5 minutes with. . .Cynthia Deans, IT strategy manager, Boral

Computerworld: When and how did your career in IT begin?

Cynthia Deans: I trace my interest in all things technical back to my high school days. It was obvious early on that I couldn't sing or paint, so science became the natural choice. I encountered my first computer in the school's library, and fell immediately in love with the sheer logic and potential of the invention.

I considered studying medicine and law, but by the time I'd finished high school, computer science had me in its grasp. Like most IT practitioners, my first job was with IBM.

CW: If you could be in another profession for the day, what would it be and why?

CD: I would love to be the head chef at a five-star restaurant. That's the one creative area for which I have a bit of a knack, and to be able to operate at full potential in the heart of a busy kitchen would be a frightening, but enjoyable, experience.

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

CD: Boral (a Sydney-based specialist building materials company), is undergoing significant change at the corporate level following the demerger of the energy business (now Origin Energy) and the reorganisation of the remaining building products and construction materials divisions. All focus, from every function of the business, is being channelled towards the achievement of clearly communicated business goals. Within the IT arena, we are re-evaluating existing processes in order that we may strengthen alignment with the changing business landscape.

CW: What are your views on the increasing popularity of e-marketplaces?

CD: Just as the most important part of the word ‘e-business' is ‘Business', the same goes for ‘e-marketplaces'. I am a firm believer in the constant evaluation of new channel opportunities. Some businesses are better suited to the e-marketplace concept than others. I believe the challenge lies in not losing sight of what you do well and then to use whatever means are available to get that product to market.

CW: List the three best things about working in the IT industry.

CD: Anything and everything is possible. The constant change keeps you on your toes. The concept that you can work smarter, not harder.

CW: Name three people (dead or alive) you would invite to a dinner party and why.

CD: My partner Robert Laird, the comedian Billy Connolly and Leonardo da Vinci. I absolutely adore clever men with strong, personal senses of humour. And while I'm certain that da Vinci had a sense of humour he would also be able to bring some very good Italian wine to the table.

CW: Describe a ‘good day at work'.

CD: They're all good days - some are just better than others! I'm currently working on a project aimed at introducing new logic and controls to the IT investment process. Coming out of a workshop with the divisional business and business systems managers, and knowing that they're on board and supportive of the work we're trying to do, makes for a very nice evening. Introducing change is always the most challenging, and thus most rewarding, side of what I do.

CW: What is your Web strategy at Boral and who are your key network suppliers?

CD: The ‘new' Boral has a very clear and sound business strategy. Elements of this strategy involve the investigation and exploitation of the technologies and environments available, which provide for operational excellence and revenue growth. You don't get much more ‘bricks and mortar' than Boral - we are ‘bricks and mortar'. The careful application of technologies, which broaden our marketing and sales channels, and allow us to better support our customers, is one of our key goals. Personally, I tend to look at technology in the same light as a fine wine. Select wisely and consume in moderation. We have strategic relationships established with several players in the technology sector, and work closely with them to ensure that we are taking advantage of the advances they are making and which will benefit Boral as a whole.

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

CD: I'd like to be Boral's first female CEO. Alternatively, continuing on the path of IT management as the CIO of an Australian-based organisation, preferably in the merchant banking or FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) environment would be an enjoyable journey.

CW: What do you like to do in your spare time?

CD: My partner Rob and I live on a 36-acre property in Cattai, out past Dural in Sydney's northwest. On the weekends, there's plenty to do as there is always a garden (or pony or cow . . .) that needs attention. I also read quite extensively, and on a broad variety of topics, to force my mind out of the IT world.

CW: Have you found it at all hard to succeed in what was and still is - a male dominated industry?

CD: I think the inherent differences in the wiring of the male and female brain play a large role in why the industry is dominated by men in the first place. I happen to possess the abilities that have been necessary to operate at the technical level, and because we are talking about performance in tasks which are quantifiable, the fact that I am a woman has never really entered into the picture. On the other side of the coin, I think that the abilities I possess from a female perspective, such as strong communication skills and enhanced ‘intuitiveness' have allowed me to access to a broader variety of roles, not simply technical. I also consider success as primarily a personal measurement I make of myself and of secondary importance is the analysis of others.

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