Doing my PhD

Well for a long time I’ve been fascinated by business – did my Commerce degree at UQ in 1991 – I tortured myself a fair bit by deciding to do the Honours course.  Which was nothing like I thought it would be, and was certainly the hardest year of my life (so far) work-wise. 

Graduating in 1991 was not a good time.  Today, you graduate, you get paid $40,000 minimum, and the accounting firms fall over themselves to have you work for them for 2 years before you do the London thing.  In 1991, it was quite the other way around. So I didn’t work for an accounting firm.  Or a bank.  Who, in their wisdom, had decided the world actually really didn’t need accountants.  They were protecting their profits, but probably didn’t do too much for the profession. 

I worked in private schools for 5 years before realising that I probably didn’t want to stay in the same role for another fifteen years (advice I actually received – I was ‘too young’ to be promoted any more 🙂 – try that on today!).  So I went looking somewhere where being 27 was not considered a career choice!

I did my Masters in Information Systems in 1996 (finishing in 2000), again at UQ.  I became a CPA in 1997.  That opened up the door to consulting in business systems with both Horwath and then BDO Kendalls when Horwath merged into BDO Kendalls locally.  I joined the ITM CoE in 1998, and became its chair in 2002 after Tony Hayes moved on. 

I mostly loved BDO Kendalls as a firm – of course, we had our moments, but I was there for ten years so something must have been OK.  It’s a great accounting firm, with very talented and hardworking people.  Unfortunately due to family commitments and the need for long hours, I couldn’t stay there forever so it was best I leave and strike out on my own.  That has mostly worked well, although again that’s had its moments.  It’s reaffirmed my understanding of the need for cashflow in a small business in its growth phase, particularly during that all-important startup period!

Where’s this going?

Well, as part of my new-found life, which still very much involves consulting, but not trying to juggle family responsibilities and a national firm, I’ve done a little bit of lecturing from time to time (mostly QUT).  Which has been interesting and has lead to other things.  When I left, though, the plan was to work as a part-time lecturer as a sort of base job. 

I’ve since discovered that, in reality, to do that you mostly need to either have a PhD or be doing one.  I also found out the pay-rates for academics – even in IS, academics are paid less than the tealady in a commercial firm.  When a web-designer with four years experience commands a $70K package, and an associate lecturer gets $54K, there’s an economic imperative at work.

Fortunately I’m not entirely motivated by money – I like to do new things, interesting things, relevant things. Searching out mobile phone plans for clients is not necessarily my cup of tea (not one of my banner-moments in the past!).  Im a tad more ‘big-picture’ than that.  So I approached UQ about doing my PhD, and they just happen to have a scholarship going for a PhD student to review the impact of IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) on IT audit methodologies (see here, at the top of Page 54).  It’s almost exactly what I’m interested in, involves working with the auditors-general around the country, and it’s important (that’s why it’s one of those rare things, a PhD with funding – not a lot of funding really, for what is needed, but funding nonetheless). 

Peter tells me he’s after someone ‘mature’ to do the work – so maybe I’ve shaken off those baby-faced looks from when I was too young be promoted :).  Had to happen eventually I guess.

Personally it suits me to part-time consult and work on this topic.  It’s not quite exactly what I’m interested in, but half the work of a PhD is coming up with a topic, and here it is laid out for me on a platter, with funding and research subjects on the side.  So – I’ve said I’m up for doing it

So – I’m told an office is involved, and that I’ll have to be at UQ a fair amount of the time, but that is fairly flexible and it’s really about outcomes. The picture below is of the building at UQ where I’ll be spending most of my time.  I’ll have to buy myself some suspenders and jeans now that I’m working in academia.  There is a coffee shop and it’s a wonderful location (parking is kind of poor but we’ll deal with that and how bad could it possibly be (gak! famous last words!).

For any clients reading this, please note that I’ll still be available for consulting work – for most clients, pretty much on the same basis as before.  You won’t notice the difference, I promise, and in the meantime I get to work with some great people on a big-picture topic area of interest.  In fact, it’s a topic that’s just crying out for consulting and linking with the business community.

