5 minutes with. . .Aaron Sault

Aaron Sault . . . Senior business analyst CSG (card) technologies Japan/Asia/Pacific/Australia, American Express COMPUTERWORLD: How long have you been working at American Express (Amex) and where were you working previously?

AARON SAULT: Through the assistance of the Olympic Job Opportunities Program, I joined American Express (Amex) in April of 1995. This provided the flexible working environment required to manage both my professional career and my sporting career as an Olympic sailor. After a disappointing result for the 1996 Olympic selection, I chose to take a break from sailing and develop my professional career with Amex. Over the years my role has developed from risk management analyst through to project management and now senior business analyst for the card IT systems for 12 countries. Previously I worked for ANZ.

CW: Describe your typical work day.

AS: As the position covers a large geographic location my day can be filled with international conference calls, pages of e-mails requesting information and international trips to the countries to best evaluate the system requirements and local processing.

CW: How many people are you in charge of?

AS: This varies on each project from one person to 30 people. This may include both internal staff from managers and analysts throughout the region to external service providers and contractors.

CW: Your title suggests you cover quite a lot of territory - what do youactually oversee in these areas?

AS: The role covers Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Pakistan.

My role involves managing the system development needs of the marketing groups of American Express Cards to best meet the requirements. This may involve managing several requests at a time as each and every product launched in our region requires some unique system functionality, targeting the consumers of that country or to meet compliance of local government regulations. It also involves identifying opportunities for improvement to existing internal system processes and the quality of the service to our users and consumers, and improving speed to market of product launches and development requests which all lead to lower overall expenses when delivering packages to the Operations and Marketing groups of Amex.

CW: List three aspects of your job you like, and three aspects you dislike.

AS: I enjoy flexible working arrangements with Amex, which allows employees the opportunity to best manage the time they may dedicate to the tasks. The management of Amex appreciates that there is no such thing as a normal working week when covering such a large geographic location. If a task requires you to work on a weekend or more than normal business hours in a day then there is fair compensation.

Career diversity offered by Amex is excellent. "Amex will assist with your personal development and guide you into the best approach to achieve your career goal even if that leads to external employment." As it is an international company, there is always the opportunity of relocating overseas.

The morale and attitudes of the employees make for a friendly office environment. Amex understands that the company is only as good as its employees and encourages team building exercises and employee action teams with a focus on improving employee satisfaction.

Three aspects I dislike in my role are: once leaving the office, I find it very hard to switch my mind off. My role requires innovative thinking, with many of the solutions to difficult questions identified at home, distracting from my private life.

The difficulties of communication throughout the region is also a negative. There are so many languages spoken in our region that this sometimes leads to misinterpretations. This is one of the biggest obstacles to manage when dealing with large projects throughout the region.

I dislike the use of paper-based offices. These are not necessary in this day and age, but still there are many people that choose to use this method both internally within Amex and through some of our service providers. Whenever I encounter paper-based offices, there is always some discrepancy from the current document version or the items are lost completely.

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

AS: I am always looking to improve my skills through development courses. I enjoy communications and leadership courses for improvement to my communication skills and find educational books an exceptional resource for development. I also toy with personal Web page development for my own benefit, but I would like to pursue further IT training in the use of artificial intelligence programming as this is one the most exciting areas of IT and has the greatest potential to improve the industry.

CW: Do you see Amex ever entering smart card agreements similar to Visa and MasterCard?

AS: American Express has already launched into the world of smart cards. The launch of the Centurion Card in the UK is probably the best-recognised American Express smart card and the strategy of Amex is to continue investment into this developing card market. The smart card technology is not widely used throughout the card industry and there is a huge untapped potential to this type of technology. Many companies, including American Express, have created independent smart cards that are not much better than the current credit cards. We are looking to unleash the full potential of the smart card industry, but will need strong alliance with other non-card industries so that the information stored on the chip may be used as a tool to improve information sharing and services to the user. The type of information stored on an Amex smart card will develop over time to best meet the market demands and the technology available through industry relationships.

CW: What are your other hobbies or interests outside of work?

AS: I also compete in international sailing events and narrowly missed Olympic selection for the Sydney 2000 games. This takes up all my time outside of my role as senior business analyst and I am already in training for Athens in 2004. The dedication and expense at this level of competition makes it difficult to have any other interests.

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