If you consider managing vendors hard work, spare a thought for those who have to keep a roomful of vendors, users, sponsors, salespeople and journalists happy. Tough gig. But such is the job — the life — of those who organise Computerworld’s annual Excellence Awards.
We forgive the chief musterer, Anne Simpson, for the martial air that pervades the office the last few months before the event. While the event’s seating plan can’t quite be called balkanisation, it’s at least as fraught as a wedding. We can’t have the bride’s parents too far away from the couple; can’t have the bitterly estranged relations too close to one another; can’t have the winners, losers and judges at the same table — whoops, that last one escaped its metaphor.
Awards evenings can be dull old self-congratulatory affairs, but those who attended the most recent Excellence evening seemed to have a fair old time (study closely the photos in the middle of this issue to judge for yourself). The loud noises from the winning tables (you know who you are) suggested that people were desperately keen to take home the statuettes. I can understand. While the IT industry may pay relatively high salaries, money is often only third or fourth on the lists of why IT people say like their jobs. Professionals like to be recognised for doing a good job. Journalists are no different. While we may grumble about the judges and results, in the end it’s about celebrating the best work being done in the industry.
It is also sadly rare that more than 400 of the best and the brightest in the industry can take the time to attend events that let them gather with their peers in a pleasant atmosphere and with enough time — the much missed Grok being another — to put names to faces, chat and, spare the phrase, network.
The night was pleasurable in other ways. It was particularly gratifying to see “old economy” industries stealing the clothes of the so-called new economy.
Woolnet won its award for using the internet to weave and flog high-quality local fleece to wealthy foreigners. Auckland University, another winner on the night, moved its enrolment to the web. All I could say when I first heard about the project (ahem, broke the story) was to say: about time. For anyone who has ever enrolled at any university, and I don’t think I am being unfair in highlighting Auckland, an A+ in patience used to be required to queue and shuffle around the campus collecting the signatures of the right important people. Now it’s just a few stress-free minutes at your PC.
A film at the international festival making its way around the country fingers another prime example of IT renovation. Startup.com is a warts-and-all documentary (one reason to be thankful for Americans’ candour in front of a camera) about govWorks.com, an outfit that grew from its three founders to over 200 staff in about a year then crashed back to nothing.
The start-up had a good enough idea — to allow people to pay local government bills and fines online — but the execution and technology implementation wasn’t as good in the end as its competitors.
I loved some of the “off-line” stories at the awards. What about the farmer who measures a swathe of factors to ensure his animals get the optimum amount of food? This South Island cocky, I was told, each day gauges the temperature of the soil and its moisture content, the air temperature, the growth of the grass in his paddocks and its estimated dry matter equivalent, and the weight of the animals. He crunches all this data on a modified program on his farm PC and assesses the amount of feed needed.
He gives this to his farm manager, who rotates the animals accordingly so that they are not overfed or underfed. Oh, and his paddocks are measured by a global positioning satellite system to precisely determine the amount of superphosphate required. Clever boy. I was assured that this farmer is not unique.
Even if we don’t make the top ten cleverest countries in the OECD by 2010, as the mantra goes, we won’t be dragging our heels.