Computer Society shakes off 'stuffy' label

Part one of the Q and A with New Zealand Computer Society president Ray Delany

Ray Delany became president of the New Zealand Computer Society in January this year. A member of the society for 25 years, and a veteran of the local IT community, his day job is as chief executive of Designertech.

He speaks to Sarah Putt about the Society, the demands facing ICT professionals and their roles in planning and implementing ICT in business.

Computerworld: Why did you want to be president of the NZCS?

Ray Delany: I was very impressed with the progress that Don Robertson [former NZCS president] and Paul [Matthews, current CEO] had made over the three years.

It’s a funny story that I’ve been touting around the country that when they came to Auckland three years ago they had this great programme of things they wanted to do and I said to them, ‘I don’t think you can do it, it’s too hard, you’re over-reaching’. And they really demonstrated that I was wrong. Having that clear vision with determination, dedication and hard work actually did yield a remarkable result.

What was needed three years ago was a lot of remedial stuff, a lot of rebuilding of foundations and now we have got really good foundation in place. It’s now about what house are we going to build on that foundation.

So, what is the next stage?

A lot of it is about continuing to grow the things that we’ve already put in place like the ITCP and the Kiwi Skills. These are all existing programmes that have been kicked off. They need to continue and they need to grow and they need to go through the next phase, because people need to keep their professional skills up to date.

The [Society’s] history has been that is has been a little bit kind of, I hesitate to use the word stuffy, but that is a kind of good description of it. People a bit older, a bit exclusive organisation, silver service breakfasts and so on which kind of isn’t a good reflection of the IT professional of 2011.

We’re much more informal, we’re much more inclusive, a broad church of different types of activities.

You mentioned that you thought the Computer Society was perceived as stuffy. How can you change that image? How can you attract young people into the Society?

I think it’s very much getting out and communicating with people. I don’t want to over-emphasise the stuffiness aspect, that’s an unfortunate word that probably won’t look so great in print, but I think it as a concept it’s probably how we have been perceived by many in industry until quite recently.

Whether or not you still have that image of the Society will largely depend on whether or not you had a recent interaction with the Society. So if you came along to the AGM last night for example, versus the last AGM I attended which was about three years ago, [there was a] very different atmosphere.

There were a lot more younger people, quite a few students turned up and they’re much more engaged than they were.

[Following the interview Delany emailed Computerworld with the following statistics about NZCS - 2300 individual members, of which approximately 900 are students. Around 1000 members are at one of the Society’s professional grades. There was a 30 percent membership increase in the last year and the average age of new members is 34].

How many turned out to the Auckland AGM?

I don’t know the exact number of who turned up, but it would have been about 45 to 50.

This was the first time you’d done electronic voting, how did that go?

We will do a full review of it, but my first assessment is that it went pretty well and we got a pretty good voter turn out. Historically any AGM is not exactly the most exciting ticket on the calendar, so getting people to turn out for an AGM is quite an exercise. Typically we might have had 20 people and maybe a dozen proxies or so turn out , I would say we probably got four or five times that kind of level of voting.

How big an issue is it going to be losing charity status?

It is not a huge issue for the society, in terms of it is not going to impact on what we do. It will change in a small way how we do it but not in any way that will be obvious to anybody in the society.

As a wider principle we think it is a bit disappointing because it is hard to argue that education is not a charitable benefit, which was essentially the argument.

There are a number of national groups in IT – NZCS, TUANZ, InternetNZ, Software Association, NZ Rise, NZICT – in this industry? What is your point of difference and do you think we need so many organisations representing this industry?

From the Society’s perspective, we think we have a particular role to play, which is around the individual as a professional and that is quite different to what NZICT does for example, which is about the supply side of the industry.

We did try a few years ago the idea of one integrated IT New Zealand thing and that fell away I think because there’s a lot of practical issues there that are surprisingly hard to overcome.

Do you think the money that InternetNZ gets in domain fees, should be shared around? They get $6 million a year from domain names and most of it is used to administer .nz, with the rest used for policy submissions and so on. Do you think that money should be divvied up?

My inclination is to say no because as a point of principle I think any organisation should stand or fall by the value it creates in its own right. I’m sure that the revenue streams that IntenetNZ gets are healthy, I know they are, but because they have a healthy revenue stream, should they give that to someone else? I don’t think so as a point of principle.

In practical terms if I was the CEO I wouldn’t be having that discussion with anybody any time soon.

Should we collaborate on conferences? Yes. We are talking about wider issues. We did run a successful conference last year in Rotorua and I think it was quite a surprise to people. It is hard to do that on a regular basis.

But there definitely is the opportunity for us to do kind of uber-conferences. We are talking to other organisations about whether we might do something more integrated.

Tomorrow, Ray Delany discusses the evolution of ICT in business.

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