The Dollery Awards

It's the end of the year (almost), and it's time to hand out the Dollery Awards. These prestigious awards have in recent years been seen as a catalyst for change and growth in industry.

It’s the end of the year (almost), and it’s time to hand out the Dollery Awards. These prestigious awards have in recent years been seen as a catalyst for change and growth in industry. A few years ago I awarded one to Advantage eCommerce, and look at the growth they’ve achieved since.

These awards are based solely on my personal opinions, and I will never allow them to be tainted by unimportant issues like facts, or even fairness. They’re issued without warranty, not even the implied warranty of rationality.

So let’s jump straight in with our first award, which this year is in the category of Worst Human-Computer Interface in a Publicly Accessible System. There were quite a few contenders for this award this year, mostly on the web, but after fierce debate the award has to go, for the first time, to a system that isn’t a website. This year’s gong goes to Sky TV, and the abominable interface to its digital service.

In 20 years in this industry I’ve yet to see a more inept system. It’s so slow that even a giant sloth would get bored using it, and the (so-called) colour scheme must have been chosen with something other than the human eye in mind -- white on light blue on dark blue. It takes about 10 seconds to switch from one channel to the next, and about 30 seconds to change the volume from minimum to maximum. Quite often the programme guide crashes, is out of synch with the programmes or just isn’t available, and using it to see what’s on is almost impossible anyway because it’s unreadable.

So, congratulations Sky. I hope you use the opportunities this award presents as a catalyst for change and growth. Especially change.

This year’s award for Technical Excellence has to go to Weta, for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m not just saying this so that I get invited over there to see the operation for myself (though that would be nice, Mr Jackson). I presented a paper at the CIO conference back in September, and was lucky enough to see a presentation by ex-Weta CIO Jon Labrie.

His tale of evolutionary growth warmed the cockles of my heart. It showed that a company can grow rapidly and effectively based on the demands of an almost insatiable user base, without effective forward planning. Not that Labrie didn’t try to plan, it’s just that the needs of the business seemed to outgrow the plan on a very frequent basis. Change was, for the most part, out of control. In the face of this difficult environment Weta was successful in producing one of the most popular films ever made.

By the time you read this Part 2 will be very close to reaching our screens, and I will be enjoying it with the rest of you. I realise that compared to this award the Oscars the movie will pick up will seem somehow lessened, but that’s the price you pay for excellence.

So well done Weta. Keep up the good work. I can’t wait to see what you do with The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I hope that this award is seen as a reminder to you that I want to visit your studios.

The award for Longest Search for a CIO goes, of course, to Zespri, which has managed without one for most of the year, and now the CEO is off too. Of course, this doesn’t really leave the organisation leaderless, just headless -- these can be completely different things. Personally, I don’t know what the problem is. Have you ever been to Tauranga? I have (oddly enough, to visit Zespri a couple of months ago). It’s absolutely gorgeous -- I’d snap their hands off for the CIO position just so that I could live there.

This year’s Totally Missed the Boat award goes to Brendan Boyle, director of the State Services Commission's e-government unit. This award is given to people who have totally failed to grasp important opportunities, and instead chose mediocrity to the detriment of the industry and the general public.

In a comment to Computerworld reporter Darren Greenwood last month, he stated that the e-government unit is focusing on open standards rather than open source. Unfortunately, accessing a lot of the information on the new e-government portal requires you to first pay a licence fee to Microsoft. Nice to see that the government’s much vaunted primary organ is supporting New Zealand business.

Brendan, there is something wrong with the basic concept of attempting to provide open access to public information that’s both stored and served in proprietary formats. There is also something wrong with the concept of using software which you can’t confirm is "safe" in any way.

Open source wasn’t an option; it was mandatory. In viewing your mandate purely as a normal IT project you missed the boat, and the opportunity is now behind us. So, Brendan, I hope that this award will at least make you think about the future of "our" portal.

As there has been no real change in government IT policy over the past year I’ve decided to not issue the award for Most Mediocre IT Minister again this year. Paul Swain already has a number of those from industry analysts, and I’m sure he’ll get many more. Mr Swain was also a runner up for the Totally Missed the Boat award, for much the same reason as Mr Boyle.

One final award, and then I’m done. This is the Lifetime Achievement Award, and it’s given each year to someone who has had a profound impact on the IT industry, guiding it, helping it grow, benefit humanity and enrich society. Unfortunately, I can’t nominate myself, so I’d like to award it to Paul Swain. I’d like to, but I just can’t find a single act that would make the award suitable for him, so I won’t.

Instead, in a moment of ennui, I’m going to award it to my three beautiful young daughters, Calli (6), Lili (4) and India (2). In the past year Calli has basically taught herself how to use Adobe Photoshop 7, Lili has taught herself to use Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds and India has taught herself to use the potty -- well done girls, you deserve this award more than anyone I know.

Merry Christmas, and remember, behave yourself next year, or you may find yourself on my Christmas list.

Dollery is a Wellington IT consultant. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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