5 Minutes with... Philip Richmond IS manager, NSW, Egis Consulting Australia

Computerworld: How did you get into IT?

Philip Richmond: Back in 1986 a company called Amicron hired me in a sales support role for its start-up CADD (computer aided design and drafting) sales section. I was hired for my diverse construction and engineering design background and the fact that I could relate to Amicron's target market of consulting engineering. I had never actually turned on a PC before I joined Amicron. From there I progressed to being the "in demand" CADD guru for quite a few different outfits. In 1992 Egis sent me to Jakarta to sort out a CADD related drawing office production bottleneck. On my return Egis offered me the role of IS manager for its Adelaide Office. In 1997 I transferred to the Egis head office in Chatswood, Sydney to spearhead the upgrade of the DOS-based CADD systems to NT4.0 and 32-bit Windows applications.

CW: How long have you been in your current role?

PR: I have been with Egis for seven years and in my current role for 13 months.

CW: Briefly describe a typical day at work.

PR: I arrive at 7:45am, check the server and backup logs and process my e-mail. I offer a friendly greeting to my staff as they arrive to set the stage for a new day. Then I discuss outstanding help desk issues and any current system or client issues. I attempt to have daily contact with our operating division managers and staff and then move on to IS ‘big picture' project work. A good portion of the day is taken up with dialogue with Egis interstate IT managers and long-term systems planning. We provide a just-in-time (JIT) service to our operating divisions and work closely with all offices to ensure the best use of our hardware and software pool. This JIT service is lively and a hands-on process.

CW: List three favourite things about your job.

PR: I enjoy the fact that outside of normal IT operations I never know what will happen in a day. I find the human side of IT fascinating and a challenge. Egis has 600-plus operating division staff, of various ages, IT skills and professional categories. The staff are our clients and they all have particular needs and technical requirements. These clients are spread across the world and require support wherever they are situated. It is not unusual to receive an after-hours call from a travelling user in Paris, Calcutta or Taejon (South Korea) requiring technical assistance. I value my ability to input to the overall company IS strategy.

CW: What career would you have chosen if not for IT?

PR: There was a period in the 1980s where alpine resort management was looking attractive. I think that IT management is a career that is very hard to beat for its diversity and the level of individual responsibility. While it is all very well to ‘choose' IT as a career, actually finding the correct fit of IT to match the individual is a much more difficult task. To this end I believe that IT actually chooses you. At this stage of my life IT suits me just fine.

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

PR: Egis has just come through a 12-month rationalisation of the complete ‘historic' set-up of our network and desktop computing systems. This was a long and arduous task consisting of completely dismantling the old domain structure and rebuilding it into a new robust and technically correct full NT4.0 domain. This has reduced our NSW help desk calls by about 60 per cent and means that we can now move into the fine-tuning and value-added stage with some interesting project work under way.

This work consists of further disaster proofing the Egis network with a server cluster solution and diversifying the Egis intranet.

An ongoing project is the consolidation of our diverse software application base and centralising and automating our asset and IS accounting systems. Basically we are working towards reducing the total IT costs to Egis operating divisions while providing them with an improved ‘on demand' IT service.

The very nature of consulting engineering means that we support about 400 engineering software applications, many of which are highly specialised. All these applications require maintenance and upgrading regularly. How to do this cost effectively is one of the key topics for Egis IT.

CW: How do you hope your career will progress over the next five years?

PR: Progressing to CIO level is part of the big picture. An overseas posting would also be of interest.

CW: Do you envisage undertaking additional training courses to further boost your career - if so what?

PR: Yes. I have recently started an MBA at MGSM (Macquarie Graduate School of Management). On the technical side I have an interest in further study of mobile computing and Web based resources.

Mobile computing and Web-based resources are becoming highly relevant to efficient delivery of JIT consulting engineering to our expanding list of remote project sites. Also, the means of harnessing B2B processes for JIT consulting engineering is of interest.

CW: If you could change one thing about your job what would it be?

PR: IT is a 24x7 job no matter how we look at things. I find that I am constantly tuned to being aware of ‘happenings' that affect the Egis IT operation. News items like ‘major substation fire in Chatswood' and ‘new virus havoc' can change a weekend or quiet evening into a mobile phone session to my colleagues. The ability to switch off from the job is the one item I would change.

CW: Where is your favourite holiday destination and why?

PR: Any major alpine destination. The physical challenge, individual freedom and the simple beauty of the mountains makes a refreshing contrast to the pressure and technical focus of IT management. The Lake Tahoe region in California and Verbier in Switzerland stand out for a white world escapade.

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