Sundata's Kon Kakanis talks to ARN
What was your first job?
When I was 13 I got a holiday job pumping petrol on a service station forecourt. I got paid $15 for 8am-6pm Monday to Friday, plus Saturday morning, and I thought it was heaven. It was the era of the Aussie V8s that are now worth megabucks.
How did you end up in the IT industry?
I did a degree that included a fair chunk of IT and applied to IBM as a graduate hire at the end of my third year. I started with them in 1981 as a trainee sales representative. Back then, the 'induction' took 12 months and involved about 16 weeks of residency training in Sydney. It was like doing a masters in IBM.
How did you progress to where you are today?
After five years at IBM, I left to join a medium-sized IT company that had just opened a Brisbane office. A year later, that company changed hands and myself and three others left and started Sundata [in 1986]. My two co-shareholders are John Hutson and Matthew Parker. Matthew looks after the consulting and services side of the business as well as finance, and John runs our software product business which has developed the Quad application for schools administration. I look after sales and marketing. We hit our 21-year milestone in May. Along the way we have learnt how to run a business, sometimes the hard way.
What do you like about your current job?
As corny as it sounds, I still get a buzz from advising clients and having them take my advice as the best way to go. I also find mentoring and coaching people - staff, clients and colleagues - is a very constructive part of this type of management role.
What is the biggest achievement of your career?
The things that stay in your memory are achievements that were regarded as impossible or that no one expected you to knock over. I have had a few of those over the years. In the earlier days, it typically revolved around winning the 'impossible' deal, whereas now it revolves more around where we are taking the business and hopefully where it will be in a couple of years' time.
Outside the business, my involvement in Software Queensland [joint founder and former chairman] and also the ICT
Workgroup [a collaboration of nine IT associations to engage with the Queensland Government] has been particularly satisfying. We have kicked some great goals in respect to the development of the state's IT industry as well as how the government engages with the industry and governs its own IT investments.
What are some of these goals?
Software Queensland and the ICT Workgroup have succeeded in engaging the State Government in a more proactive way than in the past, which is an achievement in itself. Wins include being invited to review the planned procurement processes of any ICT tender worth over $2 million before they go to market, and being accepted as providing value to senior levels of government for improving ICT procurement and governance.
What do you dislike most about the IT industry?
Ours is an industry that has little sense of self. We have trouble recognising our contribution to society and to the Australian economy. This affects how the general population perceives IT and feeds into issues such as uni enrolments and skills in general. We also struggle to meaningfully engage with government at a policy level to benefit the industry and the community. So although we contribute significantly to the healthy state of the Australian economy, we haven't yet maximised our value in the community. In some ways our industry is just like an IT department that doesn't get listened to by management because it can't articulate or present its true value and benefit to the business.
At the business/operational level, I find vendors can't or won't recognise and resolve channel conflict and waste their and their business partner's resources. This is a pet hate of most people in the channel but there doesn't seem to be a clear way of resolving this issue.
What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?
I've been seeing 'next big things' for over 25 years. I'm over it, especially if the technology is being driven by hype: The best 'big things' are those that grow from grass roots.
As a country, if we can break away from the monopoly telco hangover, and our addiction to copper, and drive genuine broadband into the Australia-wide community, then you will see some real innovation and economic and social benefits.
What is the main focus for your company this year?
Really understanding what our ideal customers look like and driving our business and skills development to suit those organisations.
What do you do when you are not at work?
I share my life with my wife and three teenagers and that keeps me fairly busy. I also collect spark plugs. They are usually attached to things like cars, motorbikes and boats. In the last year I got more serious about cycling, like a lot of 40-somethings, and ride a couple of times a week. I am hoping for a smooth, gentle mid-life transition, rather than a crisis.
Do you like gadgets?
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I never had a clear picture of wanting to be this or that. One of the hidden benefits of working in IT is that you get to play in lots of industries and professions and I've enjoyed developing into a trusted advisor for people in many industries.
What is your biggest ambition?
Personally, it's to see my kids grow to be independent and energetic contributors to the world they live in.
At a business level, I'd like our company to develop to the point where my role can become non-executive and where we can include staff equity in the ownership structure of the business.