Woman's work running capital's IT

Alma Hong still remembers the day she attempted to introduce herself to someone at an industry function and he handed her his glass and asked for a gin and tonic.

Alma Hong (pictured) still remembers the day she attempted to introduce herself to someone at an industry function and he handed her his glass and asked for a gin and tonic.

Speaking to 60 women at the second meeting of the Women in Technology group in Auckland last week, Hong says she got the man a drink and introduced herself, hoping that he was embarrassed as she was by his presumption.

Hong, now CIO at Wellington City Council, is used to facing challenges. Having been in the job for about a year she is overseeing changes to the council’s infrastructure which have long-term implications for how the business is run.

“Running an IT business no longer means just operating a stable IT environment. The challenge is to understand, align with and add value to the business,” she says.

“In the role of IT manager you have to understand what customers want, anticipate current and future needs, and prompt business innovations made possible by technology advances.

“Operations, a reliable platform and support are givens. Don’t tell people how difficult this is; they don’t want to know.”

WCC has 1700 permanent staff and 1300 networked PCs across 35 business units and 32 sites. It runs legacy VAX, Unix, and Windows NT and Windows 2000 systems.

Current projects include rationalisation of more than 90 servers and a move to a single open platform, implementation of a new storage and data management strategy, a financial system upgrade, e-commerce initiatives and disaster recovery.

Hong is particularly excited by a project in which the council is using J2EE, XML and .Net technologies to build middle layers between its applications. It means staff will be able to extract information from many systems or databases and it can be served to any type of device — PC, mobile phone or handheld computer. “We don’t have unlimited resources, so how do we handle all this work?”

One of the answers is to put in standards, policies and processes for managing priorities and projects, something the council will begin investigating. Hong says it has to be handled carefully because people could perceive this as eating into their power base — they will have to go through a governance group and can’t just act on their own.

Tips Hong has for staying on top of the job include being well organised.

“Organise and design your models for delivery. It could be in-house, outsourcing, co-sourcing or shared services. They’re all valid.

“Tell your organisation what you will deliver and what resources you need. Don’t assume that they know. Then deliver what you promised and formally report on what you’ve done.”

Hong has worked as a freelance consultant but found it too unstructured.

“I need structure, long-term planning and responsibility. The message I’m trying to get across is that it’s important to realise what your natural preferences are and also those of people you are putting into roles.”

Women wanting more information can email the organisers from the Women in Technology networking group site. The group was founded by Oracle product manager Carol Lee Davidson to provide networking opportunities and support for women in the IT industry. The group is setting up a mentoring programme and will promote IT as a career option for girls at schools and tertiary education providers.

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