25 Q&As: Understanding, honesty top the performance quotient

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Shane Martin Director, information services, Phillips Fox, Sydney, shares his experiences with Sandra Rossi.

Q: What would you put on a wishlist for IT vendor performance?

Understand our business and our business issues and challenges; understand your products and services; do not oversell and be honest.

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

The challenge for many IT managers is managing user expectations and assisting the realisation of business benefits from existing systems investments. Many organisations now have a large investment in their core IT platforms and the number of large systems implementation projects is less than it was, say, three to five years ago. Improving application integration (of existing applications) and helping the business to more effectively realise benefits presents a different set of challenges when compared with the more traditional ‘new system implementation project’.

IT managers need to raise their interaction with the business to new levels and focus on business value — there is not much kudos in simply ‘keeping the system running’. In addition, the knowledge of IT issues is much more widespread in the business areas which often results in increased demand for the latest ‘gadget’ or technology (such as wireless). Again, the IT manager needs to work carefully with the business to ensure the focus remains on business value, not ‘IT gadget envy’. People skills are needed now more than ever.

Q: What has been the most significant breakthrough during your IT career?

I have to say the Internet and e-mail — primarily due to their pervasive impact on IT users everywhere. I recall a budget proposal to implement cc:Mail into a large organisation where I was the CIO in the early 90s. The CEO asked a couple of the executive team why he should approve the expenditure as he didn’t think he’d ever use electronic mail! Needless to say, there was support within the executive team and e-mail was implemented (the CEO even used it — eventually). The speed at which the Internet has became ‘taken for granted’ around the world has been simply awesome, and I have to say that I really enjoy not having to queue at the bank branch these days!

Q: When did you start in IT and what job did you have before you moved into IT?

I started in IT in the mid-1980s when I was an officer in the Royal Australian Navy.

Q: What has been the most disappointing thing (project, technology, IT service) for you during your IT career?

Possibly the most disappointing IT hype has been the progression, progression, progression... towards the ‘paperless office’! Despite document management systems, scanning, e-mail and knowledge management systems, CDs and other technologies, there seems to be little reduction in the amount of paper we use... (then again, I currently work with lawyers and they like their paper!).

Q: What tertiary qualifications do you have?

Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting, finance and systems). Master of Commerce (Information systems). Graduate, Australian Institute of Company Directors

Q: What was the first computer technology you used (and when)?

The first computer technology I used was an Apple II in 1978. It was great.

Fast facts: Employees: 1500. IT users: 1500. IT budget: More than $2 million. Key applications: CMS Open (Time, Billing & Accounting); Doc Management, Workflow, Office. Key infrastructure — hardware: Dell, Cisco; networking: ADS; operating systems: Windows 2000, Linux.

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