During March I travelled around Australia as part of the quarterly Education Across the Nation seminar series for the Australian Computer Society (ACS). It was a wonderful opportunity to meet numerous IS practitioners and hear their thoughts about what's going on in the industry.
Unfortunately, the mood was the same everywhere.
Big business is in turmoil as it seeks to stimulate an unimpressed share market. Governments of all persuasions have embraced the virtues of lower taxation and have long abdicated their role to motivate economies in malaise. Against such a backdrop there is little long-term strategic thinking. Yet IT needs this if it is going to help transform the business going forward. Everyone from the CEO down seems to be in survival mode.
However, amid this pervasive doom and gloom I met a handful of people who seem to be successfully wrestling these economic crocodiles. A particular highlight was the Newcastle session. Judith Merryweather, the voluntary chairman of the Hunter Region Chapter of the ACS, had attracted an audience larger than a number of mainland capital cities. Newcastle was the last place I had expected to encounter such a vibrant group of IT executives. After all, BHP had closed down its steelworks over five years ago. Its IT division had been the primary employer of computer professionals. Surely its departure meant many people would have to move elsewhere to stay in IT.
Instead, events had forced people to work together. I was especially impressed with the cooperation between industry and those in higher education establishments such as TAFE and the universities. There was a creative pragmatism evidenced by those who had jobs. They had analysed where they could secure work assignments that harnessed their IT skill-sets. They certainly conveyed the attitude that they were masters of their own destiny.
Aside from the few bright lights, I heard plenty of war stories from IS executives. A CIO who ran IT for one of the largest accountancy practices in Tasmania told me that shortly after joining he was surprised to find one of the firm's partners in his office with a VCR under his arm. It was the partner's home VCR and he wanted someone in the IT department to repair it! It took some delicate manoeuvres from the CIO to extricate himself from this predicament. I thought it a brilliant example of why the IT department must define its role with a mission statement that the rest of the business understands or risk being condemned to technological serfdom.
Ultimately, I came away with the knowledge that this is an industry where people care about making a difference. These sessions were mostly evening events, with delegates giving up their leisure time to attend. ICT may not be buoyant at the moment, but it has some dedicated professionals in its ranks. When business reawakens to the strategic potential of technology it will find no shortage of capable local talent.
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