NZCS: Formative years (Part 2 of 4): 1975 - 1985
NZCS has been part of the IT industry for as long as the industry has existed, celebrating our 50th Anniversary in 2010. However the Society's also seen significant membership growth in recent times with many new members.
While we look forwards as an organisation, it's hugely important that with so many new members we don't forget our rich history and heritage. So we're spending a few weeks outlining some of the organisation's history, this week we look at 1975 to 1985.
As most readers will know, NZCS is the largest IT organisation in New Zealand and the oldest having celebrated our 50th Anniversary in 2010.
This brief history, published in the NZCS 50th Anniversary Book Return to Tomorrow, has been written over many years and incorporates an edited summary of the first 15 years by John Robinson, the following decade by Bill Williams, then the remaining 25 years assembled by current NZCS CEO Paul Matthews with contribution and assistance from many of the Society's Fellows and long-standing members.
The opening years of this period saw three important projects brought to a conclusion.
The Code of Ethics, which had been debated for over three years was agreed following consideration at two special general meetings, one in 1976 and the other in 1978. By general consensus the code was to apply to all three main grades; Fellows, Full Members and Associates.
The other two projects were related, being the question of registration of computer practitioners and the requirement to join unions. The Society's view on registration was that the time was not opportune for such a move but if it were to be contemplated the Society would wish to be involved in the formulation of the rules and possibly the administration. In the event the government did not follow up the original suggestions. The debate on joining unions centred around programmers who, the union claimed, were carrying out clerical functions. A special committee, set up by the Society to handle the matter, established a good relationship with leading union officials and especially with the Clerical Workers' Union. In the end the status quo was preserved.
The previous period had also witnessed much public and professional concern over proposals for the Health Department computer system. Society members expressed disquiet on two counts; that the prime contractor had been appointed without public tender, that the system they proposed was unworkable. As a result formal representations were made to the Minister of Health, and the President later reported that 'While the Health Department officers were able to quite adequately assure me on the Society's concern relating to the appointment of the consultants, I cannot report that I was equally well satisfied on the degree of technical assurance applied to the acquisition of this major system.' Subsequent events were to prove the Society's reservations were well-founded.
Several procedural changes were made during this period to improve efficiency and lighten the burden of administration. Firstly, the central membership system now in use was introduced; secondly, changes were made to the Constitution which brought more into line with modern practice; and thirdly, the quarterly Bulletin was replaced by a monthly news letter published in every issue of the journal of Data Processing in New Zealand.
Two important reviews were carried out. The first, in conjunction with Victoria and Massey Universities surveyed data processing staff in New Zealand and the second looked at the profile of Society membership. The latter pointed out that while Society membership appeared to cover a satisfactorily wide range of occupations there was low representation from government departments, computer engineers, operators, young people and 'interested amateurs'. It was therefore suggested that recruitment of members should be especially concentrated in these areas.
The subject of privacy raised its head many times during the period. The Society played an active role in the shaping of the Wanganui Computer Centre Act and its subsequent revisions. It was invited to make nominations for the committees to be established under the Act and one of its nominees was eventually accepted. Nationwide publicity was given to the Society's stand on the question of the proposed sale of computer records by a City Council. The Society established its general guideline, later to be expanded into a full position paper, that 'personal information should be used only for the purposes for which it was given'.
Much effort continued to be put into the fields of education and consideration of the impact of computers on society. Typical examples were a most successful series of continuing education seminars and further useful dialogue with the unions on the introduction of computers in the work place, culminating in the sponsorship by the Society of a visit to this country of Kristen and Johanna Nygaard.
The 1980s found the Society becoming involved, to an ever increasing extent, in a wide range of activities. More and more the Society was being consulted on matters relating to computing in all facets of law, Government and society, visible proof of the success of early efforts to raise the Society's profile.
The extent of this involvement can be gauged from a list of activities taken over a three month period. They included submissions to or work for:
- The Auditor General in his review of computing in the public sector.
- The Planning Council in response to their position paper 'An Employment Strategy for the 1980s'.
- The Communication Advisory Council on the Impact of View-data type systems.
- State Services Commission on Amendments to the Wanganui Computer Centre Act.
- NZ Product Numbering Council - Adoption of Product Numbering Standards for New Zealand.
- The Committee on Official Information.
- Revision of the Electoral Roll.
It was apparent that all this was placing too great a workload on volunteers from the membership and that more support for committees and project teams was imperative. It was for this reason that, when the then secretary retired at the end of 1980, he was replaced by a part-time executive secretary, the late Bill Williams. The move was seen as the first step towards the Society having available the services of a full-time national staff and office, eventually achieved in 1983 when Williams became the Society's first full-time Executive Officer.
Bill Williams was instrumental in bringing about law changes related to the Wanganui Computer Centre, Election Reform, the Crimes Act (as it affected computer crime) the Copyright Act (relating to the protection of computer software) and provisions for protection of personal information. Williams also set up a joint study group with the Law Society, the Human Rights Commission and the Medical Council which resulted in an agreed position on how those holding personal information should respect the privacy of individuals, which was widely accepted and adopted and later formed the core of New Zealand's privacy legislation.
Williams also edited the NZCS 25th Anniversary Book, Looking Back to Tomorrow, reflections of twenty five years of computers in New Zealand.
It was also agreed that the opportunity for a greater degree of continuity should be given to councillors and the president and in both cases the initial term on election was changed from one to two years. More emphasis was placed on forming project teams, not necessarily restricted to councillors to undertake specific activities.
The Society achieved a new high in the number of its publications. It produced its first book Choosing Your First Computer System, two position papers (on privacy and education), a booklet listing consultants, counsellors and expert witnesses, a further booklet on Guidelines on Privacy - Security - Integrity and a NZCS Year Book. It adopted a new logo and changed to the magazine Interface for the regular dissemination of information to members. Another first was the concept of an inter-conference year mini-conference.
RUTHERFORD 84, restricted to members, with New Zealand speakers on a theme of communications presented in a lighter vein, was voted a great success by those who attended. This conference led on to the establishment of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ) in 1987.
However if one activity were to be highlighted it would be that of education. The Society's Continuing Education Programme was strengthened and put on a professional footing by the appointment of a Director of Continuing Education which enabled an ambitious and successful programme of seminars to be launched. NZCS also helped establish the Computer Education Society both at a national level and a number of regional Computer Education Societies. These were the first computing teachers' associations in New Zealand and were a driving force in providing a voice and community for those interested in computing education and in promoting the use of ICT in schools.
NZCS also played an active role in the deliberations of the Consultative Committee on Computers in Schools and with the Vocational Training Council, and took active steps to improve the professional standing of its members by setting new requirements for advancement to the professional grade of Full Member. Greater emphasis was given to the acquisition of formal academic qualifications.
Check out other parts of this series:
Part 1: 1960-1975
Part 2: 1975-1985
Part 3: 1985-2000
Part 4: 2000-2010
This series is from the NZCS 50th Anniversary Book Return to Tomorrow, written by NZCS members and published in 2010.
Edited by Janet Toland, Return to Tomorrow includes 23 fascinating chapters, each outlining a different aspect of the history of computing over the last 50 years through the eyes of those that lived it.
This book is currently not available, but a new version, including 60 years' of tech history, will be released at ITx 2021 in May 2021.
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