Public good goal of finalists

A user group, two initiatives aimed at extending IT access into schools and communities and a pioneering computer graphics company make up the finalists in the "Most significant contribution to IT" category of this year's Computerworld Excellence Awards.

A user group, two initiatives aimed at extending IT access into schools and communities and a pioneering computer graphics company make up the finalists in the “Most significant contribution to IT” category of this year’s Computerworld Excellence Awards.

The Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ) is credited with playing an important role in the establishment of the country’s re-regulated telecomms environment. With the passage of the Telecommunications Act 2001, the government took back some of the control given up when Telecom was privatised more than a decade ago. TUANZ was active in shepherding in the new regime, which is overseen by the telecommunications commissioner, with a telco interests represented by an industry forum.

TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman says the lobbying process involved him in “scores of one-on-one meetings with MPs of all persuasions, ministers and advisers”.

“Meanwhile, TUANZ was playing a strong catalytic role with the major carriers to establish and industry forum designed to provide for the first time an avenue through which new entrant carriers could collectively work with the incumbent on non-commercial access issues.”

Aside from those activities, TUANZ also carried on its role of organising events – about 90 in total – promoting the adoption of new communications technologies.

The 2020 Communications Trust is another body eager to promote use of IT. The Wellington-based organisation is an award finalist for the several solid initiatives it has developed in its six years, including NetDay, (working bees to install network cabling in schools), Wellington Community Net (websites and training for not-for-profit organisations) and Computers in Homes.

Computers in Homes targets low-income families with children at low-decile schools, providing them with a refurbished computer, internet access, training and support.

The trust has installed networks in more than 500 schools and put PCs into about 300 homes. It works with diverse partners, including Wellington City Council, Victoria University and Sun.

Partnering is a feature of another, similar venture which is also an award finalist. The Digital Opportunities collaboration between the government and IT industry has the benefit of more than $10 million of public funding over four years.

Digital Opportunities has four projects in progress, spanning from the Far North to Southland, ranging from providing hardware, training for formal IT qualifications and internet access to equipping teachers with notebook PCs. IT vendors associated with the projects include Microsoft, Renaissance, IBM, Telecom, TelstraClear and Compaq.

According to the project manager, Graeme Plummer, about 15,000 students and more than 1000 teachers are getting the benefit of the projects.

“The teachers having regular access to computers for home use and general planning have made significantly greater progress toward the integration of e-learning in their classrooms,” Plummer says.

He says some of the teachers taking part have been converted from “computer averse” to using them in their teaching.

The last of the finalists in this category is a wholly commercial — and internationally successful — Dunedin company.

Animation Research (ARL) is the company which created Virtual Spectator, software that does exactly as its name says: turns TV viewers into spectators at high-profile sporting events including motor racing and professional golf. The sport that got the company started was America’s Cup yachting.

ARL is headed by Ian Taylor, who last year broadened the company’s base by putting together a deal to take over failed state-owned digital mapmaker Terralink.

Aside from running his own business, Taylor is an articulate advocate of extending access to IT to the wider community, believing that’s the key to lifting the country’s overall standard of living.

The "Most significant contribution to IT" category of the Computerworld Excellence Awards is sponsored by Simpl Group. The awards will be presented at an event in Auckland on June 28.

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