Stories by Richard Wood

Smash the big money myth

The 2GHz spectrum auction is under way and shows little sign of dollar drama at this early stage.

Pride of the IT nation

The Computerworld Excellence Awards on Friday June 23 was one of those special nights.

Spectacular failures

The perception has been hanging around for too long that government IT sites have more problems than private company sites.

What IT worker shortage?

The Information Technology Association of America recently said about 800,000 of the new IT jobs created in the US this year will have no one to fill them.

Excellent response to awards

Thirty-three judges have been pouring over the entries into the Computerworld Excellence Awards and the finalists are due to be announced in early April. A total of 166 entries were received from 77 organisations around the country.

Loosen state hold on learning

Privatised education will set us up for export
In the knowledge economy special edition of Computerworld last week a number of points were presented with regards to education.
Our publisher Martin Taylor made education his pick for the New Zealand economy, talking about it as a market sector that we can excel in and gain tremendous side-benefit from along the way.
Meanwhile, in other articles NZ Intellectual Capital Foundation’s John Blackham argued schools are an anachronism, Eagle Technology’s Trevor Eagle called for the demolition of the student loan scheme and Kirstin Mills discussed the petty-mindedness of the student loans debate.
My thinking is that a loosening of the state’s hold on education would aid the development of the market and knock out New Zealand’s internal education issues.
The National government has been clearly moving down the path in fits and starts but a redoubled effort would pay off across the board.
Act’s ideas, whether expressed as vouchers or entitlements, are frightening to some in a knee-jerk sort of way. However, they do empower the individuals and parents to spend on education with whom they see fit in a competitive environment.
If we can create an education system that is directly responsive to parents’ and individuals’ demands then we will see many education providers develop offerings for youth and corporate markets that will be very marketable around the world.
Student loans, when added to a flat-rate entitlement that every student receives, serve a worthwhile purpose. They allow the pool of state funds to serve a larger group and they allow the student’s cost/benefit decision to reflect reality more closely.
However, the implementation of the scheme leaves much to be desired and must be sorted out urgently.
Unless we’re going to replace it with full funding, scrapping the scheme itself won’t achieve anything except to reduce the number of students. Interest holiday proposals seem at this point to be just plain politicking.
We could move to make it much more difficult to escape the repayment of loans but the cost of doing that might nullify the exercise.
I’d prefer we invested, through an entitlement or voucher scheme, more efficiently in education and got more value from our institutions by putting the customer firmly in the driving seat.
Richard Wood is editor of Computerworld. Phone him at 0-9-377 9902. Send comments about this article to cw_letters@idg.co.nz
richard_wood@idg.co.nz

Swinging the KBE into action

There's no room for doubters, we need to push hard for the knowledge-based economy
We’re in the the home straight in bringing you our special issue of Computerworld dedicated to the knowledge-based economy. In the process it’s become apparent that there’re a lot of genuine patriotic Kiwis who want to see our country succeed and take its rightful place in the knowledge-driven millennium. There are also people out there who think the knowledge-based economy is a load of bull.
Frankly, we don’t have time to argue about it. There are enough reports now pointing out the country’s deficiencies. The issue is not whether New Zealand needs to change and utilise its brains and technological aptitude better, but rather the best way to go about it.
In our special KBE issue next week we will set the framework for a thorough understanding of what the knowledge-based economy is about. We will explore what it already means, or will mean to our many industries and individuals, and consider what will need to be done to swing it into action.
There’s still plenty of room within the debate as to the government’s versus the individual’s role. As in all aspects of community life there is the right and the left, representing those that want to get out of the way and let things happen and those that want to take control and force an outcome.
Occasionally I just want to take people from these two conflicting groups, put them in a huge vice and squeeze them together until they become inseparably one. We need the vision of those that would take control with the self-restraint of those who would not.
We need to push hard for the knowledge-based economy for the inspiration that it can be, the direction it can give us and the respect for intelligence that it will leave us with.
And we need to be careful. We don’t want to clumsily lock in any sort of economic incentives or specific skills training programmes that will create their own problems in future years. Global changes are accelerating and we need the flexibility that only a fully functioning market economy can provide.
You’re going to have to let me stop here, because we’ve got a whole lot more coming and I don’t want to pre-empt it — news, analysis and, as you might expect, plenty of comment. If you have any last-minute points on any aspect of the knowledge-based economy that you want to share with all Computerworld readers, you need to email myself, or our reporter Paul Brislen, right now.
Richard Wood is editor of Computerworld. Phone him at 0-9-377 9902. Send comments about this article to cw_letters@idg.co.nz
richard_wood@idg.co.nz

