NZCS: Modern times (Part 4 of 4): 2000 - 2010
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 2000 to 2010.
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.
Upon joining the South East Asia Regional Computer Confederation (SEARCC) several years earlier NZCS had agreed to organise and host the annual SEARCC international conference in 2001. Unfortunately the date of the conference was November 2001, which turned out to be two months after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The effect was dire - almost all international delegates, especially those from anywhere in Asia, immediately cancelled their registrations. Ditto for most of the >50 Australian Computer Society (ACS) members already registered, as there were "no flying" instructions sent out to employees of almost every company of any significance as a reaction to the attacks. The Society stood to lose significant funds from the conference.
The Australian Computer Society went into bat for NZCS, trying to obtain a commitment from SEARCC to underwrite any significant loss from the conference from their substantial funds, or even just loan the different to NZCS so creditors could be paid. The confederation were deeply divided on the issue which caused much friction. When the dust settled the SEARCC Secretary General had resigned, but alas still no support. Indonesia then withdrew from hosting the 2002 SEARCC Conference citing concerns over cost and liability.
At the time the NZCS branches maintained separate funds and ended up contributing to what was eventually a relatively minor loss, and the Conference went ahead with about 220 attending. By all accounts it was an excellent conference.
Around this time early stage discussions were instigated by vendor body the IT Association of NZ (ITANZ) about forming an umbrella IT group made up of ITANZ, the Internet Society (InternetNZ), the Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ), NZCS and the Software Association, with TUANZ rejecting the idea outright and all other groups being lukewarm at best. These discussions would continue for several years, culminating in the ICT-NZ proposal that would end up causing great division in NZCS.
The following years saw the Society take position on a number of issues such as the inadequacy of contracts many software developers operate under, and in 2004 instigating structural governance changes, halving the size of the National Council and increasing the Council voting power of the two larger branches.
In 2006 the ICT-NZ concept and proposal, where the major IT bodies would effectively merge into one larger group, was at the fore of discussion. A group primarily from the Auckland branch of the Society were pushing for the Society's entry into ICT-NZ, gaining support to continue looking into it from an at times heated and somewhat controversial AGM in 2006.
The discussion and consultation that followed resulted in a deep divide at all levels, from National Council to branches and amongst the membership, pitting branch against branch in a robust and at times bloody debate about the future of the Society. Proponents saw the ICT-NZ model as a way forward for what had become a relatively inactive and some believed irrelevant Society, where the future could be secured as part of a larger group with the carrot of government funding. Those opposed felt that the profile, culture, purpose and objectives of the Society would be lost, that the needs of a professional body were different to those of a vendor group, that the new body would access the Society's revenue stream, matched by Government funds, but then use it to further activities that were not core to the Society's purpose, and that NZCS had the potential to be the body leading much of the work that was important to the organisation anyway. There was also nervousness about the implication that ICT-NZ was a government-promoted and funded body and up until then NZCS had been fiercely independent - from Government and vendors.
Wherever the truth lay, the main debate was in relation to what was termed the "One World Government" approach of all organisations becoming one, versus the "United Nations" approach with all participant organisations maintaining their own identities but coming together to form an IT Council to collaborate in areas of mutual interest.
The debate dominated Society activity and discussion for well over a year with other activities grinding to a halt. The matter came to a head in early 2007 with a series of motions put forward by the NZCS Auckland Branch to force a binding referendum and commit the Society to joining ICT-NZ, countered by a series of motions from Wellington Branch disbanding the Working Group established to consider the idea, and putting any plans on hold until other, more representative, models could be at least considered.
Following much heated and at times feverish debate, the Wellington motions succeeded and any decision on the ICT-NZ model deferred for "at least" six months. President Richard Donaldson's casting vote was used to disband the ICT-NZ Working Group with all other motions passing with a clear majority. One of those spearheading the call to look at other options first, Don Robertson, was appointed to lead a new Working Group bringing together wider options to be considered, and later became the next President. Another, Paul Matthews, went on to become Chief Executive and lead a programme of change within the Society.
The debate and fallout from the decision had caused a deep division in the Society. However it had also resulted in much consideration into the purpose and future of the organisation and can be credited with focusing the new leadership to returning to the previous times where NZCS was significantly active in education (school, tertiary and ongoing), advocacy, government policy and other activities.
The decision spelt the end of ICT-NZ, with the government pulling all funding and instead forming the NZCS-supported Digital Development Council, similar to the "United Nations" model put forward by NZCS and others and not subsuming identity. The funding of this didn't survive the 2008 election and the body disbanded in 2009, leading many to wonder whether the promised ICT-NZ funding would have met a similar fate had the Society gone down that track.
One of the first issues tackled by the new leadership was the dismal state of computing-related Achievement Standards in schools, with the Society commissioning a report looking into the issue penned by Auckland teacher Margot Phillipps and AUT academic Gordon Grimsey and reviewed by 13 academics and senior professionals throughout New Zealand. The report found that none of the existing IT Achievement Standards were suitable for the assessment of IT, which lead to significant advocacy activity spearheaded by the new Chief Executive and major changes to the way computing and IT was taught in schools. This included a new Digital Technologies Curriculum, a full set of new Achievement Standards, updated Unit Standards, and additional teacher resources to improve the standard and consistency of learning in the field of IT.
Over the next few years the Society's renewed focus was translated into specific initiatives such as the implementation of the IT Certified Professional (ITCP) accreditation released in late 2009, a revised Mentoring Programme, announcement of Degree Accreditation, plus a host of other projects. Over this time the Society also became active again in advocating issues such as Copyright, opposing of Software Patents, promotion of education and skills, and a host of other initiatives and advocacy areas and once more being the voice of the IT profession.
In 2010 the Society reflected on 50 years, a milestone celebrated by the first NZCS Conference in a number of years with great attendance and supported widely by industry and the profession.
The only question left unanswered is, what of the next 50 years?
The changes in recent years have focused NZCS clearly on fulfilling its obligation as the professional body of the IT sector, however there are still steps that need to be taken to truly achieving this on behalf of the profession. Will the Society and its membership be bold enough to take these steps and how will this transitionary period be judged in the future?
Only time will tell.
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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