Christchurch IT scene: CIO's perspective

Computerworld talks to George Elder at Tait Electronics and Tom King at the Christchurch Casino

There came a point when Tait Electronics CIO George Elder realised it was no longer possible to control the mobile devices of the company’s staff. So he stopped trying.

“When we really decided we had to take hold of the smartphone environment instead of it just happening, we discovered lots of different smartphones already. Some were owned by the staff and some by the company, so we put a policy in place where the staff own the phone, and the company owns the number,” he says.

New staff can bring in any mobile device they want, but they have to sign the number over to Tait to go onto a corporate account. Depending on their role they are given a subsidy to buy the device, a voice call allowance, free text and a data allowance. If the staff member loses or breaks the device, then it’s their responsibility to buy a new one.

He uses both an iPad and iPhone, and says the latter is fast becoming the smartphone of choice for Tait executives.

In addition to email and calendar functions the IT department will enable staff to access the company intranet. They might also suggest a few helpful apps to download, and if the staff member travels frequently they will ensure the phone has wi-fi capability and are aware of tools that offer free text worldwide and facilitate cheap calling rates.

“We’ve always had to operate on as low a cost as we can run. I suspect we have been under the microscope on costs and as a result we have often looked at what maybe weren’t everyday options. For example, why don’t we run [Microsoft] Outlook here? We don’t run Outlook and Exchange here because at the time we put up a corporate mail and calendar system years ago, it was just a lot more expensive and we found we could do it other ways,” he says.

“So we’re big fans of open source and that whole environment.”

Tait’s CRM and timesheet systems are cloud-based and Elder is considering replacing ERP with a cloud-based solution when it comes up for renewal in the coming year.

He isn’t phased when I ask where in the world the data containing more than a 1000 users’ email files reside – despite not really knowing the answer.

“I think our mail is sitting somewhere in Australia at the moment, but to be fair I don’t actually know. But we have a contract with them [Salesforce.com] to maintain and keep it secure and in some respects we’re trading on the requirement for them to be honouring their contracts to stay in business,” he says.

He made the move to Google mail and calendar last year and to date he has had no serious issues – indeed being based in the cloud was a real positive with the earthquake in September.

“When we had the earthquake down here mail stayed up the whole time, because we weren’t hosting it here. Even though we had no power, our systems were secure,” he says.

Elder says Tait is part of Enable’s fibre network and is currently installing a second line with FX Networks for fail-over capability.

While he is relaxed about offshoring mail, timesheets and customer sales information, he says the company’s IP is another matter. “If we wanted to put our engineering data somewhere else in the world, people here would be concerned about it at the moment.”

Christchurch Casino CIO Tom King has a similar view – the business is fine with administration-type data being outsourced, but is reluctant to see its core IP be hosted elsewhere. Although in his case, its a regulatory requirement that much of the casino’s data remains inside the building.

“By the end of the month we will have completed virtualising the casino’s non-payment servers,” he says. “It has taken us a few years to get there, partly because it wasn’t cost effective for us to rip out the servers when they still had a good performance.”

King says the three Casino sites, clustered in Victoria Street, are connected by Enable Networks as a private fibre network, with an internal VoIP service. He says they had traditionally been a Telecom customer, but when Enable came to visit them, he found the company’s offer compelling – particularly when Enable changed its plans and ran fibre along Victoria St in order to accomodate the Casino.

Later when the voice, data and internet services came up for renewal, King says he reviewed all the offers and went with local ISP Snap.

I ask King what he would think if Telecom was given the nod to partner with Crown Fibre Holdings in the Christchurch Local Fibre Network. “Our worry is that irrespective of who is involved, there isn’t that monopoly [practice] come through. By all means provide a service, you should make money from it like any other business, just bring in that flexibility.

* This is the final article in a series about the Christchurch IT scene. Check out the details of the next Fry Up debate to be held in Christchurch on 1 March,the moot is: 'South Islanders will be the most innovative when it comes to fast fibre networks'.

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Tags tait electronicsTom Kinggeorge elderChristchurch Casino

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