Now is a good time to be in the ICT industry, but there is still more to be done for the industry to enjoy continued growth and success in Australia, says Sheryl Moon, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Information Industry Association.
Besides attracting new recruits to ICT, industry players should also work towards re-skilling mature workers, and retaining women who traditionally leave their careers at child-rearing age, she said.
The industry must also look at the issue of climate change, Moon said, suggesting that technologies that allow workers to telecommute could address employees concerns about work-life balance as well as potentially reducing the industry's overall carbon footprint.
An ICT veteran with 25 years of experience to her name, Moon has come a long way from her industry debut as an engineer at IBM. She speaks with Liz Tay about her career experiences and opinions on green issues, the skills shortage, and opportunities for small to medium enterprises.
How did you first get started in the IT industry? Have you always had an interest in technology?
No, none at all - I fell into it! I was looking for a way to support my son, move away from my ex-husband [in Wagga Wagga] - and all of my family was in Sydney.
My sister, who had applied for a job at IBM because she was an engineer, suggested I also apply for the job. IBM was looking for people with degrees but they did not have to have a computer science degree. I've got an economics degree.
Take us on the path that led you to becoming the CEO of AIIA in November 2006
I worked for IBM for eleven and a half years, and I was headhunted by two venture capitalists to set up a management consulting company in the early 90s. I built a process on Business Process Re-engineering, and over about two-and-a-half years, I built the organization up to 18 consultants and a very profitable business.
We then moved to Brisbane, and I joined what was then Andersen Consulting - now Accenture - and I became a managing partner for one of their lines of business. I stayed at Accenture for five and a half years, and was then headhunted to head up the Federal Government's outsourcing for CSC, so I was a VP for CSC.
I resigned from CSC after IT outsourcing was stopped by the Federal Government, and took a year off, wrote a couple of books, did a bunch of work for some government agencies and private sector groups, then I was approached to head up the outsourcing of all the military recruitment [with Manpower].
It was early last year when a number of other opportunities came up, including this one [with AIIA], which is just a perfect role. It's just fabulous, and it's great to be back helping the industry be successful.
What is your opinion on the current state of the Australian IT industry?
The industry is obviously in an upward cycle, so it's very vibrant. There's lots of activity, there are lots of projects available, so people are busy bidding for that work and it's a good time to be in the industry.
There's no doubt there's quite a bit of innovation happening in some unusual spaces. Take a look at NICTA or CSIRO; there's some pretty cool stuff coming out of those organizations that have used modeling and simulation software.
If I look at small to medium enterprises, there are some really interesting things happening in some of those spaces. It's good. The industry is very buoyant and very active.
What are the biggest challenges that the industry is facing at the moment?
Skills is the biggest challenge. Looking at how we will manage the ICT workforce is absolutely critical to the success not only of our industry, but also the prosperity of Australia on an ongoing basis.
There are issues that we need to face in that workspace around attraction of young people to the industry. We need to work on the types of curriculum, particularly by tertiary institutions [such as] TAFE and universities, to ensure that there is alignment between what the industry is looking for and what those institutions are offering.
We need to look at opportunities to retrain mature workers; people who want to see change in their career or who need upskilling in new technology. We also need to look at the retention of women in the industry. The industry loses women at child-rearing time and also when they perceive they've hit a glass ceiling in their early 40s, so we'll do some work this year in all of those areas.
We also need to encourage more organizations to allow people to telecommute and work from home. There's a couple of reasons for that: one, it allows people to have the work-life balance they need, allows them to meet their family obligations, can drive increases in productivity, can also drive increases in participation - particularly of women - in the workforce; and it also can reduce the carbon footprint that we have on our planet if enough of us are able to spend significant amounts of time working from home.
What are your goals for the industry as CEO of the AIIA?
My goals are to help the industry grow and be successful in Australia, and that means things like ensuring the business environment is right. We are a federated model in Australia; we have nine jurisdictions for 20 million people, and it just doesn't make sense to have nine different tendering processes and nine different contracting processes when people are successful.
That is an inhibitor to small to medium enterprises participating fully in government business. If I add up all of the government's IT spend, it's a larger spend of organizations in Australia so small to medium enterprises need to be able to participate in that marketplace as effectively as large organizations do.
I think another thing that is very predominant, given that 70 percent of Australians say that their major concern is climate change, is that the industry is a clean industry in its own right and branded organizations already take back their own e-waste. We need to make sure the industry is a clean, green industry, and we also need to look at how our industry can work with other parts of our economy and other industry sectors to ensure that ICT applications make the most of our approaches to solving some of the climate change issues.
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