25 Q&As: Under the table and strangling the boss

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Tim Fleming, CIO, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Sydney, shares his experiences with Rodney Gedda.

Q: Choose a key IT technology used by your company and describe how you want it to develop?

As a professional services firm, our people are frequently out of the office for extended periods; one of our main aims is to provide them with high-quality, cost-effective remote voice and data communications. IP telephony, combined with broadband and wireless, are the keys to the vision and that is where we are investing at the moment. So what we want to see in the next couple of years is ubiquitous broadband and mainstream adoption of mobile wireless so that our people can really connect from anywhere at any time.

Q: What has been most challenging in your IT career?

Managing a start-up software house/ASP in the financial services industry during the late 1990s. As the new entrant in a sector dominated by two incumbents, our small team fought through tiny budgets, impossible deadlines and a sceptical market to build enough critical mass to survive and prosper. I certainly have not worked as hard before or since, but the education was priceless and the opportunities that arose as a result made it worthwhile.

Q: What has been most disappointing for you during your IT career?

Disappointing at the time, but highly amusing in hindsight: in the 1980s I was contracted to a software house on a project to convert a legacy, flat file payroll system to a new mainframe O/S and RDBMS for a major IT vendor. Aside from the technical challenges (totally undocumented 20-year-old spaghetti code, no functional specification), the human aspect was totally dysfunctional — a lunatic project leader, hostile in-house administrators and a total absence of project governance. Our progress in this conversion was measured by clean compiles — if a program compiled successfully it was flagged as complete (to my knowledge no system testing was ever performed). Not surprisingly the technical team found it difficult to stay out of the pub at lunchtime — both hardware vendor and software house were blissfully unaware of the shambles until it was far too late and the project was canned with much acrimony. Not long after, the software house went into liquidation; the project wake finished on an appropriate note with the project leader attempting to strangle his boss under a table at Il Vicolo restaurant in Ryde.

Q: What was the first computer technology you used?

I started in IT in 1978 as a computer operator at Brambles (possibly after reading the inaugural issue of Computerworld . . .). When I started they were running an IBM360 that took about 200sqm of floor space, with 32K of memory — some of the older programs required emulation of the 1401 O/S that pre-dated disk drives, so lots of cards and tapes. Changing the 10 meg disk drives doubled as weight training and there was no print spooling, so the machine could only process as fast as it could print. And don’t get me started on the punch card sorting machine . . .

Fast facts: Annual turnover: $400 Million. Employees: 2500 locally, (worldwide: 100,000). IT users: all of them IT budget: More than $2 million. Key applications: Voice systems, e-mail, HR/Financial/KM systems. Key infrastructure — hardware: Mainly Wintel based; networking: Nortel; operating systems: Windows 2000 Server, XP, some Solaris.