Guess that’s why it’s a linkage grant then, huh.

Moving on…

I should note in passing that I have now left BDO Kendalls (my last day was 5th October 2007) and am consulting on a part-time basis on my own.  I loved my time at BDO Kendalls, and it is indeed a great firm, but for mostly personal reasons this is the best thing to do.

On the plus side, I now have a deeper understanding of what one needs to do to get a business up and running in terms of purely administrative details!

My company is called Applied Insight Pty Ltd and details will be posted here when the new website becomes available.  My mobile number (0412 526 375) is the same, and my new email address is micheal.axelsen [at]

Information Management is the new Black

Dr Kate Andrews is a partner at BDO Kendalls (QLD), and Kate’s area of specialty is intellectual capital and knowledge management.  Kate looks for very practical outcomes from knowledge management to benefit the business, and I can’t recommend Kate highly enough as a KM practitioner.  Kate and I, though, often work with clients together in the area of information management and knowledge management.  There are a great number of aspects to a knowledge management strategy that are very relevant to business, and a great many of these aspects are extremely interesting, engaging, and fire the imagination of clients.

Perhaps unfortunately, information management is not, perhaps, shall we say, the most sexy of aspects of knowledge management to pursue.  Unfortunately for those that are really intrigued by the more exotic aspects of KM, information management is the absolute foundation building block of a successful knowledge management strategy.  It is very difficult to manage your knowledge if you can’t manage your information.  And so Kate and I frequently work together in the area of knowledge management and information management to get good client outcomes.

The most practical application of information management that we have found is the framework adopted by the Government Chief Information Office in New South Wales, although these have now been withdrawn from circulation and are in the process of being revised.  These identify specific activities around audit, copyright, framework, inventory, liability, data quality, and information custodianship.  BDO Kendalls uses this framework to provide an information management strategy based around our usual approach (three month milestones, defined work programs, and capability growth for the business in the area of information management for critical information types). 

One of the major variations we use to the NSW approach is that today we think more seriously around the use of a folksonomy instead of a formal taxonomy.  Although it – to my logical accountant brain – is illogical and irrational and makes no sense whatsoever, we find that this approach gives our clients 80% of the benefits for 20% of the effort (well, approximately – there’s never an argument with the pareto principle is there?). 

Future information management posts will provide an overview of information management and build a library around the topic. 

Aligning IS and Business Strategy

As will be a tradition this week, I present an introductory rant about the topic at hand, and since today is Tuesday it’s IT Strategy day it’s time to talk about strategy.Â

It’s a given that IT strategy ‘must align with business strategy’.  Yet it is quite difficult to get this right – not least because it is hard to align an IT strategy with a business strategy when there isn’t a business strategy.  There is another article on this site (‘Getting IT Right!‘) that talked about those things that need to be done to ‘Get IT Right!’.  There was a follow-up presentation to that, which I will post in due course, that used the COBIT framework to identify 20 core business goals, prioritise those goals, the best  accounting tools for business and then map those goals to fundamental IT activities – which of course should provide direction to IT strategy that is aligned with the business.

These business goals, as outlined by COBIT, are:

Financial Perspective
1. Expand market share
2. Increase revenue
3. Return on investment
4. Optimise asset utilisation
5. Manage business risks
Customer Perspective
6. Improve customer orientation and service
7. Offer competitive products and services
8. Service availability
9. Agility in responding to changing business requirements (time to market)
10. Cost optimisation of service delivery
Internal Perspective
11. Automate & integrate the enterprise value chain
12. Improve & maintain business process functionality
13. Lower process costs
14. Compliance with external laws/regulations
15. Transparency
16. Compliance with internal policies
17. Improve & maintain operational & staff productivity
Learning and Growth
18. Product/business innovation
19. Obtain reliable and useful information for strategic decision making
20. Acquire and maintain skilled and motivated personnel

