5 minutes with . . . Tony Welsh IT manager, QR (formerly QLD Rail )

Computerworld: How did you get into IT?

Tony Welsh: While working for a UK building society I was offered the chance to attend a computer college in London in 1980 to study for a Certificate in Systems Analysis. On completion, I started as a junior systems analyst in the data processing department. I'd previously turned down the chance to work as an operator, because the prospect of working with machines and not people had no appeal. My previous experience as an end user certainly helped in appreciating the needs of the business in terms of providing intuitive, computer-based solutions. I'd like to think I've retained that perspective as an IT professional.

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

TW: I figured growing up was more for grown-ups so I never gave it much thought as a child. Initially my heart was set on being a professional soccer player. This gave way to aspirations of being a musician. I guess my mid-teens pointed me towards a teaching career. I seem to remember being more concerned about partying than growing up. If I was to draw parallels to what lay ahead, soccer taught me about leadership and team playing; the music provided creativity and the teaching has served well in coaching and developing others. I can't remember what the partying did but still endorse the need to celebrate successes.

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

TW: Where to start? Well most challenges aren't about technology. Sure we have more than a fair share of issues involved with enterprise resource planning, supply chain, e-commerce and knowledge management projects. We have a complex mix of mainframe, client/server and Web applications (developed and packages) to integrate and need to find better and quicker ways to leverage this investment. We recognise the future need to mix the best of internal and external IT services and solutions to add more value to QR's business in increasingly competitive markets (local, national and international). The biggest challenge is undoubtedly that of the people, process and cultural issues surrounding technology - if you don't get that right you will never realise the potential benefits.

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

TW: Leading a shift from setting business expectations to one of managing them and delivering to them. Too often, internal IT shops operate as an obstacle to business initiative. Too often we are seen to be the barrier that blocks external service providers from working with the business and vice versa. The old model is tired. In order to meet new challenges we need to establish a model that operates as a conduit to link business managers to solution teams (whether internal, external or both); adds value to the business to earn the privileges the business affords it; clearly and fairly distribute ownership, responsibility and accountability. Achieving this balance has its challenges.

CW: How many IT professionals make up QR's IT team?

TW: There are around 270 staff in the central information services team. This is down from more than 500 a year ago - signifying a wind down after Y2K and GST projects but also a shift to a more realistic balance of internal and external sourcing. Internally we run and support QR's shared computer facilities and we have established solutions teams focusing on capability development in areas which we can add most value (from ERP to E-Solutions). Telecommunications are supported separately.

CW: What is your Web strategy at QR?

TW: The Web features prominently in QR's plans. We expect to extend established intranet and Web page services to maximise value to employees, suppliers, customers and stakeholders.

E-acronyms feature prominently at QR in many initiatives aimed at reducing costs, expanding into new markets, enhancing learning and making business easier. The Web has opened up new relationship and business opportunities for us and we are actively studying and learning how best to nurture them.

CW: Do you plan to undertake any additional training courses?

TW: Nothing planned. The roles I've had have provided me with continuous learning and kept me close to the edge. We can all benefit from further education and I'll take it when it comes.

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

TW: As my career has spanned six excellent organisations in three separate countries, that's a tough one. My tenure at QR extends to November 2001. That's the current plan and it's a great one.

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

TW: Which ISP to connect through from my home.

CW: What would you do if you could rule the world for one week?

TW: Take the week off.

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

TW: Why would I want to relive it? And in front of a wider audience!

CW: Name five people, living or not, you would invite for a dinner party and why?

TW: My wife Julie because she is always the best company.

Nelson Mandela because he has earned his place in history.

Jim Carrey to lighten the conversation.

Jonah Lomu to talk tactics for 2001 and Bill Gates to pick up the tab.

CW: What takes up your spare time outside of work?

TW: There hasn't been much of that - my choice though. As long as it involves my family I'm easy. Thanks to Queensland weather I enjoy regular swimming and walks. Golf has threatened to get my undivided attention but so far I've just dabbled (badly).

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

TW: That's pretty hard to imagine after working with them for 20 years and especially now given the pervasive nature of technology and the Internet. I try to imagine it most weekends and during vacations but all good things come to an end. In the main, the pace of life would be much slower, there would be a reduced sense of urgency, stress levels would reduce and we would talk to each other a lot more. On the negative side we would miss the incredible convenience and communication capabilities that computers offer - particularly the easy access to knowledge and the chance to send and receive news from friends and family around the world.

CW: What impact did the Sydney Olympics have as you are located in Queensland?

TW: Long-range train travel, along with the cheap airfares meant crowds to the Sunshine State. And then there was the soccer in Brisbane and bumping into athletes around Brisbane city.

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