5 minutes with... Michael Robinson, former Mission Australia IT manager

Q:How did you get into IT?

I was working as an accountant in local government and realised that the people 10 years ahead of me weren’t where I wanted to be in 10 years. I had the opportunity to diversify into IT and took it, very quickly leaving the bean counting behind me. The people in IT who were 10 years ahead of me were where I wanted to be.

For how many years have you worked in IT?

About 12 years, but it seems longer.

Where are you working now?

I am currently unemployed, waiting for someone to disturb my life of leisure.

What did your last IT role involve?

As a member of the national management team of Mission Australia I was responsible for the development and implementation of the organisation’s strategic and operational IT plans. I have developed and implemented one of Australia’s largest, completely NT/2000-based wide area networks, and one of Australia’s largest private IP networks; a whole of business partnership with Optus, which includes all telecommunications services; a fully integrated national CRM system, finance system, fleet management system and human resources system; a Windows XP-based desktop SOE and Windows 2000-based Server SOE; and established a business continuity plan

Why did you leave?

I was looking for a change and Mission Australia was generous enough to give me the push I needed.

What does the IT employment market look like to you?

It’s a very tight market, but seems to be getting better, slowly.

What is the most challenging part of a job in IT?

I’ve always thought that not letting IT become a driver or an enforcement tool has been a challenge for many; it has to be a business enabler to be effective.

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

I don’t know that IT decisions are necessarily difficult if you do your homework. I always find the HR-related decisions hardest. I guess any decision that brings about a lot of change is always difficult, people are, after all, generally change-averse.

What kind of IT position do you want?

Ideally I’d like a role which enables me to use my partnership and relationship development skills, perhaps something in account management or pre-sales?

What are your qualifications?

My more recent studies have awarded me a Graduate Certificate in Leadership and a Graduate Diploma in Management from the Uni of SA. How good is studying online! No lectures and you do it in your own time.

What have been the most exciting IT projects or implementations you have been involved in?

Implementation of an organisational CRM was certainly very exciting and challenging, but I’d have to say the one that got my blood running was a whole of business telecommunications transition to Optus. Any change of that nature can be high risk but we managed it well, in a very ambitious timeframe, and reaped the rewards.

What are the most pressing issues IT managers face?

I think that assisting business stakeholders to understand what their imperatives are is the most important issue.

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

One of our partners had two people with similar names; I kept calling one guy by the other’s name. He took it well and has adopted the new name for my benefit; the customer is after all always right.

Do you plan to undertake additional training courses?

Absolutely, once I settle in to a new role, I want to complete my MBA.

What is the worst IT disaster you worry about?

The most frequent issues have been due to power outages; those substations just can’t keep from catching fire. Not the worst, but certainly the one which has caused me most worry.

What’s been the biggest life-saver of a purchase or project?

Definitely having a good but realistic business continuity plan. Most companies can afford some downtime and it’s important to balance how much downtime you can sustain with a restoration timeframe.

Do you believe IT has the respect of business leaders that it deserves?

I think that many business leaders have developed an extent of perhaps not distrust, but a loss of faith, in IT. When the sky didn’t fall in with Y2K, the credibility of IT suffered.

The IT industry either did a great job of mitigating the risks which is why nothing came of it, or “cried wolf”. I think a lot of business leaders saw it as a lot of effort and expense for no great reason. Business leaders are looking at IT more commercially than before, with ROIs considered more carefully along with greater due diligence.

How important do you believe the open source movement will be to the future of IT?

It’s certainly gathering momentum. I’m yet to be convinced that this will translate into a reduced TCO or sustainable solutions that are customer-friendly.

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