Geoff Harben has been an independent member of Pawsey’s Board for at least 10 years, predating iVEC’s transition into the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. A lot has changed for Pawsey’s infrastructure and operations in that time, but Geoff has been embedded in the ICT industry for even longer, witnessing the transition from punch-card programming to the new era of diamond-based quantum computers over 45 years. Having worked through technical, analysis, sales and business management positions at Fujitsu, then progressing to major consulting firms in the ICT space, while being a long-term council member for the Australian Information Industry Association, he has a wealth of knowledge of the ICT industry in Western Australia, and how government engages with and develops it. Corporate management in the ICT industry is where all of his career experience intersects.
“I was invited to join the board by the late Mal Bryce,” remembers Geoff. “We were just starting to raise funds to develop iVEC into supercomputing facilities of a decent scale in a central data centre. I thought it would be a really exciting opportunity to work on that – I wasn’t wrong! We’ve come such a long way since then. We’re about to install the southern hemisphere’s most powerful supercomputing facility, and more importantly, we’re enabling genuine research, research that just wasn’t possible before, right across Australia.”
Part of Geoff’s role on the Pawsey board concerns risk management. He notes: “We’ve got a different risk profile to many other organisations, as an unincorporated joint venture largely dependent on State and Federal government funding, and on government-funded authorities in the research space. So, it’s incredibly important that Pawsey can deliver against the outcomes that are expected of us, and continuously demonstrate a return on that investment.”
“It’s not enough to work hard and achieve great things, those outcomes need to be demonstrated to the government and the community.”
Geoff considers it a responsibility of the Board to lift Pawsey’s profile, something he’s been doing since the start. “I’m very proud that we’ve moved from being a small computing facility on the west coast with a vision, to being a world-leading facility, and a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure in High Performance Computing (HPC). We got here because we’ve continuously demonstrated our capability and responsibility, and our good governance in managing a supercomputing environment. There’s no question that we are a significant facility now, and our new supercomputer is going to generate enormous value for Western Australia and Australia. But we need to keep demonstrating that.”
Ten years in, and the work is ongoing. “We engage with the academic and research community extremely well,” says Geoff, “but we still need to better engage with the commercial world to do research. We need to develop a closer working relationship with industry, and with the public service, because that’s how to further demonstrate our impact. We’re pushing very hard for that as our capability expands with the supercomputing upgrade.”
“The world is facing enormous issues – climate change, pandemics – and supercomputing facilities are becoming increasingly important as the world does the research it needs to survive. Government organisations, health institutes, major commercial industries all have a part to play in addressing these challenges, not just academic researchers. So, we need to be working with all of them.”