Stories by Claire McEntee The Dominion Post

NZ Legislation software in line for $14 million boost

The Government will spend more than $14 million upgrading near-new software designed to computerise the drafting and publication of legislation.
The troubled $28.4m New Zealand Legislation system — previously called PAL — was launched in 2008, five years after its original due date, costing five times more than first budgeted. The Parliamentary Counsel Office has already spent $4.1m on system maintenance and improvements since 2008.
Spokeswoman Gillian McIlraith says the $10m in capital expenditure budgeted for the system over the next four years will cover further improvements to the search and browse functions of the New Zealand Legislation website. The office will also simplify the "technical structure" of the system to make it easier and more efficient to operate for those drafting legislation.
Other enhancements include establishing a back-up system that can be operated remotely in the event of a core system or computer failure, and could see repealed and historic legislation made available for search through the website, she says. By 2014, the office plans to go to market for a new support provider in a bid to reduce costs.
System supplier Unisys is providing support and maintenance services, but a review of the system carried out after its launch revealed the office was paying Unisys significantly more than originally agreed.
Ms McIlraith says the money for the system improvements is "depreciation income", and was approved by the Labour Government in 2008. "It is usual to invest depreciation income back into a complex IT system, to ensure its longevity and sustainability."
The system includes various "standard IT products" and bespoke features in order to manage legislation from drafting through to publication. "The level of system support, maintenance and enhancement is typical for such an integrated drafting and publication package."
The system provides free access to up-to-date legislation, and makes it possible for users to track the progress of bills, and will reduce costs for users and purchasers of legislation once the website is officially recognised in 2012 as a source of legislation, she says.
"For many there will no longer be a need to maintain as many — or possibly in some cases any — sets of printed copies of New Zealand statues and regulation ... significantly reducing the costs of acquisition, to zero in some cases, and the costs of storage."
Unisys New Zealand managing director Brett Hodgson says it has a good relationship with the office and plans to be involved in supporting the system in future.
"A number of independent reviews have put it at the forefront in their industry worldwide. It's never fallen over... and every month there are 30,000 visitors to the site. It's certainly meeting the demands and expectations it was launched under."

Whitcoulls e-book launch raises green-ness questions

Experts are at odds over whether Whitcoulls' launch of e-books this week will be good or bad for the environment.
From Thursday, two million e-books will be available from the Whitcoulls website.
Whitcoulls will also sell the Kobo e-reader, a device designed for reading electronic books, but the e-books can be downloaded and read on personal computers, smartphones such as the iPhone and tablet devices such as the iPad.
A study by United States research and media firm Cleantech Group found carbon emissions from electronic books were far lower than from traditional book publishing. On average, the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of an Amazon Kindle e-reader would be fully offset after the first year of use, and any additional years of use would result in net carbon savings of about 168 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year, it said. That assumed people would otherwise buy 22 new books a year.
However, the study found e-readers were not squeaky clean. Production of a Kindle created 168kg of carbon dioxide compared with 7.46kg for a book. But e-readers also require electricity to run and are not as environmentally friendly to dispose of as paper-based books.
A New York Times "life-cycle assessment" of books and e-readers found traditional books were by far the greener option.
One e-reader required the extraction of 15kg of minerals and 265 litres of water to produce its batteries and printed circuit boards, it said, while a book used 0.3kg of minerals and only 7.5 litres of water. Manufacturing an e-reader consumed 100 kilowatt hours of electricity and generated 30kg of carbon dioxide, while a book consumed two kilowatt hours and produced 100 times fewer greenhouse gases.
People who enjoy reading in bed at night would be better off with an e-reader — which typically has an energy-efficient screen — because lightbulbs consume more energy.
Other studies sit on the fence, but generally recommend visiting a library or a second-hand bookstore as the greenest way to get a literary fix.
Borders in Australia, also owned by Whitcoulls owner, the REDGroup, launched an e-book service last week.
It is selling the Kobo e-reader for A$199 (NZ$249), and e-books cost between A$10 and A$15 (NZ$12.50 and NZ$18.70). The Australian Publishers Association told the Sydney Morning Herald the "competitive pricing" would feed the appetite for e-books, but the death of the paperback had been overstated.