IT advances foster democratization

Evidence that IT fosters democracy can be found in Cape Town, South Africa, where until recently the city's 130-plus legacy systems had split people along racial, class and geographic boundaries.

But at last week's Computerworld Honors awards program here, Cape Town officials explained how a new ERP system "took away all the divisions" and allowed it to "reach each of our citizens as equals," in the words of Andre Stelzner, director of ERP business transformation for the city.

"Some of our citizens weren't reached in the first place, and when they were reached, they had different service levels and different procedures involved," said Stelzner. "It was an unequal form of interaction with the city government and our citizens."

Cape Town's ERP implementation was one of a number of IT projects honored last night that clearly underscored a key goal of the Computerworld Honors program -- "The conviction that this technology, more than any other, can allow people to better relate to each other by country and within our great planet and be able to increase our quality of life and standards of living for the benefit of all mankind," said Patrick J. McGovern, chairman of Boston-based International Data Group, Computerworld's parent company.

Another way technology can foster democratization is by means of inexpensive supercomputing, as shown by Srinidhi Varadarajan, director of the Terascale Computing Facility at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech last fall assembled 1,100 dual-processor Power Mac G5 computers into a supercomputer, creating the third-fastest such machine in the world for a relatively inexpensive US$5.5 million. Supercomputers can easily cost tens of millions of dollars. "The idea was to generate enough computing power locally at a price we could afford to pay as academia that could solve the computing needs of pretty much the entire campus," said Varadarajan.

Beyond that, Varadarajan said, the broader, societal contribution will be the spread of affordable supercomputing. "Architectures of this sort are starting to be built commercially," he said.

Many of last week's winners were honored for using technology to improve business processes and increase productivity. In total, the finalists in this year's class of winners resulted in 313 new IT case studies presented to more than 120 museums, libraries, research centers and universities around the world.

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