"Last week we had a go live with a new version of our SAP system," the department's general manager, Information Management and Technology, Geoff Tye, told ZDNet Australia late last week.
MySAP 2005 is still considered relatively new by enterprise standards, and as such the department's upgrade took place under the auspices of SAP's Ramp-Up early adopter program.
Tye said his staff were in a few tricky spots during the upgrade. "There's a number of challenges that are inherent in early versions of software, and we've experienced a couple of those during this week that we've identified," he said.
The executive said Commerce was the first agency within the NSW state government to complete the upgrade. "So there weren't a lot of lessons learnt that we could leverage off," he said.
The MySAP move is part of a wider consolidation of platforms taking place within the department after Commerce was formed from the merger of a number of other agencies in mid 2003.
"One of the key challenges within IM&T in Commerce is to truly unify all the ICT platforms that came with the various agencies that now make up Commerce," said Tye. "It continues to be an issue. But we've made some substantial achievements in that area."
Since 2003, Commerce has decommissioned four data centres and formed a single personnel structure across its merged IM&T department. A wide area network upgrade is also currently in the works, with the department having approximately 80 offices around NSW.
"We've got one single ERP solution now for human resources, payroll and finance across the organisation," said Tye. "Previously we had several different systems in place."
The consolidation has also seen Commerce buck a trend of enterprise migration to Microsoft's Exchange collaboration platform, with some of the department's 4,000 users being moved from Exchange to Novell Groupwise.
Tye said after the merger the majority of users had been on Groupwise, so it made sense to consolidate to that platform.
"We're just upgrading to version seven," he said. "We certainly don't believe that there are things we can't do with GroupWise that we could do with Exchange." Third-party software could sometimes take a bit longer to be supported under GroupWise than Exchange though, Tye noted.
But the real challenge has related to human, not technological resources.
"It's really the people issues that are the more challenging ones to overcome," said Tye, noting most people didn't like being migrated away from their existing work technology, particularly if it was mainly for the sake of corporate alignment.
Commerce will take a cautious approach to adopting currently hyped technologies such as Windows Vista and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony.
"We've got no immediate plans to upgrade to Vista," said Tye of Microsoft's next-generation operating system due later this year.
The department is currently releasing the third version of its desktop standard operating environment (SOE), based on Windows XP Service Pack 2. It has been running an XP-based SOE for some three years.
"We've got no real business reasons to consider Vista," Tye said. "Having said that, I'd expect that we would move to Vista within two to three years, to more than likely allow integration with revised application software as it became available under that platform."
He agreed most corporations would be more comfortable with the upgrade after Microsoft released its first service pack for the software.
On the VoIP front, Commerce already has two relatively small VoIP installations as a result of the agency mergers in its past, both in call centre environments.
Tye said there was no immediate plans for a larger and more integrated rollout, but it was "fairly inevitable" that Commerce would go down the VoIP path as its existing traditional PABX equipment reached end of life status.
Words of wisdom
When asked about tips to pass onto fellow CIOs, Tye advised his counterparts at other companies to beware of losing focus on what he called "the big picture".
"It's very tempting to get involved in the operational side," he said. "You end up solving not-so-critical issues, and spending inordinate amounts of time in meetings that seem to dominate your calendar for the next six months."
The IM&T general manager said it was important to have a clearly articulated plan of where the company's ICT function was heading. "And you need to have that plan socialised and supported by the broader organisation and the CEO of course, and make sure it's consistent with organisational goals," said Tye.
On a more operational level, he advised CIOs to surround themselves with a good team, and to move quickly in areas of obvious necessity rather than waiting and gathering too much information.