A WAPping good time

Major vendors get behind wireless access protocol
Vendors are manoeuvring, positioning and just plain copulating as they attempt to benefit from the accelerating emergence of wireless hand-held computing.
The wireless access protocol (WAP) gained a strong head of steam at Telecom 99 recently in Geneva. WAP technologies allow devices to receive material from across the Internet through wireless connections and present the information on cellphones and palm-sized devices.
As an example of what’s in store, Internet Auction house Ebay’s German subsidiary has just started offering its Internet auction service through WAP-enabled mobile phones. The phone network has eight million subscribers.
Most major vendors are backing WAP and making any announcement that will demonstrate their deep commitment and early involvement. 3Com’s moves regarding its successful Palm division are particularly interesting as it needs to avoid being run over by cellphone companies stretching their legs.
Of course, Palm is into WAP but more excitedly as 3Com looks to spin off Palm, which you may recall it bought as a start-up in the first place, it isn’t just relying on a public listing to give it impetus. It’s already licensing its technology base and one such product to come out, the Visor from a company called Handspring, features a nifty expansion slot that is similar in nature to a notebook’s PC Card. It looks like the PC market all over again.
Another Palm deal, this time with Nokia, puts the Palm OS on top of the Symbian’s EPOC operating system (think Psion hand-helds) on a mobile phone. This "pen-based" phone is scheduled for 2001 and will be up against Microsoft CE-based phones that are due to be trialled in 2000.
Adding to the mobile technology mix is Bluetooth. This is expected in products early next year and supported by 850 vendors. It allows short-range infrared communications around the office or between mobile devices and is often described as providing shorter cableless communication links that on-link to larger networks through cellphone or landline technology.
While all this is going on, large traditional IT companies like IBM, Oracle and Compaq are busy positioning themselves on the server side of the equation. When you have millions of potential client systems flying around, you need massive raw high-reliability power running huge databases and able to serve up in an instant.
In the "reseller" space, so to say, Internet service providers and the new breed of bureaus, application service providers, are looking to provide the service delivery that WAP will need.
I’m just skimming the surface here. This is real, and you need to be thinking about it. We cover some of the action in our news focus on page 12. Note it will be relatively easy to turn the installed base of cellphones over to WAP given the trendy nature of the cellphone and the extra functionality that will be able to be offered. The market is far from saturated anyway.
Send me your thoughts on the impending mobile/wireless revolution.
Richard Wood is editor of Computerworld. Phone him at 0-9-377 9902. Send comments about this article to cw_letters@idg.co.nz
richard_wood@idg.co.nz

Leaders need balls

The vision statement for Electronic Government (www.govt.nz/evision) released by National last week is exciting. It shows this government can get its hands dirty and offer leadership in building the knowledge economy.
When I read the much-vaunted ITAG report on the Knowledge Economy my feeling was it was typical National Party and designed to not offend conservative sensibilities. We’ve probably all heard by now how interventionist ideas were left out.
While it analyses our problems well it doesn’t set out a compelling vision of what we can do. In one place it says the government needs to develop a "clear vision and specific strategy" for the country, but in another it says the market must lead and the government’s job is to remove obstacles and champion the way ahead.
The ITAG report endorses the current stand-offish approach to business, ignores the telecomms regulatory debacle, and describes the government’s role as leading by example through intervention in areas it is already funding, such as education and R&D.
The Electronic Government vision document sets out the vision for a key component of the knowledge economy.
The government now needs to extend it’s new-found visionary capabilities into other areas, especially general business leadership. New Zealand, kneecapped by ideologically-driven aversion to leadership, has being floundering since the famous tea break.
"Championing" sounds very wishy-washy. Hasn’t Maurice Williamson been doing that for years? I think we know now that price-competition and free markets are purely about cost. When it comes to company and country growth we’re talking about the human side, the vision, the values, the strategy, getting consensus and generating enthusiasm. Real leadership also requires hard decisions that will involve intervention in the structure of the economy. The National party doesn’t need to get heavy handed, but it does need to show its hand.
Your opinion counts. Don’t hesitate, email me at richard_wood@idg.co.nz. For publication in Computerworld, please send a copy of your letters to cw_letters@idg.co.nz

