5 minutes with . . . Harry Wendt, e-strategy manager, Westpac

Computerworld: What was your first job?

Harry Wendt: I grew up in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, so it was pretty natural that my first job was as a laboratory assistant with Yalumba Wines. Working in the laboratory over a vintage period was interesting, but after that it was pretty mundane.

CW: How did your career in IT begin?

HW: I joined the Australian Navy in 1980 as an aircrew officer and spent most of my time with VC-851 Squadron, which operated S2E/G Tracker antisubmarine aircraft. In 1985 the Australian government decided to shut down fixed wing flying in the Australian Navy, so I decided it was time to go back to university to look for a career outside military aviation. My introduction to IT began through working as an intelligence analyst with the Australian Joint Acoustic Analysis Centre.

CW: What exactly does your role involve?

HW: I have responsibility for defining Westpac Banking Corporation's group e-business strategy.

CW: Briefly describe a typical day at work.

HW: My typical day starts with an early morning surf at Bondi. I am usually at work before 8am and scan the various new feeds from overnight. Most days involve a variety of internal and external meetings that range in scope from specific projects to discussion on future technologies or business models. I also spend a reasonable amount of time on specific research work, and lots of discussions with colleagues. A fair amount of my time is also spent talking and doing presentations both internally and externally explaining our approach to eBusiness.

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

HW: The pace of change and the breadth of the role. Westpac is a large business with more than seven million customers across Australia and New Zealand.

CW: What is your Web strategy at Westpac?

HW: We aim to provide the most compelling financial services Web lifestyle by: ensuring we are a trusted online financial partner; e-enabling the organisation; remaining a dominant facilitator of online payments and trading activity; establishing the ability to create new, high-value business models and revenue streams and capturing e-mindshare amongst all our stakeholders.

CW: How many computers are in your building?

HW: Lots

CW: How many people make up the IT department at your place of work?

HW: About 2000

CW: What is your company's dress code?

HW: Our dress code within the e-business group is smart casual, with discretion on wearing a suit when dealing with clients, which often means I am in a suit.

CW: What are the most interesting projects or issues you have worked on in your IT career?

HW: During my time as an intelligence analyst with the Australian Joint Acoustic Analysis Centre I worked on a project developing a prototype expert system for classification of underwater acoustic sources. This was during the late 1980s and was, for its time, pretty leading edge stuff besides being a really interesting application.

CW: What do you believe to be the hottest technology trends right now?

HW: Bluetooth and mobile platforms open up some interesting possibilities for pervasive computing. I am looking forward to the merger of the mobile phone and PDA together with higher bandwidth mobile communication.

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

HW: In a word: slow. The reach and the amount of information that is now available at our fingertips is amazing even compared to just five years ago.

CW: What ability do you wish you had?

HW: I wish I had perfect communication skills. Becoming an e-business is about managing change. The issues of change are not necessarily technological. They are about people, cultures and business processes.

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

HW: I am currently doing a Master of Science in Astronomy with the University of Western Sydney. The course is three years part-time and is conducted wholly via the Internet.

It was one of the first of its type to be conducted anywhere in the world and has a good mixture of people doing the course from all over the globe. I am currently finishing my second year.

CW: Is this a personal interest, or do you see this furthering your career?

HW: It is mainly motivated by personal interest, but doing a Master's entirely via the Internet has been a really good learning experience in terms of working collaboratively via the Net.

I am a big believer that you need to live the changes that are happening to effectively understand them. In this sense I think I have gained a lot professionally.

CW: Has it been challenging to manage time with working, studying and family?

HW: This is always very tricky. Studying via the Internet helps a lot.

There is no way I could physically attend lectures, let alone work to a fixed time for having tutorial discussions etc, so the only way I have found time to study is via the Internet. The flexibility is great, but also the access to resources around the world is really good. I think the University of Western Sydney has really done a fantastic job putting the course together.

CW: List three likes and dislikes about your job,, or about working in IT.

HW: I like the challenge of the role; working with interesting people; the pace of change.

And I dislike the hours; working within a really large organisation; telling people I work for a bank.

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

HW: Choosing STC's e*Gate product to replace the communications gateway for Westpac's proprietary electronic Banking System (DeskBank) at a time before middleware was being commonly adopted. Westpac was STC's first banking client.

CW: What takes up your time outside of work?

HW: I have a four-year-old son called Thomas who is pretty demanding of my time. I seem to spend a lot of my time at the beach, the Cook-Philip Park Pool or at the Australian Museum, which Thomas loves.

CW: What's your favourite holiday spot?

HW: Bawley Point, on the South Coast of NSW. We have a beach house there that is the perfect escape from Sydney. It also has some very good surfing within walking distance. The three and a half hours south of Sydney is a bit far to drive on a Friday night, but is well worth it when you get there.