NSC Group's Craig Neil talks to ARN
What was your first job?
I joined the workforce at the age of 13 working in the local pizza shop and stayed there throughout my high school years. This experience taught me an early appreciation of the importance of good customer service - something I have carried through my entire working life.
How did you end up in the IT industry?
My father arranged an interview with Telecom (Telstra). Following this I was offered a position as a trainee technician working on PABXs and telephone systems for small business. After a couple of years, I was offered an engineering scholarship with Telstra. The course comprised of lectures at TAFE and university as well as practical, on-the-job training. On completion of the course, I graduated as a qualify ed telecommunications engineer having learnt all aspects of the telecommunications industry - from the exchange to the lines and networks. I was encouraged to specialise in one area and chose PABX as I could see the potential of the technology for business.
How did you progress to where you are today?
In 1989, following the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, I left Telstra and started North Shore Connections. The company had two employees and turned over $300,000 in its first year, selling and installing small business systems in and around Sydney's north shore. From small business systems we graduated to implementing telecommunications systems for contact centres. For the first six years we provided turn-key systems, then moved to larger PABXs. We started a relationship with Fujitsu which was to last for eight years. In 1998, we started working with Lucent - a partnership which still exists today with both Alcatel-Lucent and Avaya. We opened our Melbourne office in 1999 and changed the name of the company to NSC Group to better reflect our broadened geographic focus. Today we have offices in all states and turnover of just over $34 million.
What do you like about your current job?
Even after all these years, I still love the adrenalin rush that comes with making the big sale. There's nothing better than working with the team through a really complex deal and coming out a winner. I really enjoy meeting customers and sitting down with them to discuss how we can work together to deliver greater business benefits thanks to advancing technology.
What is the biggest achievement of your career?
I am particularly proud of the fact that from day one, NSC has been profitable and self-funded. We have enjoyed continual growth year-on-year and maintained profitability.
What do you dislike most about the IT industry?
I am often disturbed by the vulnerability of IT. It appears to be the flavour of the month one month, with C-level executives praising its ability to change the face of their business and then next, there are complaints about costs, delivery, etc. One of my concerns is the push for organisations to invest in technology for technology's sake rather than technology that will help the business. This can create a negative impact on the role of technology. It is imperative companies do their homework and carefully evaluate all aspects of new technology before committing to its purchase.
Another issue I find troubling is that while the purchase and implementation of new technology is often a board decision, until very recently, the people in charge, the CIOs, have not been given the recognition they deserve and a seat on the board.
What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?
With the launch of Microsoft Office Communications Service (OCS) we will see a huge leap forward in desktop collaboration. While much has been written about unified communications, Microsoft OCS is the catalyst which will make discussion a reality. We are working closely with Microsoft and expect to have four projects well underway before the end of the year.
What is the main focus for your company this year?
There are a number of key areas for NSC in 2007. Our prime focus is building our Microsoft practice. To this end, we have completed our in-house trial and are currently rolling out Microsoft OCS throughout the company. This is enabling us to build our skills in this area. As organizations look to outsource technology risk and responsibility, our managed services business is proving to be a popular business model and I see this experiencing considerable growth in 2007. In order to meet this demand we will be establishing a second Network Operations Centre interstate.
What do you do when you are not at work?
I enjoy spending time with my two young boys. I coach my youngest son's soccer team and am currently teaching them to water ski which is a passion of mine. In fact if it is a sport that involves getting wet, you will usually find me having a go! I compete in triathlons and love both water and snow skiing as well as surfing - although I have to say I could do with a few more lessons.
Do you like gadgets?
I am not really a gadget person. I have a Blackberry and that's it for me. I prefer technology that has an impact on business performance and I find gadgets rarely do that.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I originally wanted to be a plumber - I have never met a poor one!
What is your biggest ambition?
From a business perspective, I want to grow NSC to be an instantly recognizable name with leaders in the mid- to high-end business sector and would like the company to be the leading communications systems integrator in Australia. On the personal front, I would like to write a book on the 'dynamics of the sale' - on all the diverse tactics and challenges involved in closing the deal.