Playing for change

Playing for change

What was your first job?

My very first job was working on a farm as a labourer in the UK. Clearing out the pigs was part of it and I developed a good technique for holding my breath for a very long period of time. There was also some hay-bailing, picking strawberries, sitting on the back of a tractor and planting stuff – all the usual farm things.

How did you end up in the IT industry?

I trained to be a civil engineer at university so my first job in the UK was related to this. On my first day on the job, they said they needed some help in the IT department and asked if I wanted to do that for a few weeks. I said 'yes' because I was eager and enthusiastic, with the result that I’ve never used my civil engineering qualifications. There are lots of similarities between the two professions, and many of the skills are transferable.

How did you progress to where you are today?

After I finished at that company, I went into software development. We were customers of Prime Computer for four years. Prime in Australia sent a team of head hunters looking for staff to work locally and they searched mostly within Prime’s customer base. They offered me the opportunity to come out to Australia and work in the systems engineering department, which was growing very fast. I thought it would be for a couple of years, but that was 1982 and I’m still here. I was at Prime for four years and had a great time. I worked with a colleague in marketing and we identified a service need for the provision of competitive information to sales forces. We left Prime to form Ideas International and expanded into New Zealand and other places. I was the CEO there for seven years, and then started working with the AIIA. I’ve been CEO of the AIIA for two years.

What was it like working in the boom era of IT?

It’s a very different industry these days. Obviously, the industry has matured. Back then, Prime’s CEO had a full-page advertising campaign with King Kong set over the Sydney Harbour Bridge pulling apart the [competitor] Wang label. I’m not sure you’d get away with that now. Most people do think those days were pretty special because IT was just breaking through at that point. And because the profit margins were so good, you could end up having a pretty good time while you did business. These days, it’s a lot harder to meet all the demands and still have time to enjoy yourself.

What do you like about your current job?

I enjoy being a leader and an evangelist in a role that can give something back to the industry. When you’re in a specific role in the industry, you’re very deep in your knowledge, but being CEO of a big association such as the AIIA allows you to see so much.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry?

Oftentimes in our industry, we get too obsessed with the internals and we don’t understand the bigger picture: We’re totally focused on our sector as a unique sector and what happens within our sector, rather than what it is we’ve got to offer other sectors. If you look at climate change or the environment, we’ve got an awful lot to offer as an industry and can make a massive impact there. But instead of that, we tend to get deeply focused on the small pieces of that conversation, rather than the big pieces. Oftentimes, we get very focused on the latest bit of software or the latest gadget, which is exciting for the industry but it’s not really the main game.

What is the main focus for the AIIA this year?

The digital economy is going to be huge so we’ve got to drive development of the value-added benefits and services that will be used. Having the National Broadband Network is a fantastic high-level goal and we’ve got to talk about what we’re going to do with that and how we’re going to achieve value. This starts with developing the applications, promoting electronic health delivery and the smart infrastructure that will come on the back of the NBN. We’ve also got to keep working on the skills shortage. The biggest issue my members have is access to good people with the right skills.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I’m married with three children but they’re all grown up, which is fun. I’ve played soccer all my life and still do, and I always limp around on a Monday morning when I’m back at work. I play in the Northern Sydney Ku-ring-gai League for Wahroonga. I’m the striker and meant to put the ball in the goal. We’ve had our moments and we’re a pretty good side. I’ll only give that up when I really have to. I also like to get out to the movies, theatres and the arts. I enjoy walking and hiking in remote areas – the South Island of New Zealand is spectacular for that sort of thing.

What football team do you support?

I grew up in Exeter in Devon, which is the South-West of England, and I’m an avid supporter of Exeter City, which plays in the third tier of English football. I trialled for the team when I left school and a couple of my friends played for them, so it could’ve been my alternative career. When you support smaller clubs, you get out to see the games, you get to know the players’ foibles and you get to tell them how bad they are down at the pub. It’s good fun.

Do you like gadgets?

Yeah, I’m fairly into gadgets and I’m very committed to my iPhone. It’s a wonderful piece of technology. I’m interested in the iPad, what it can do and how it may change the game. I’m an avid consumer of news and media so I’m interested in seeing how that might change the dynamics.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I thought I could change the world by being a policeman, but I never really fulfilled that ambition. I don’t regret that and think I found a more interesting path.

What is your biggest ambition?

To have made a difference in terms of progressing the industry. If I could leave this job knowing I’d made a substantial difference and moved the ball forward, I’d personally feel very satisfied. From an industry perspective, it would be that we become appropriately valued for the contribution we make, which I don’t think we are at the moment.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) started out as the Australian Computer Equipment Suppliers' Association in 1978 and became a company in 1981.

It changed its name to the AIIA in 1985.

AIIA member companies employ 100,000 Australians and generate $40 billion in revenue each year.

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Tags IT industryian birksAustralian Information Industry Association (AIIA)


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