5 minutes with . . . Bruce Nicholas Manager of information technology, Network Ten

5 minutes with . . . Bruce Nicholas

Manager of information technology, Network TenComputerworld: How long have you been at Network Ten?

Bruce Nicholas: I have been with Network Ten for about two and a half years. Before that I was divisional manager of information systems with the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation covering both industry and statutory issues.

I was recruited by Network Ten to lead IT from a strategic perspective. As is the case with many companies Network Ten had grown by acquisition and inherited many different systems and operating procedures.

The first task was in consultation with business to develop an IT strategic plan. Implementation began in early 1998 with the first phase laying out the network-wide infrastructure, which we could use to leverage value from new business systems. We have been delivering on the plan ever since.

CW: Who do you directly report to, and how many IT professionals make-up Network Ten's IT team?

BN: I report to the network manager of HR and IT who in turn reports to the general manager of operations.

As Network Ten has a policy of buying packaged software and outsourcing other software development activities, we do not have any software developers. We operate as a small and lean team focusing on operations, network management, intranet and help desk services. In Sydney we have a team of 10 and in each of our other four stations we have either one or two support staff.

Our Sydney head office provides many systems over our WAN to staff in our other stations. In all sites we operate closely with our engineering and broadcast groups.

CW: What does your position involve exactly?

BN: I work in our Sydney head office, although my role is network-wide. Besides Sydney, Network Ten owns and operates stations in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth as well as a bureau located in Parliament House, Canberra.

My position operates at both the strategic and tactical level. In consultation with senior management my position determines IT direction and forward planning for the network. I tend to spend a lot of time participating with business in business analysis workshops and also on project management issues. However, as Network Ten operates in small teams with a very hands on approach, I spend a lot of time in change management and day-to-day issues.

CW: What's your opinion on digital television and how much will you have to know about it ?

BN: The transition to digital television marks the beginning of a new era in broadcasting and opens up many challenges and opportunities for Network Ten.

It is a much more efficient transmission path that will enable Network Ten and other broadcasters to offer a variety of new and enhanced features to viewers and advertisers. Widescreen television in high definition is spectacular, especially for sport; many interactive enhancements will also be possible. As such, it is an integral part of my role at Network Ten.

The channel's facility in Sydney was purpose built with digital in mind and IT is very active in a number of areas, working with the broadcast and engineering staff to deliver on digital initiatives.

For instance, digital will offer viewers an electronic program guide, something not possible with our analog transmission. Here we are working closely with our engineers and suppliers to interface our program schedule with our broadcast equipment at all sites across our network to feed the electronic program guide.

CW: How soon do you think it will be before television networks in general move to integrate their offerings on the Web?

BN: There are a number of models here. The simplest is a fairly standard simulcast type scenario. Other models include the use of the Internet to close the broadcast loop to enable two-way communication with the viewer. This allows a more active viewer to participate in enhanced services being offered over the digital television broadcast.

Hopefully, offerings such as these will start to become available for digital television within 12 to 24 months of the launch in January 2001.

CW: What's your opinion on the latest wave of denial of service attacks and has it ever had you worried?

BN: The recently publicised denial of service attacks on major e-commerce sites like AOL, and Amazon.com demonstrates how potentially dangerous this type of activity can be. For instance, I have seen it reported that the denial-of-service attack on Amazon.com cost the company upward of $2 million. Whilst at this time Network Ten does not do a lot of e-commerce we nevertheless still take all our security very seriously.

CW: If you could choose any training course, what would it be?

BN: I very much enjoyed doing my MBA. Whilst it was a lot of hard work - just ask my family - it was also a lot of fun. The challenge of learning business disciplines beyond IT was very invigorating as well as being a great learning experience. Whilst I don't think I will ever again commit to two to three years of hard study, further business studies in a more condensed course would be my choice.

CW: What would you hope to be your next career move?

BN: Presently I enjoy what I am doing now. There are plenty of challenges arising from the convergence of technology issues presented by digital TV that themselves manage to pass the time of day very quickly. I don't consider myself a technocrat but rather one who seeks to contribute both at a strategic and tactical level to the business.

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

BN: Nothing to do with computers. Winter has traditionally been rugby season. Until the last couple of years I was still playing with the Gordon Rugby Club in the lower grades having started with the club in 1975. In fact I hold the record for the most club games having played over 350 games. Last year I was involved in the coaching staff of the Colts side. My son now plays rugby with the local Collaroy side whilst my daughters are active in netball. During summer we are involved with the Collaroy surf club with the kids enjoying the Nippers competition. I enjoy fishing, good books, lots of good food and of course, a cold beer.

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