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5 minutes with... Tony Forward, CIO, BT Financial Group

5 minutes with... Tony Forward, CIO, BT Financial Group

What does your organisation do?

BT Financial Group (BT) is the fifth largest investment manager in Australia with more than $42 billion in assets under management. Our core business covers investment, margin lending, superannuation and retirement income streams. We provide a diverse range of investment options including funds managed by our own team as well as alliances with global investment managers. BT operates in New Zealand and Australia and is the investment management arm of the Westpac Banking Group.

Where is your head office and how many employees and end users do you have?

Our head office is in Sydney. We have around 2000 staff located mainly in Sydney and with branch offices in Australia's other major centres.

Who do you report to, and who reports to you?

I report to the chief information officer of Westpac Banking Corporation. My reports cover the applications development, IT infrastructure, IT support and services areas.

What are your key applications?

Our key applications are line-of-business applications in product administration (in-house), Wrap (in-house), corporate superannuation (Capital from Synchronise Software), margin lending (in-house), Internet , investment accounting (WIAS from Computer Sciences Corporation) and life insurance (CLOAS).

What is your key infrastructure?

Windows 2000, VMS and Unix servers on a switched network.

How long have you worked in IT?

I have worked in IT for 18 years.

What IT technology do you lust after?

It hasn’t been invented….yet.

Which IT technology do you think is overhyped right now?

Possibly 3G phones because it is a difficult proposition to get enough people to replace their existing phones for functionality they may not want. For example, is it really useful for most people to have Internet connectivity from their mobile? The problem for the vendor of this technology is that they are making a very large and expensive infrastructure investment to attract customers, but if the customers don’t join in large numbers, the company and the network will not survive.

What are your greatest IT challenges?

Time. Strategic priority-setting between competing proposals.

What is the most difficult IT decision you have had to make?

Staff redundancies.

What areas of IT do you specialise in?

I have a recent infrastructure background with applications development before that.

What is the most exciting IT project or implementation you have been involved in?

The BT Financial Group became part of the Westpac Banking Corporation on November 1 2002 and represents the combined heritage businesses of Rothschild Australia Asset Management, Westpac Financial Services and Westpac Investment Management. The successful integration of the three companies into a coherent single company was one of the most exciting IT projects. [I think] it may actually be one of the best mergers in recent Australian corporate history, and certainly one of the most challenging and successful from an IT point of view.

What are the most pressing issues IT managers face?

Making the transition from cost centre to strategic partner. IT is a major cost in doing business and of course those costs have to be kept under control. But it’s the value you obtain from this investment that you need to focus on. The best example in the last five years is of course the Internet as an enabling technology, and a good example of this is online financial services such as our Wrap business.

What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you at work?

Returning from leave to find that my entire office had been wrapped in cling wrap by some of my colleagues.

Where do you see your career heading and how do you plan to get there?

I’m focusing on consolidating the responsibilities that I have, and after that, then we’ll see…

What IT disaster do you worry about?

Any physical disaster that would affect our employees. Apart from the human dimension, it would be the most difficult to recover from in the business sense.

What has been the biggest lifesaver of a purchase or procedure?

Systems management software. Because – in conjunction with good processes and platforms – it has enabled us to tame the beast of distributed systems growing like wildfire. It gave use good real-time hardware and software inventory. It gave us reliable software distribution. It helped us address fundamental security and reliability issues, and most important of all it allowed us to drive down the cost of ownership while improving availability and service. We use Microsoft SMS (Systems Management Server).

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