25 Q&As: Hot foot it out the back door

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Paul Simmonds, Infrastructure services manager, Business Services, Smorgon Steel Group, Victoria, shares his experiences with Helen Han.

Q: How do you want one key IT technology to develop over the coming three to five years?

Smorgon Steel uses Citrix to deliver a large portion of its applications to its users. This has allowed us to keep the cost of IT to a minimum by giving us the ability to deliver IT across a broad range of devices, without needing a large desktop support team across the whole of Australia.

Advances in the Citrix platform look exciting for a company like Smorgon’s and we are looking at implementing some of them.

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

It would be really great for IT vendors if they always gave you their best price up front. Going around in circles trying to get the best price wastes everybody’s time and in the end wastes money on both the supplier and purchaser’s side.

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

The biggest challenge facing IT managers is cutting the costs of IT without reducing service levels. Going back a number of years, major projects always had a significant percentage of hardware costs embedded in them; as the cost of hardware has reduced it is becoming harder to find areas of cost reduction that do not impact service levels. IT managers have to become a lot more inventive in the way they deliver a service. Taking time to look at all the options rather than just the mainstream ones that are always being shown you. Sometimes this means discarding a process that you know works in favour of one that is less used, but may be a better solution. For example, most IT managers will always tell you that a desktop standard operating environment (SOE) will save you money. Well, at a recent conference I was interested to hear that one CIO had found a way to save money by not having an SOE. This has caused me to go back and look at our plans for deploying an SOE and whether or not we can take another approach to desktop support.

Q: What has been the most exciting experience of your IT career?

Having worked in IT in a number of countries over the last 30 years there are have been two incidents that have really demonstrated the need for a good disaster plan. The first was in Birmingham, England, in the 70s when the computer centre I was working in was blown up. Luckily no one was hurt, but it certainly made you think about security in the computer centre. The second was working for a large outsourcing company in Tehran, Iran, in 1978. This was the time of the Iranian revolution and while I was working at a computer centre used by the government and the Shah. One day we heard that a large riot was heading our way and we decided none too soon to hotfoot it out of the site through a back window. As the last of the staff escaped the front windows of the site were punctured with bullet holes. We didn’t go back for weeks.

Fast facts: Head office: Melbourne, Victoria. Employees: 5100. IT users: 2500. IT budget: More than $2 million. Key applications: JDE, SAP, Symix, Manugistics, ARMA+. Key infrastructure — software: Smorgon’s saves costs by using Citrix to deliver applications to end users; hardware: HP, IBM and Dell; networking: Telstra frame relay; operating systems: AIX, HP/UX, Dynix and Microsoft.

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