'Bright Future' in our hands

You'd like a bright future, for yourself and your family. I’m sure you’re as sick as I am of the pathetic economic performance of New Zealand.
We can be thankful that the concept of the "knowledge-based economy" has entered the wider public arena and become an election issue with both major parties taking part.
However, if we want something real to happen after the election then let’s not kid ourselves, we can’t leave it to the existing crop of politicians.
The government’s Bright Future/Five Steps offering ignores the role of IT as the potential prime driver in a recharged economy. The restructuring of aspects of education, R&D and taxation are long overdue and all our industries will benefit, but that won’t be enough to change the mindset of the bulk of New Zealanders to exactly how we earn our crust. The government is still hanging back from presenting a real vision of what New Zealand can be and do.
I doubt it has any real idea.
The power of information technology can be brought to bear in New Zealand for incredible gain. We’ve seen the impact of the Internet and the way in which it has changed the fortunes of many peoples’ lives. We’re living in our daily business lives through more radical change than the bulk of our fellow New Zealanders have ever considered.
As a group we are very well positioned intellectually to see where New Zealand can go. Individually we need to come out of our shells and send some strong messages to the politicians.
Or we can become more involved in this country’s politics ourselves. If you agree with what I’m saying then sit down now and send me your thoughts on the knowledge-based economy, what we can do, how we can do it, what the vision for New Zealand can be, with our help.
Your opinion counts. Don’t hesitate, email me at richard_wood@idg.co.nz. For publication in Computerworld, please send a copy of your letters to cw_letters@idg.co.nz

Cutting to the 'gut feeling'

Well, here we are then — we’ve changed our look. I do hope you like it.
Enough said?
Oops, I haven’t told you about all the intensive customer research that went into the changes, how we analysed what stories you like to read, how we did studies on how to make the paper easier to navigate and so on.
If only the world worked like that. Business by numbers. Using computers would make us millions.
Once upon a time it seemed you could predict business from year to year and run most of it by the numbers. It didn’t seem to change much. You could guess the impact of trends using charts and make straightforward sensible decisions about what to do next month, next year and for the next five years.
Machines took away the repetitive physical aspect of work and computers are taking away the repetitive intellectual aspect. All the mental arithmetic that once seemed to epitomise business is being codified and systemised, to send down digital communication links to automatically interact with someone else’s mental arithmetic.
What’s left will be that which computers aren’t good at. Complex brain stuff dealing with strategic issues and with people’s behaviour.
What’s left will be jobs that only people can do. Jobs about human communication. Jobs about strategic direction. Jobs requiring a lot of "gut feeling", because the calculations will have already been done.
It’s another step toward isolating what it really means to be human.
Back to the research
Getting back to the research we do for Computerworld. Well, yes, we do it. We have our own formal subscriber surveys. We subscribe to industry reader surveys. We conduct less formal "qualitative" research.
One day such research may lead to publishing changes happening automatically, especially in the online world with the concept of personalised news services. But this information could never totally determine our product and when it comes to creating a newspaper for the breadth even of our specialised readership the ability to make logical decisions based strictly on this information is quite limited.
So when it comes to a redesign we cut to the gut feeling built up through our general understanding of the research and through our deeper human understanding of what you want.
To develop this latest look we brought back our designer, Jonathan King, who knew the paper from a previous encounter. We threw at him the gut feelings of people here who have been in the business a while. He applied his gut feelings and, hey presto, a smart, authoritative, progressive publication.
The funny thing about reader research is that it can help you decide what isn’t working, but it doesn’t tend to clarify much about what you need to add.
We’ve got plenty of research that shows the popularity of the news section. We know the relative standings of our opinion columns (actually they are all similarly popular). We are very aware of which feature subjects and issues are hot and which are not.
On the other hand, we have no specific research on what your desire might be for our new "News Features". Starting from this issue one of these in-depth news-oriented articles will follow our opinion pages each issue (page 14 this week).
Our chief reporter Andrea Malcolm is now focusing on writing and commissioning these articles using her seven years’ experience on Computerworld. Malcolm will also develop further our News Review section.
Similarly, we’re also interested to see how our new World News section appeals. We’re selecting particular stories from our comprehensive internal wire service for publication alongside our late news (see inside back cover).
IDG publishes IT publications in over 70 countries and my feeling is you will benefit significantly from a carefully selected roundup.
Overseeing this latest news development and taking on the responsibility for our local news section at the front of the paper is Justine Banfield.
Banfield came aboard our editorial team in April as copy-editor and has been responsible for ensuring the quality of our local reporting for the last four months. She will continue to focus on the quality of our local news and will be able to further apply her experience from daily newspapers.
Finally, reviewing the changes we’ve made this year so far I trust you’ve found them valuable.
We set up the "Forum" section to give letters a higher profile. This has been a huge success. We started a "Late News" section to cram in even more hot IT news. We also consolidated all the miscellaneous subject pages to create our "News Review" section and expanded our careers coverage. We’re continually looking to develop the publication and build up our understanding of IT managers and IT professionals.
If you have any suggestions for changes in the publication, or just want to say you like it exactly how it is, please don’t hesitate to email them to me.
Your opinion counts. Don’t hesitate, email me at richard_wood@idg.co.nz. For publication in Computerworld, please send a copy of your letters to cw_letters@idg.co.nz

