GST introduction. In August the decisions were finalised to replace the ERPs by December 31. The task involved the integration of three disparate systems with the internal team being responsible for one of the systems and all integration software. In IT terms the systems were delivered two weeks late but represented a world-first integration achievement due to the brilliant efforts of the development and delivery teams. Then we had to teach the business how to use them. The business has since doubled in size again.

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

Having the right people in the right job is always the biggest management challenge. The breadth of IT appreciation and skills is increasing but it is not yet all-pervasive in the work-force. Similarly the IT profession is acquiring more business skills but there are still not enough. Whilst there will always be the need for the purely technical disciplines within IT, being a tool for the business we need more knowledge and skills on how to use IT to deliver business value.

Q: What has been most disappointing thing for you during your IT career?

The time taken to commoditise parts of IT so we can concentrate on the why, not the how.

Q: Choose one key IT technology and describe how you want it to develop over the coming three to five years?

Our Prolog Project Management and Web collaboration suite has the power to change the way business is conducted for our operating divisions. Its initial implementation focused on its job costing capabilities and only this year have we begun working with the business to realise the potential of its management and collaborative features. Due to the very project-orientated activity of our operating divisions there is a tremendous challenge to meet the needs of the individual teams.

Q: What is the scariest thing looking forward in your IT career?

The skills of my children and their peers entering the workforce, the demands they will create and the opportunities they will dream. Change will only get faster.

Fast facts: Head office: Rhodes, Sydney. Annual turnover: $1.2 billion. Employees: 600. IT users: 500. Key applications: Emhasys Financials, Prolog Project Management, In-House Stock, Debtors, Empower, TM1, CRM, 101 other bits. Key infrastructure — hardware: Dell; networking: Cisco, 3 Com; operating systems: XP, NT 2000.

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