All but six of the 65 staff at the Christchurch office of HumanWare, maker of technology for disabled computer users, have been made redundant, in the cause of “consolidating” product development and manufacture.
According to a letter from one of the local managers to a significant New Zealand client, the manufacture of HumanWare technology such as the BrailleNote terminal will be kept in Christchurch, but will be outsourced to an independent contractor.
“For the past 5 or 6 years all printed circuit boards associated with our products have been manufactured under contract in Christchurch, so the intended changes relate to also having these contractors being responsible for final product assembly and testing,” says the letter from sales and support manager for blindness products Maurice Sloane.
“These latest changes reflect the decision last November to move HumanWare corporate headquarters to Canada and the need to consolidate the activities of our product development centres to ensure the most appropriate use of our resources,” he tells the customer.
“Future and existing users of those products [in] New Zealand are an important part of HumanWare’s world-wide product and support strategy, so current and potential users should remain confident of the way forward.”
Asked for comment, Sloane referred Computerworld to local acting general manager Alain Pare, who declined to say anything last week, other than that he will be “working with the people [in Christchurch] as long as we have to.”
The situation now looks very different from the optimistic picture given by communications manager Ivan Lagace from the company’s Montreal head office, in November last year, when the company decided to base its top management in Canada.
At that time Lagace insisted that HumanWare would keep a significant presence in Christchurch and may increase staff. “There have been developments since then,” is all Pare would say last week, referring again to Lagace for any more comment.
HumanWare was founded in New Zealand by the late Russell Smith, who died in the crash of a small aircraft in 2005. He was replaced by Richard Mander, who declined an offer to relocate to Canada last November.
At the government’s Digital Summit 2.0, in November last year, ICT minister David Cunliffe mentioned HumanWare as one of a list of Kiwi ICT success stories.