5 minutes with . . . David Sharp IS manager - Sydney, Coudert Brothers

Computerworld: How did you get into IT?

David Sharp: When I was about 12, I read a magazine article explaining what computers could do and how they worked. I liked the idea and decided from that point that I would like to work with computers, probably as a programmer. While studying for a degree in physics at the University of London, I made sure that I took as many computer units as possible and after graduation emigrated to Australia and obtained a job as a programmer/analyst with Wormald Australia.

CW: Briefly explain what was involved when you had to overhaul the IS system for your company and how long did it take?

DS: I joined Coudert Brothers just over a year ago, a few days after its merger with the old established Australian law firm of Norton Smith & Co.

The IT infrastructure that I inherited was all Norton Smith (a firm of more than 200 people at the time), as the original Coudert Brothers' Sydney office was only 15 to 20 people. There were three main components to deal with. We needed to establish a rolling upgrade program for the IT infrastructure (as nothing much had been done for around a year in this area due to merger talks. We needed to take the Sydney office forward in terms of re-establishing software enhancement programs for products such as a document management system. We also had to integrate and align our systems with Coudert Brothers' worldwide IT "blueprint" for systems hardware and software. The first two areas have been dealt with and the integration is well under way, although it may still be more than 12 months away from completion. The main issue in this third area was convincing our New York office the newly merged Sydney office was already using the platform the rest of Coudert Brothers was trying to move to internationally, and that our systems required an integration plan rather than a roll-out plan.

CW: What is the best compliment you have received on your work?

DS: Compliments in the IT world are few and far between; in fact I tend to believe that getting no complaints is as close to getting a compliment as it gets. However, probably the best compliment I have received came from the CEO of one of my former employers who thanked me publicly for my outstanding efforts in planning and managing a trouble-free relocation of our head office with no unplanned downtime.

CW: What career would you choose if not for IT?

DS: I was interested in wine before I arrived in Australia 25 years ago, but since then my interest (some might say devotion) has only grown - so given a chance to start again, I think I'd like to be a winemaker.

CW: List your three favourite things about working in the IT industry?

DS: Firstly, the constant change within the industry due to the introduction of new hardware and software products.

Next is introducing my users to new technology and explaining to them how it can help them in their particular areas of work. And I like the camaraderie that exists between IT people from different firms and companies, even though sometimes those entities may be in direct competition with each other.

CW: What other duties does your current role involve?

DS: Although not directly part of my role, I do get involved with the system we have to capture our soft disbursement costs and thence our PABX system. This involves capture of costs, sending those costs to New York for "upload" into our practice management system software (Elite), and production of reports for distribution to the office regarding unallocated soft disbursement costs.

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

DS: We are currently finalising the rollout of our document management system (Docs Open) and expect to be enabling access between our documents and documents from other offices, that are connecting to the WAN, over the next few months. Another project we are working on now is to set up the worldwide Coudert Brothers' intranet site. We, in Sydney, wanted to set up our own intranet site but New York was not keen on the idea. After some negotiation we managed to persuade New York that since they had neither the time nor resources to develop the site themselves, then we should develop the site from Sydney. This was agreed and was very significant for us as it represents the first time that we had been given a project that would have worldwide implications.

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

DS: I've never really thought of anyone in the IT industry as a personal role model, but the people I do admire most are the pioneers of our industry - the developers of the early computers such as Atlas, inventors of the transistor, semiconductor memory and the like.

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

DS: E-commerce has to be top of the list in my book, providing B2B and B2C services via the Web. Areas that are particularly hot within law firms and legal services are knowledge management and portals.

CW: Is there any part of the IT industry that you would like to learn more about?

DS: With such a rapid rate of change in the IT industry, I believe that it is essential to try to keep abreast of the latest developments. There is no particular area within IT that I believe I need (or want) to know more about, but I do try and keep up with the latest developments.

CW: Where is your dream destination?

DS: This may sound a bit strange but I'd really love to go up in a rocket and orbit the Earth. I expect this isn't a terribly practical idea. The time that I remember most fondly was a holiday in the Greek islands as a backpacker in the early 1970s.

CW: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

DS: I'm not sure "enjoy" is the right word, but during my spare time I do play golf at Kellyville Country Club, (known to many as Mongrel Park). I also enjoy exercising at a gymnasium where I try to get to at least four mornings a week before I start at the office, and as I've already mentioned, I am certainly a wine enthusiast.

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