At the height of its colonial power, with Queen Victoria on the throne, the sun never set on the British Empire. In our modern times, in the era of a globalised marketplace, there are chief information officers who can correctly state the sun never sets on their domains.
Working in networked enterprises operating 24x7, and even 365 days a year, they lead ICT teams that “follow the sun” as they support business and systems globally.
Mark Hindle heads one such team, but with an added dimension. If the system goes down, “we stand to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds a minute”, says Hindle, Head of IT Support – Asia Pacific for CMC Markets.
Hindle and his staff in Sydney share responsibility for the systems on the other side of the world, as CMC is a global, online financial trading company. For 12 hours a day, the support is done from Sydney, with the other 12 hours covered by CMC’s ICT team in the UK.
Hindle admits to having had a few “sleepless nights” when the global team was setting up the system. “Now that it is implemented and in place and it is working very successfully, obviously I am a lot more relaxed about it,” he says. “Although, you can never get too relaxed about it. You have always got to be on your toes.”
Interviewed in his office near Sydney’s Circular Quay, Hindle points to a monitor. “If it rings, straightaway I look what’s down and if it is important and affects trading, I will have to leave you and go out to find what is going on.
“It is interesting,” he says of the job and its attendant challenges. “There is not one day in this place that goes by where I am not challenged by something. Something always comes up everyday that requires a different way of dealing with.”
His team starts the support on a global scale Monday morning when the New Zealand markets open and finishes Saturday 8am when the US markets close.
He is emphatic on one aspect that allows him to thrive on the job. “I can’t stress [enough]… getting the right people is key to having a successful department.
“It was certainly key to me being able to implement ‘follow the sun’ and it is not an easy thing to do when you have got a bunch of hardware and applications on the other side of the pond - in Europe.”
Hindle says he has had a minimal staff turnaround in his two years at CMC. “The key to keeping good IT staff is to challenge them, to appreciate them,” he says. “Long gone are the days where you can pay someone to come to work and [they] will stay. They want more.”
More, in this case, includes proper training and providing interesting, if challenging, projects. “You need to be able to scatter the projects amongst them and utilise people skills to the full extent. You need to appreciate them. These guys do a lot of overtime.
“I will take them out once a month to an open bar. It will only cost the company a couple of a hundred dollars, but I tell you, it goes a long way.”
“There are things you can do on the soft side, on the people side of things, that really make your staff feel as though they are not just another number.”
Hindle’s first IT-related job was managing one-hour photo labs in London and Australia. He veered into the more technical side of the industry, however, when a friend went overseas and left him a 286 IBM computer with two megabytes of RAM.
He had the computer for 18 months. “I ruined it a number of times and figured out on my own how to rebuild it, what it took to fix problems.” The experience gave him “a bit of a taste” of IT and led him to enroll in a certificate in microcomputing, which he passed with distinction.
These include working in a family-owned company where he was the one-person IT desktop support operation, running the support desk at AMP Investments, and at megaplex owner Greater Union where as national LAN administrator, he installed the systems in the world’s biggest cinema complex in Adelaide. He says that was probably his most “memorable” assignment because he single-handedly installed all the ICT systems. Greater Union eventually outsourced its IT support, so Hindle took redundancy pay and moved to the money transfer services company Western Union.
He had wanted to take a few months off, but a recruitment agency insisted he talk to Western Union. Four days later was on a flight to New York for three-months’ training, which included the call centres in Costa Rica and Belgium. Western Union was opening a third call centre in Sydney as a “follow the sun” support route.
He was part of the team that started the Sydney call centre infrastructure and support “from scratch”.
This was also where he got valuable experience in vendor management. As an American company, he says Western Union was very structured. “I learned the structure of how to correctly choose the vendor and I use all these in my position now.” He progressed to managing the ICT for the three call centres and the regional offices in Hong Kong and Singapore.
His last stint at Western Union was global IT project manager based in Paris, which involved a lot of travel. But when his office was relocated to Dublin, he decided to return to Sydney and on to his current role at CMC. He was one of the first employees at CMC in Australia, which at that time was still scouting for premises.
At CMC, Hindle has gone from managing a four-person team to a staff of 35 people comprising four very different teams – desktop, operations, applications and infrastructure support. The applications team supports the operations on the other side of the world. “They, literally during the 12 hours of our day from 7am to 7pm, [are] babysitting the application and the system and the live system in London.
We do it all remotely from here, whereas in the past they had teams working around the clock in the UK.”
Hindle says the infrastructure support team is also in the process of being moved to “follow the sun as well”.
In such an operation, Hindle says probably the biggest challenge is employing good staff. “A lot of mistakes that IT managers and CIOs make is not putting in the effort to get the right people. Once you get the people in, it is very hard to get rid of those people if they are the wrong people. You really need to engage your recruitment agencies, make them understand your business to a level they are probably not used to.”
He says agencies he is involved with are surprised he does not leave the staff recruitment to HR alone. CMC has “a very young, vibrant, dynamic culture,” he says. “I walk them through, give them a good history and background. Once they understand the business, anything then that comes through to me in terms of resumes, I know could do the job.”
But being able to do the job on a technical level is not enough for Hindle, who is always looking for “cultural fit” for his staff. “Am I happy with them? Are they the kind of person I want representing my department to the business?”
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