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Vegetable Soup(ed) Up

Vegetable Soup(ed) Up

No Rose-Coloured Glasses

Colovos knew what he was facing; his two-month stint had left him with no illusions about the pitiful state of Moraitis's computer and information infrastructure. In this case the word infrastructure was overkill - there really wasn't any.

A couple of years before Colovos appeared on the scene, senior management had asked one of the company accountants to find and install a computer system. The managers wanted reports to help them understand how the business was travelling and help them make decisions. The accountant, who had no IT experience, brought in consultants who recommended and installed the TIMS system on a Sun server.

It worked just fine as an accounting system, but did not provide management with the hoped for information and was deemed a qualified failure. "The reason for the failure was the lack of consultation with the business, understanding its wants and desires and transposing them into deliverables that could sustain and grow the business through technology," Colovos says.

When it came to end-user technology, everyone in the organization used stand-alone 486 PCs (and remember this is 2001) to do word processing, and VT250 terminals to access the TIMS ERP. There was no local area network. Instead, the company relied on the Adidas-net: copy a disk and walk it over to another employee. If information needed to be shared with the Brisbane or Melbourne offices, it was printed out and mailed or faxed.

The company's Internet access consisted of two dial-up e-mail accounts, one in the head office at Homebush, in south-west Sydney and another in the manufacturing plant just down the road. There was one e-mail address for the entire company. There was a Web site, but that was hosted externally, rarely updated and was effectively a company brochure with no additional functionality. Colovos spares no one blushes. "At that time," he says, "there was a lack of understanding or appreciation of technology in any form throughout the firm."

In addition, there was a deep scepticism about technology promises.

"Nick Moraitis and his sons Stephen and Paul had implemented TIMS a year before I came," says Colovos. "They were informed it would deliver reports and information to better manage their business. But the reports never came. There had been no analysis or review of the business and the system was implemented in its vanilla form. It did not suit or complement the business and it had cost $1 million."

From day one Colovos knew what the problem was, and it was straightforward. "No one was looking after IT," he says. "There was an accountant given the responsibility for IT, but he was an accountant with limited IT experience. He had no strategic understanding of IT." Without that knowledge, the accountant was unable to communicate how IT could underpin business processes and give the company's managers their much sought after information regarding their business.

Colovos's report to the Moraitis family was blunt. Their system did not work, they had inadequate resources, no computer training, no support staff, no infrastructure to speak of and no blueprint for the future. In short, they were stuffed.

But rather than shoot the messenger, the Moraitis family hired the messenger. Colovos - who had been on a contract that was due to expire, and replaced with one requiring him to move interstate - was prepared to accept the challenge of turning a stuff-up into a silk purse. It wasn't a situation Colovos was unfamiliar with.

"The first thing that I did was to spend a month talking to managers, to staff, and holding meetings. I explained who I was and what I was here for and where we were headed with the technology. I told them the benefits that were in it for them - and also what was expected from them," he says. "All the projects I've worked on in the last five or six years have required someone to come in and fix issues up in troublesome IT environments."

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