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NZCS: Changing structures (3 of 4): 1985 - 2000

Various. 09 December 2011, 1:00 pm
NZCS: Changing structures (3 of 4): 1985 - 2000

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 1985 to 2000.



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.



As well as those established in the preceding years, additional regional Computer Education Societies were formed in the mid to late 80s in several regions around New Zealand and, together with NZCS, contributed to a raised profile and participation of computing education in schools.

The profile of the Society was raised significantly when then-President Jim Higgins became famous for his regular morning slot on National Radio, educating the public about all manner of computing and IT matters. Higgins continued the slot for 20 years, finally hanging up the microphone in 2009.

This period was also famous for a refusal of the Society's Annual General Meeting to accept the annual accounts due to what appeared to be a significant unexplained drop in funds. In actuality this was mainly due to a employment dispute and payment which was the subject of a non-disclosure clause, with the President and National Council unable to discuss or even disclose its existence resulting in a very long and tense AGM. With nobody wanting a repeat, the subsequent Special General Meeting passed the accounts in record time; so fast, in fact, that Computerworld reporter Stephen Bell was almost trampled by the members beating a hasty retreat when he arrived a few minutes late.

In 1987 PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner Phil Parnell was elected President and worked tirelessly to improve the structure and financial footing of the Society.

In 1988 Drew Bond (who later became President of the Society) penned a discussion paper on Health Information policy for the then Department of Health, foreshadowing much of the subsequent policy in this area.

Over this time the large National and smaller Rutherford Conferences were hugely successful, being "the" annual event for the sector. Additional events in conjunction with the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) and Association of Computer Machinery (ACM) led to a very full calendar of events.

On the international stage, the Society scaled down activities with IFIP amid some protest from longer standing members, and instead joined the South East Asia Regional Computer Confederation (SEARCC) with a view to contributing more significantly to the Asia Pacific Region. Through President Philip Sallis, NZCS also participated strongly in the ACM Computer Science Curriculum and Research Committees in Hong Kong and New York.



Having been at the forefront of advocacy around privacy and the protection of personal information, the Society was heavily involved in the establishment of New Zealand's Privacy Act 1993, enshrining several key NZCS privacy and information-related positions from the previous decade.

The Society continued to be well served by strong advocates to Government including Jim Higgins and the late Bill Williams, with President Philip Sallis also chairing the Government's Consultative Committee on Information Technology and serving on the Science Curriculum Task Group and the Information Technology Advisory Committee.

1994 saw the appointment of Ian Mitchell as President. Mitchell embarked on a strategy of rebranding and refocusing NZCS and strengthening the Society's links to education in schools and the tertiary community.

Mitchell had strong views regarding the direction of the Society and was known for his "100 ideas a minute" approach ranging from the genius to the not so brilliant, however was a dedicated and hard working servant of the Society.

1995 also saw the establishment of the Internet Society of New Zealand (ISOCNZ), later renamed InternetNZ. While not directly linked to NZCS, many of those involved in the establishment of ISOCNZ were also involved with Computer Society and ISOCNZ was seen by many as a kindred body.



The operational structure of the Society was changed in 1996 with the establishment of the Society's first Chief Executive position (previous appointments being Executive Officers). The appointment of recruitment agency The Doughty Group founder Beverley Pratt was not without some initial controversy, primarily due to the choice of someone with a strong commercial background which was somewhat of a departure from previous custom in the Society. The appointment of a female Chief Executive in such a male dominated industry also raised some eyebrows, but was met with approval from most; especially when Pratt excelled in the role.

The move to a Chief Executive, especially one with commercial experience, marked a gradual shift in how the Society operated. In previous decades it had been run almost entirely by volunteers, with the President being a close to fulltime role and volunteers often paid by their companies to participate. However society in general was changing, and the time people could contribute was diminishing.

1999 saw the appointment of the Society's first, and to this date only, female President in Gillian Reid. Reid was very keen in reviewing the criteria for membership and advancement, including modernising the process of becoming a Fellow from being nominated to applying, and establishing a new Honorary Fellow (HFNZCS) title for those the Society wished to recognise and honour. A Council "committee of two" was set up to look at options, being Gillian and Ian Howard. Their simple task was to come back with new criteria for levels of membership and criteria for advancement, including moving the process of becoming a Fellow from being nominated to actually applying.

Reid was heard to comment that climbing Mt Everest without oxygen would probably have been easier. It took the two of them many months of hard work, several iterations to Council for review, then a survey of all the members following Council's final agreement on the new Membership Structure. They survived, just, and the new structures were put in place in 2000.

Check out other parts of this series:

NZCS Original Logo
Part 1: 1960-1975
Part 2: 1975-1985
Part 3: 1985-2000
Part 4: 2000-2010



Return_coverInterested in the history of Computing in New Zealand?

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.

More Info and buy online (Great Christmas pressie!) 


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