Music industry needs to adapt to the Net culture

Recently on TV1’s Backch@t programme we were treated to the spectacle of recording industry folk complaining about the way in which recordable CDs and MP3 make music piracy easy.
A specialist overseas lawyer laid into our government for not taking certain steps to toughen up our anti-piracy laws.
One commentator pointed to the lack of resources within our police force, for the targeting of intellectual property right abuse.
Unfortunately, neither the voice of the consumer nor of any artists was heard.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Copying a CD is not in the same league as murder, or even beating someone up. In that light alone it’s tempting to tell the large record companies where to shove it. This country has real problems to focus on.
That said, copying CDs is, and downloading ripped-off music tracks will be, a right pain to the person or company that owns the original. They’re trying to make some money from their creation and the pirate is cutting into that. We can all sympathise with that and most of us are happy to pay for the things we enjoy.
Where things start to get crazy is when record companies bemoan the very existence of recordable CDs and MP3 and over-react against these extremely popular technological changes. There is an assumption left unchallenged that intellectual property rights are God-given and when they’re undermined this goes against some natural law.
However, recording and playing recorded music are not natural phenomena, the process could hardly be more unnatural, especially when you’re listening to dead people. Intellectual property laws are a strikingly artificial structure whose purpose is to ensure a profitable supply and marketing chain from artist to consumer.
Recent technological changes mean the CD industry approach to music looks rather crude. The method of collecting together songs on a CD, adding a dose of TV advertising and pushing the product through stores can now be seen as just one simplistic way to receive income from music.
Let’s take a step back and consider what the public might ultimately want. I suggest this would be to play any track, anywhere, instantly without having to buy every CD in the world.
In the future the income for musicians will come through music download sites either as subscriber dollars, pay-per-song or through associated advertising revenue.
Artists who are disenchanted with record companies are already embracing these approaches to reach their listeners directly.
This may explain why record companies are panicking even though searching and downloading from the Internet is still quite time-consuming.
The music industry will need to restructure itself to make its money, just like every other industry entering the online world. It will have to embrace a culture of freeware and shareware to break new artists, and make its money on hot new releases in new and innovative ways. It will have to become an Internet-based industry with perhaps a sideline in CD manufacture.
In the meantime, our government does not need to be pushed into any action to protect the old-style CD business. Sensible copyright protection already exists in our laws, with tough financial penalties for those who break it. We can sit back and see where technology takes us.
Your opinion counts. Don’t hesitate, email me at richard_wood@idg.co.nz. Email your thoughts for publication to cw_letters@idg.co.nz.

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