COBIT is a very useful approach to use in IT consulting, and although it was originally developed as an IT Audit tool, it makes a lot of sense to adapt COBIT to a ‘doing’ framework as opposed to an ‘assurance’ framework.  BDO Kendalls uses COBIT as its framework in all consulting services to our SME clients, and it is a very valuable tool for that purpose.Â

Those in the know will recognise these business goals as driven by a balanced scorecard philosophy.  Using COBIT, it is possible to rank these goals, and then identify the IT activities and focus that align with the business goals.  I will be posting more around this approach in this area of strategy, but essentially if a business cannot identify its business strategy in a cohesive form – which, alas and alack, is often the realpolitik IS professionals must deal with – a process to rank these business goals can be very useful in identifying what IT activities are needed to align IT with the business.

Next week:  how to go about ranking the business goals.Â

Business on the move

The following is an article that was written for BDO Kendalls’ March business briefing on how to implement innovation in business using mobile technologies and how to turn your passion into a business and get something very successful.

Building your business while out and about


Business is booming. Queensland has 4% unemployment. Finding new staff is almost impossible (a ‘chokepoint’ for many businesses); the key to success in business is now using the staff you have as effectively and efficiently as possible.

This article explores how to go about adopting some of the hot mobile technologies right now to small and medium-sized businesses, without exorbitant expenditure, to make staff more effective in their roles.
Build a bottom line

The first step in achieving this is to understand the ‘chokepoints’ for your mobile workers in your business and then seek a business solution to resolve it.

Circle of InnovationAs outlined in the diagram, this requires a review of the business, identifying chokepoints (e.g. the need to wait until returning to the office to submit orders), the areas with key impact on the business, and devising and implementing the business solution.

Once the business solution is implemented, review the solution for its effectiveness and look for the next chokepoint in the business.

If you’re selling stuff

Key Impact: Salespeople lose two hours each day through being in the office; orders are also submitted at the end of the day.

Devise Solution: It’s called salesforce automation, and it’s about being able to access real-time customer information, write orders and check inventory on the road and when you’re sitting across from your customer.

Key Impact: Filing and authorisations are inaccurate, out-of-date, and require manual re-processing.

Devise Solution: Electronic Mobile Workflow solutions can result in replacing clipboards and paper forms with electronic devices that immediately capture signatures and information. This removes the need for manual re-processing of the information.

If you’re doing stuff

Key Impact: Customer emergencies are not dealt with in a timely fashion.

Devise Solution: Location-based services allow the business to track their people ‘in-the-field’ so that if a customer emergency crops up, the nearest person can be dispatched to deal with the issue.

Key Impact: Orders are held up until the next available field agent can be on-site and look at the issue.

Devise Solution: Digital evidence-gathering can be used to submit photographs or video/audio recordings in the field to experts who can use that photograph to diagnose a problem before travelling onsite or ordering parts to fix it.

If you’re administering stuff

Key Impact: Telephony costs are increasing and staff miss calls because they are not in the office.

Devise Solution: Internet and Voice-Over-IP technologies mean that the phone line on your desk can be the phone you take with you when you’re out and about. This can improve your business’ ability to support growth as well as making a tidy saving on call costs and hardware costs. In the jargon, it’s called fixed-mobile convergence.

Key Impact: Staff are complaining of work/life balance and issues and requiring more flexibility in working hours.

Devise Solution: With the need for a flexible workforce, it may be possible to use teleworking technologies to allow some staff flexibility in their working hours – for example, working two days a week from home, or from home every second afternoon.


This article has set out only a few of the mobile technologies that are now available to the business to deliver innovation and practical benefits to the bottom line.

Your business has the opportunity to use staff more efficiently and effectively by eliminating the key chokepoints within the business.

These technologies are becoming more affordable every day, and deliver robust solutions that have the potential to transform your approach to business. You need to watch for these technologies and their benefits to your business, because you can be absolutely certain that that is what your competitors are doing.