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Mounting a digital defence

By Carolyn Rance

A former army IT specialist now fights for better bottom-line results, writes Carolyn Rance.

Helen Brown has helped create communications infrastructure for the Australian Army here and overseas. During 16 years as an army telecommunications technician and manager, she worked in teams that planned and installed phone and computer systems in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now her role in a less physically challenging environment - Sydney's south-west - is helping Campbelltown City Council cut costs and raise efficiency. Brown became the council's IT infrastructure and service desk co-ordinator in 2008 after leaving the regular army following the birth of her second child.

Still a member of the Army Reserve, she spends an evening each week working with reservists as a careers adviser and manager.

While she admits to sometimes missing the challenge and camaraderie of regular service life, she enjoys being part of the council team that was named Australian Government ICT Professional of the Year at this year's CeBIT Australia conference. The award followed the team's implementation of the council's state-of-the-art integrated IT and VoIP phone system.

Brown says advances in communications technology since she began her apprenticeship and studies led her naturally into IT, while working overseas in combat environments where reliable communications were crucial to safety taught her the importance of careful planning and building resilience into systems.

"I managed teams that did everything from setting up satellite terminals and running cables through the ground or air to [installing] the phones and computers on people's desks. You constantly had to come up with ideas using what you had available - you couldn't just go down to the shops and buy more equipment," she says.

Like the military installations, Campbelltown's new system is standardised and designed to cope with outages by ensuring that communications can be easily rerouted if problems arise.

Its design has improved call handling, monitoring and reporting. The council is able to contact groups of residents via SMS, and money is saved by routing voice calls via the cheapest option.

Brown estimates that reduced call costs and line rentals are saving at least $60,000 a year. Her team worked on implementation at weekends and on public holidays to ensure the changeover caused other staff as little disruption as possible.

"Most councils would bring someone in from outside for a project like this. We involved a consultant who had previously worked on the system, but did the network development work ourselves," Brown says.

"The council already had people with excellent skills in network architecture and administration, and the council service desk staff assisted."

Software and applications programmers
Number employed in year to May 2012: 8500
Growth in past 10 years: -8.9
Average weekly wage (full time): $1438
Average weekly wage (full time all occupations): $1144
Full time: 92.6%
Average weekly hours full time: 39
Unemployment: average

Published: 10 November 2012

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