5 minutes with . . . Maria Cabrera, IT manager, Civic Services Group, Bankstown City Council

Computerworld: As a child, what did you want to be when you 'grew up'?Maria Cabrera: I wanted to be a writer. I thought writers reached many people in an entertaining and thought provoking (exciting!) way. I still believe and have proven that information is the key to make sound choices; it's what makes a difference to the individual and consequently any organisation.

CW: What's a normal day at the office for you.

MC: Turn the mobile phone on at 7am to be contactable if any systems are down or there is an emergency. I arrive at work between 8 and 8.30am. I tend not to schedule any meetings for the first hour so I can deal with my mail and any emergencies. On a good day, I will have two to three meetings, manage a 40-minute walk at lunchtime. Then spend an hour or so informally talking to my staff to keep my fingers on the pulse to nurture a strong team approach and offer some unobtrusive mentoring if needed. After 4.30pm I take advantage of the fact that phones and interruptions tend to slow down and I do some research or complete particular projects or tasks required. Then I briefly review the help desk statistics for the day and plan for the next day.

CW: In five words, describe what working in IT means to you.

MC: Motivating, demanding, challenging and self-rewarding.

CW: What are the main IT initiatives for Bankstown Civic Services?MC: We have recently completed the implementation of a number of projects after a devastating fire in 1997. These projects included the implementation of a number of systems at once as well as Y2K projects, GST and relocation of users.

We implemented a best of breed solution in 1998-99 that required integration.

The major task is to review the platform by which we would achieve this and develop at the same time a sound infrastructure to move to e-service provision.

CW: What are the main IT systems in use at your workplace?MC: SAP (NT, Oracle); Docs Open (NT, Oracle); Maestro-GIS (Informix, Unix); Authority-Property (Unix, Informix); Advance - Library (Unix, Universe) Hicom - Siemens (PABX), Microsoft desktop, NetWare 5.1.

CW: How are your departments split up at Bankstown Civic Services and Bankstown City Council?MC: Bankstown City Council operates within a purchaser/provider model. Civic IT and Property Services is one of 10 business units in the provider or commercial arm of council. Its services are provided under service level agreements and need to be competitive with the open market.

CW: What are your views on e-commerce and how it will assist you and your organisation.

MC: E-commerce or e-service provision is the logical step for any organisation that wishes to be relevant in today's environment. Service or citizen information provision will certainly improve council's interaction with the community. For the commercial arm of council e-commerce, in particular business-to-business relationships will ensure its competitiveness.

CW: What steps did you take to become an IT manager?MC: My background is in information science. I worked in public libraries for a number of years. In the 80s it was clear to me that the future of any information organisation was tightly linked with technology. My library management roles allowed me to introduce technology implementation projects and also indicated to me that IT was a business enabler where management skills were critical to maximise its use and benefit. The opportunity to manage a commercial arm in a public organisation combining information and technology was the obvious stepping stone to IT management.

CW: Have you ever considered becoming a contractor?MC: Yes I have. Indeed my current role as manager of IT in the commercial arm of a public organisation allows me to manage IT service provision within a Service Level Agreement context in a competitive environment. Providing contracting services could very well be the next step.

CW: How hard has it been for you to succeed in what was, and still is, a male dominated industry?MC: It has not been easy. Although I must admit that at the time I never thought it was because I am a woman. With hindsight in many occasions I am sure results would have been easier if the drinking and 'mate' approach had been possible. Too often where an assertive response would be acceptable in a male, a female is labelled as aggressive or "dragon lady".

CW: If you could start again, what other career would you choose?MC: My first career choice was law. Then I switched to information science and later to IT.

If I could start again I would still choose IT with a management component. I am keen about enabling business competitiveness; there is nothing like IT to contribute to this and make a difference in breaking down barriers.

CW: What do you like best about your job?MC: The challenge to win the customer's loyalty by introducing new solutions to help achieve business or personal outcomes and the opportunity to nurture staff and help each other grow. I also enjoy the constant learning opportunities.

There is never any danger of staying idle.

CW: What is the best compliment you have received on your work?MC: The best compliment is no complaints against any of the systems we support or against my staff. It is normal for IT staff to be on the receiving end of angry and impatient users of technology. A true compliment is being asked for advice to help facilitate a business outcome and knowing it succeeded.

Observing staff grow and contribute is also a compliment.

CW: How do you like to relax, and what are your hobbies?MC: I like to walk, read and spend time with my family (especially when we go dancing!) and the new addition to my family, my grandson Daniel. I am enjoying being a 'cyber grandma'!CW: What is the most embarrassing work moment?MC: Unable to project a powerful presentation because of a technical malfunction. Technology is great when it works but it also challenges you at the most critical times.

CW: What is your ideal holiday location and why:MC: Anywhere near a beach with plenty of nature walks, sun bathe and plenty of time to read!

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