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Keeping the faith

Keeping the faith

Mark Bennett's parents were ministers of The Salvation Army. So it was a full circle of sorts when he took on the role of IS manager for the organisation.

Mark Bennett’s parents were ‘officers’ or ordained ministers of The Salvation Army. So it was a full circle of sorts when he took on the role of manager, information systems group, for the organisation six years ago.

“It was a different role to anything I have done and I thought my experience would help to be able to make a difference,” says Bennett, whose responsibilities include Fiji and Tonga. “I saw it as an opportunity to match up something I have been involved with all my life.”

Bennett's dedication was recognised when he won the ITEX 2011 ICT Manager of the Year Award, sponsored by Cube People.

“He is a well-rounded ICT professional who is absolutely clear on why he gets up and goes to work in the morning. He achieves leadership and excellence in the field of ICT management in all manner of environments; commercial, public and community-based,” said the judges.

Bennett learned about the job from a recruiter, after he had returned from his OE and had been working for about a year with Sytec Resources. In the UK, he took on a series of IT roles for companies like Tesco and law firm Clifford Chance.

Bennett originally wanted to be a musician, and majored in composition at Victoria University in Wellington. A part-time role at Digital Equipment led him to IT. One day, his officemates went out to lunch and asked if he could repair a desktop PC. Bennett says he “enjoyed the challenge” and became involved in subsequent PC rollouts.

See related article: Rock and Roll IT - on IT professionals involved in music.

He did not finish his music degree, and as he shifted his career, immersed himself in a range of courses in Microsoft, Novell and Citrix technologies.

Bennett is still involved in music. He plays in a band which practices once a week and performs in events around six months a year. “We do Glen Miller tracks, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and all those big band greats and Latin numbers.”

He finds music is not far removed from his IT work. “There are similar pressures,” he says. “Performing musically sometimes can be the same as [talking] in front of a group. You try to communicate, working towards a specific point you want to get across.”

Preparation is important for both roles, he says. “You make sure you have done your practice and you know what is coming so you don’t have any surprises.”

Bennett and a group of friends cycle once a week in Wellington, usually on Sundays or weeknights, and most recently took on the Heaphy Track. Like his foray into IT, cycling did not initially pique his interest. The first time he cycled uphill with his friends, he recalls muttering, “Stupid sport, why would anyone do this?” But 10 seconds after they were going down the hill, he knew it was for him.

And like music, cycling provides him with insights for work. “Well, there is pain involved,” he laughs. “There is always pain somewhere at work. There is an element of mountain biking that involves every part of your body… There is perseverance involved especially if you have done 24-hour races.”

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“Before you go on a race or before we do these rides, we try to make sure we are prepared. We have done some riding so we are fit enough. Once you start, you have to react to what is going on.”

He says this is a good analogy for what he does at work. “You try to head to a certain point but you may not be able to get there the way you want.

“There could be challenges along the way, other managers might disagree or decide they want to go elsewhere, technology not working out or delivering the way they should.

“You have got to do more than just one part,” he says. “There is knowing the technology, planning, dealing with a number of different parties involved. You have to react to users and the environment.

“Every now and then, something happens which surprises you and you have got to think on your feet to keep things moving or be willing to backtrack to another point and start in another direction.”

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