There’s not much time for computer gaming in East Timor, says New Zealand Defence Force CIO Ron Hooton.
New Zealand has about 400 troops stationed at four locations on the Indonesian island. Between them they have more than 100 PCs, Hooton says, but only five are available for personal emails and computer games to help relieve the boredom of jungle life. Peacekeeping is a 24/7 operation, he notes.
Hooton recently returned from a tour of duty in late January with New Zealand troops on peacekeeping duties as the strife-torn former-Portuguese colony prepares for fresh elections. He says there is a “surprising” amount of technology there.
The Kiwi forces interact with the United Nations through a web-based system using Lotus Notes, which also helps carry much messaging and distribution of orders, a computerised reservation system is used for the aircraft and the troops publish a newspaper for the locals. The Defence Force’s systems are SAP-centric, with an Atlas HR system, GIS mapping and “we have other stuff we won’t talk about”, says Hooton.
Bandwidth to New Zealand is 64kbit/s using commercial satellites. “Telephony links were very impressive,” he says. “I could pick up a phone extension on the NZDF network and I would be [quickly] connected with a person in Wellington,” he says.
“People sweat about getting networks into small towns in New Zealand. But there isn’t a place more difficult than somewhere like East Timor. There is no fixed infrastructure, no telephone lines, no power, you have to make your own.”
He adds that the 35°C heat with high humidity creates huge problems because it contributes to high failure rates of equipment.
The NZDF has six IT staff in East Timor, from multi-role communcations and signalling areas, who had to put in their own cabling and network for our forces.
“The guys take a look at the situation they are in and work accordingly,” Hooton says.
Now back in New Zealand, Hooton plans to report on his adventures to nationwide meetings of the NZ Computer Society.
The former Countrywide Bank IT manager became the 15,000-strong NZDF’s first CIO in September, taking on responsibility across the army, navy and airforce.