Emergency room and apparel maker vie for award

An online news service, hospital emergency department and uniform maker are among finalists in the innovation and excellence in the use of IT categories of the Computerworld Excellence Awards.

Who would have thought the secret behind much of the world’s top-flight animation was developed in New Zealand? One of the finalists in the Computerworld Excellence Awards “technology innovator of the year” category holds that very secret: Auckland-based Right Hemisphere. Company head Mark Thomas’ animation texturing software is featured in prestigious film, television and gaming projects by companies including Microsoft, Disney, Sony and Lucas Arts. Almost all of the firm’s business is conducted overseas and 60% of sales are online. Right Hemisphere makes it through to the finals for its Texture Weapons software, which lets animators efficiently add complex textures to their designs without the distortions of the past. Auckland online delivery service E-mmediate is another finalist on the strength of its pioneering exploration of the possibilities of e-commerce. Part-owned by ISP Ihug, E-mmediate lets retailers deliver goods to customers via online and telephone ordering. Describing itself as a “bricks and clicks” real-time, multi-store company, E-mmediate is operating in the Auckland upscale suburb of Ponsonby, though it hopes to expand soon. Customers are charged a fee for their orders, including food, alcohol and videos, which arrive within an hour by vans equipped with both GPS (global positioning system) and mobile eftpos machines. E-mmediate says its strategy is different from many other retail e-commerce outfits, in that it uses existing retailers for “warehousing”, sidestepping the costs of rent, wages and stock. E-mmediate boss Dave Fermah anticipates forging relationships with 450 stores, creating a stock base for the company which will allow it to concentrate on system development. Right Hemisphere and E-mmediate are up against Taste Technologies (TTL), the last finalist in the technology innovation category, for its development and commercialisation of near-infrared (NIR) light technology within the produce industry. The NIR unit analyses and sorts fruit by various internal properties – for instance, sweetness – without touching the fruit. The system relies upon new analysis techniques developed by Hort Research and TTL, generating complex models to predict fruit sugar levels. The process takes place at high speed, with TTL reporting it can measure the sweetness of fruit such as apples and kiwifruit at 10 items a second for each NIR unit. TTL believes it has no direct competition within the industry. The NIR units are to be leased to produce firms, and will come with a licence for the operator to use TTL's Tastemark seal on packaging (though not on the actual fruit – a practice TTL describes as “annoying”). TTL spokesman Nigel Beach is confident about the future, and believes there is a worldwide market for up to 17,000 of the NIR units. “Personally I think this is going to change the way people buy fruit all over the world,” he says.

Scooping the pool It’s not often that an IT innovator seeks to change the “realpolitik” of the world, but that’s the case with New Zealand news website Scoop. Scoop is one of three finalists in the “overall excellence in the use of IT” category of the awards. Not only does Scoop provide local news, weather and sports stories, but also comment, media-monitoring, press release feeds and the first news-via-email service in the country. Founder Alastair Thompson is also one of the only online journalists with parliamentary accreditation. Scoop’s server is based in Wellington, with remotely based editors and contributors supplying content via a web-publishing interface. Scoop’s software, including Free BSD, Apache, Perl and XML, is tied together by the proprietary Newsagent software, written by one of Scoop’s directors, Andrew McNaughton. Newsagent minimises editorial processing time, and allows for the automatic filtering and dissemination of news stories and press releases. In the face of highly resourced competitors, this is a canny solution that fits well with Scoop’s independent and irreverent tone. With readership growing 25% a quarter, Scoop seems to be meeting the needs of news-hungry Kiwis. South Auckland Health is a finalist in overall excellence in implementing the modernisation programme at its football-field-sized emergency care department. With tight deadlines and lives literally on the line, South Auckland Health’s use of IT has had to be perfect from both administrative and clinical perspectives – not easy when the use of IT required by modern hospitals is heavy and sophisticated. A spokesperson for South Auckland Health says the implementation timeframe was, for parts of the system, extremely tight. “The go-live date for the digital radiology system was the day of moving into our new facility.” The hospital has a layer 3 gigabit core network and a digital radiology stream at Manukau, replacing traditional equipment. Wireless laptops are now also common in clinical and administrative settings, and South Auckland Health has developed a complex patient tracking system for use in the emergency ward, using the wireless notebooks. The emergency care department’s systems are unique, helping it boost patient capacity from 35,000 a year to 100,000. The last finalist in the excellence in the use of IT category is Yakka Apparel Solutions for an e-commerce intranet linking it with the New Zealand Defence Forces. The project, estimated to be worth $18 million per annum over a 10-year period, has seen Yakka, part of the Australasia-wide Yakka group of companies, establish an intranet accessible from any PC within any sector of the armed forces. The system, hardware and software from Manufact Data Systems is cost-effective for the defence forces and provides accurate and detailed information to Yakka. Yakka managing director Simon Harvey claims it to be one of the best-integrated local e-commerce solutions. “It’s a ‘value network’,” he says, using the term coined by Microsoft boss Bill Gates, which describes “a web of partnerships enabled by digital information flow so that a company and all its suppliers can easily communicate and act together”. With its abilility to allow processing of individually tailored orders, it sounds like the end of army surplus stores. The “technology innovator of the year” category is sponsored by Microsoft; the “overall excellence in the use of IT” category sponsor is IBM.

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