5 minutes with . . . Srimal Abeysekera, information services manager, Macquarie Area Health Service, (NSW)

Computerworld: What was your first job in IT?

Srimal Abeysekera: The first job I had in IT was working for a small business software vendor in London as its business manager. I was responsible for developing markets for accounting software and point-of-sale software for small businesses.

CW: Did you always envisage you would have a career in IT?

SA: No! When I left school I started training as a management accountant. By the time I got my 'Charter' in accounting I was already working in the IT industry. Also, my accounting studies were heavily focused on information management and management information systems, which blended in very well with my working environment.

CW: What geographical area does the Macquarie Health Service cover?

SA: Macquarie area covers 116,400 sqkm (or about 15 per cent of NSW). The region includes 16 hospitals in locations such as Cobar, Coonabarabran, Mudgee and Wellington. Dubbo is the administrative headquarters for the area health service. The area population is about 100,000.

CW: How many people make up the Macquarie Health Service IT department?

SA: There are eight, including a help desk operator. A lot of the work is outsourced.

CW: What major projects or issues are you working on at the moment?

SA: I am in the process of deploying a standard operating environment (SOE) for all the campuses in our wide area network. I am also putting together plans for a virtual private network (VPN) to connect other regional locations in our organisation, which goes hand in hand with the SOE project.

We are also deploying a data warehouse tool and developing an intranet to work as the front end to access the warehouse data among other things.

CW: Who are your key network product suppliers?

SA: Acer, ASI, Accton, Compaq, Cisco, Novell and MicrosoftCW: Will the Sydney Olympics affect your company, or your department?

SA: Since we are about 400km out of Sydney, the Olympics should not affect our operations very much. However, there are plans in place to accommodate emergencies should the need arise.

CW: Describe your typical work day.

SA: Most of the time my workday starts very early when I log in to the office to check the status of mission-critical systems. When I get to the office, I spend about half an hour or so attending to e-mails and other paperwork such as signing orders, timesheets and so on.

I spend a certain amount of time each day on current long-term projects such as the SOE, VPN and intranet projects. On top of these planned activities, there is always a file server or a communications issue, which needs my attention somewhere within the system.

CW: What do you enjoy most about your current position?

SA: I get a lot of satisfaction seeing information technology at work on a day-today basis helping my colleagues to take better decisions and to provide a better service to our clients.

CW: What do you believe are the hottest technology trends right now?

SA: Thin-client technology which reduces the total cost of ownership (TCO) of PCs and also helps to break the connectivity barriers by making it more practical to interconnect computers using low bandwidth.

Developments in emerging technologies such as X500 compliant directories, the open-source arena, and voice and data integration techniques such as voice over IP should be followed with an interest.

CW: What do you think about the growing popularity of e-marketplaces?

SA: E-commerce has given people a lot of flexibility in how they trade in goods and services. It gives buyers a lot of freedom to acquire things they want not just from local markets but also from international locations. From the seller's perspective it opens up markets in global proportions. E-commerce surely has made the world economy a true global market.

CW: What are your thoughts on online banking:

SA: Love it. I think online banking has revolutionised most aspects of banking. I cannot remember a day I stepped in to a high street bank branch. Features such as online back statements, BPay, funds transfer and online brokering have made my life very easy. Sure, it is not going to replace the friendly bank staff at high street branches who provide an invaluable service. Online banking has added an extra dimension to traditional banking services which were available only between 10am and 3:30pm Monday to Friday not so long ago.

CW: Who do you most admire within the IT industry?

SA: Bill Gates for making desktop computer software more user friendly and thereby making it more accessible to a larger audience.

CW: What has been your greatest achievement since working in IT?

SA: Deploying a wide area network to enable e-mail access and data connectivity for all the regional sites in my current organisation.

CW: What is the most difficult decision you have ever had to make and why?

SA: Lots of difficult decisions are made in an IT environment, based on value for money and quality criteria. It is hard to rank.

CW: List your three favourite and three least favourite things about working in IT.

SA: My favourites about IT are working with cutting edge technology; flexible working practices and hours and my new laptop and WAP (Wireless Area Protocol)-enabled mobile phone. And the least favourite would have to be that it's a conversation killer at parties when I say "I am in computers!" Next is file server and router crashes and 900 people asking, "when will the system be up" all at the same time. Then, the too rapid changes in technologies with the need to replace obsolete equipment continuously.

CW: What do you like to do in spare time?

SA: I spend a lot of time in the garden, especially during the warmer months. This helps me to counter pressures at work. Also, of late, I have developed an interest in music, in particular jazz. I hope to spend more of my spare time pursuing these interests in the future.

CW: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

SA: To be a good jazz saxophonist!

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