Brian Bowman

Brian Bowman

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For a long time now the organisational structure of the group of construction companies to which we belong has more or less flown in the face of what would normally be considered best practice. The holding company’s philosophy has always been that as three of the operating divisions compete against each other in the highly competitive Australian market place, they should, within reason, be free to leverage what competitive advantage they can.

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In December 2004 I discussed the need for a degree of formal IT governance in organisations that spent a minimal amount on IT and could not see the benefit of spending more. Where a business was trading profitably not only would formal IT governance seem to them add little value but it would also seem to cost them more. I used as an example, a recent acquisition we had integrated into our network and were, in certain areas, having difficulty in seeing the benefits.

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In December 2004 I discussed the need for a degree of formal IT governance in organisations that spent a minimal amount on IT and could not see the benefit of spending more. Where a business was trading profitably not only would formal IT governance seem to them add little value but it would also seem to cost them more. I used as an example, a recent acquisition we had integrated into our network and were, in certain areas, having difficulty in seeing the benefits.

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From time to time our company looks at opportunities to grow the business through the acquisition of other organisations. When this occurs we are asked to review the information technology infrastructure of the target organisation. Our brief is to assess their IT health and identify areas where there may be significant expenditure required to ensure it achieves a level which complies with our standards. We are also expected to recommend how IT should be structured following the acquisition. For example should the company continue with its current processes or should it be partly or wholly, integrated into our network and be subjected to our governance procedures.

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We have recently been successful in winning two significant projects in Western Australia associated with the construction of the South Western rail link between Bunbury and Perth. These projects, which have a combined value of around $400m, are for the provision of infrastructure for the railway line which, as well as including several bridges (Package E), also involves tunneling under the Perth CBD to the Central Railway Station (Package F). Package F is a joint venture in partnership with Kumagai from Japan, a relationship that brings its own set of problems.

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We have always looked at ADSL with a healthy suspicion preferring to build our corporate network on what we considered a more solid base of Frame Relay or ATM. We reasoned that although ADSL was significantly cheaper, inferior SLAs, inability to ensure quality of service, limited availability and sometimes erratic performance could not provide the robust environment that our business needed. Our attitude was that you get what you pay for.

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We are currently engaged in redeveloping a strategic and specialised application system which addresses the company''s requirements for a Management Reporting System. This system brings together the Contract Valuations and Overhead Budgets and is the prime vehicle for forecasting company performance.

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The other day I came across an article, which had been published in the Technology Trends section of New Scientist, entitled "Hack out the useless extras". The author, a Professor of Media Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was discussing what he called "featuritis", which he defined as the drive to pack new releases of hardware, specifically laptop computers, with new features and options resulting in numerous ways to do the same thing with fewer and fewer of them intuitively obvious.

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To date we have been concentrating our efforts on improving the performance of our Help Desk, through better incident and problem management, and through imposing some much needed disciplines on our infrastructure support team by introducing more rigorous and collaborative change management processes. It is true to say that, prior to ITIL, we firmly believed that it was important to resolve as many issues as possible on the Help Desk, without escalating them to Level Two support. We were unaware that this practice was significantly downgrading the level of service we were providing.

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The management of software assets, particularly Microsoft software, has always been an issue for us, much in common with most organisations I suspect. While we have been nibbling away at the edges for sometime, the company structure and politics have consistently been a major stumbling block, and it has only been in the past twelve months that we have made any significant progress.

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During 2002 it was becoming increasingly evident that our data integrity processes, in particular on our project sites, were inadequate and we were considerably exposed should the loss of a mission critical server occur.

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For a long time now we have run a national private computer network, based predominantly on Optus Frame Relay and ATM with some Telstra On Ramp, mainly for redundancy. The network topology has been based on a “hub and spoke” model where Head Office, which hosts the data centre and provides our only gateway into the Internet, is the central hub, the branch offices are secondary hubs and the projects are on the perimeter, coming and going as the business dictates. Naturally as reliance on the network grows, and network traffic increases, the communication links in this network have expanded to meet the need.

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A few weeks ago an organisation, with whom we have had previous dealings, contacted us about a technology that they had developed for use on hand held computing devices. While the use of hand held devices on construction projects is not new, this technology is somewhat unique in that it consists of a number of associated products which facilitate the building of formalised software applications on devices that use the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system. These applications can be developed, documented, deployed and supported efficiently across the organisation in the same way as other, more complex enterprise computer applications. In the past such systems have generally been built in a somewhat ad hoc fashion.

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In the August publication I discussed a planned review of our service delivery model and the introduction of ITIL methodologies to correct any areas where there are found to be shortcomings. Our first step on this path has been to employ an external organisation, with ITIL skills, to review and comment on our existing service processes (ITIL Maturity Assessment).

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