5 minutes with . . . Geoff Harders CIO, North Western Shared IT&T Services

Computerworld: As a child, what did you want to be when you 'grew up'?

Geoff Harders: Out of a number of childhood desires the most consistent was, I think, wanting to be an air force pilot.

CW: How did you get into IT?

GH: I left school before I should have - a little head-strong, but it only took a few months in the real world in very junior positions to realise that my folks did know something! By this stage I also had a taste for a regular income so I found a job where I could get an education and get paid at the same time - with the Police Cadets. After a few years of this, and while continuing my education at night school, I became a little bored and about that time there was an opportunity to join the emerging computer systems division of the force. I was accepted and started a long period of just devouring this new technology. During that time I also went to Melbourne University part time and completed a commerce degree with majors in computer science, accounting and sub-majors in commercial law, economics and statistics.

CW: What duties does your current position involve?

GH: I provide IT&T services to Melbourne Health, Northern Health and Western Health which provide 20 per cent of the health care in Victoria over an area of about 2600 square kilometres. It also involves all the strategic and project-related work in telecommunications such as PABXs, personal alarm systems, internal and external paging systems and the like.

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

GH: The previous organisation (North Western Health) was recently split into three separate organisations and new boards and CEOs were appointed. The strategy plan will need to be reassessed and possibly realigned to take into account the potentially differing priorities of the new CEOs and boards. We had projects of about $48 million planned over the next three years.

CW: What is the most challenging part of your job?

GH: In health care, it doesn't matter how good the idea, if there are no funds then the project will not proceed. In some ways, it is the challenge of being able to deliver an innovative solution, on the smell of an oily rag.

CW: How many IT professionals make up your IT team?

GH: I have an authorised strength of 54 people but currently have 48 on staff - the rest are on hold because of budget constraints.

CW: Do you plan additional training?

GH: I think life is one long learning commitment and if you stop learning you stop living or at least just stagnate. The experts in my team also do a good job of keeping me up to date with developments.

CW: What is the most pressing issue you face as CIO?

GH: Attracting and retaining staff and secondly (and somewhat linked) making sure we have a sufficient budget to carry out the needs of the organisation.

CW: What is the most difficult IT decision you have had to make?

GH: There have been many difficult decisions over the years; however, a clear understanding of the issues, a clear understanding of your vision and strategic direction and the consequences of that strategy and vision of various options has always provided me with the right choice.

CW: List three likes and dislikes about your job.

GH: Likes: the great team of IT professionals that work with me; the potential to provide a service and solution to make such a difference to the health outcomes of our patients and to provide the vehicle to facilitate research in medical science; the sense of everyone wanting to work to a common goal of providing the best patient care even under some difficult circumstances.

The dislikes really are all associated with resources and budget: the constant battle for an adequate budget; the inability to provide the resources (workstations, systems etc) that are really needed in the clinical areas and having inadequate human resources and having to ask our folks to do extraordinary things, 'above and beyond' for extended and unsustainable periods.

CW: What would you imagine life to be like without computers?

GH: Chaos! Computers touch about every aspect of our lives today. It would be bedlam initially - but maybe it would eventually force people to take a somewhat slower approach to life.

CW: What is your company Web strategy?

GH: We see Web-based delivery as essential to our future in delivery of information internally as well as to our external customers such as GPs and primary care facilities.

CW: Name five people you would invite to a dinner party and why?

GH: John F Kennedy; while he is not quite flavour of the month, I have always found him to be charismatic and his speeches to be inspiring. Peter Ustinov, a wonderful raconteur. Bette Midler, wonderful entertainer and wicked sense of humour and Chuck Yeager. He was the first man to break the sound barrier; I had an opportunity to meet him and would like to hear some more of those stories. Maggie Thatcher, to see if she really is as tough as she came across in the media.

CW: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you at work?

GH: I am really a shy person and don't like to be the centre of attention. Every Christmas party I seem to be presented with some form of headgear (a king's crown, a viking helmet complete with horns etc) and entering into the spirit of things I'm obliged to wear it for the duration of the event.

CW: Where do you see yourself in five years time?

GH: I'll be where there is a challenge and where I can make a difference. Life is too short to coast and waste it!

CW: What is the worst IT disaster you worry about happening?

GH: We have a number of sites that we look after and have some distributed processing; however, a number of our main systems are processed from the one site over a microwave-based WAN system. Whilst we have our main processors clustered, because of budget constraints, we do not have any off-site processing capability. Some catastrophic disaster affecting these main processors would have a major impact on our ability to provide the required service.

CW: What takes up your spare time outside work?

GH: I am building a four-seater aeroplane. It is called a Lancair-IVP and is mainly carbon fibre construction. It will be pressurised and will fly at about 26,000 to 30,000 feet at about 300kts (550kms per hour). I have neglected it over the Y2K and GST implementation period but am back at it again.

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