Don Robertson, 27th president NZCS, 2007–10

Fifty years is a long time for any organisation to exist, especially a voluntary one such as the New Zealand Computer Society. During this time computing has expanded and permeated nearly every facet of human life. Computing has evolved away from its original centralised back-end number-crunching and efficiency role in large organisations into many different forms. It lies behind many of the innovative products and solutions that enhance our business, personal, recreational and social lives. We take these digital advances for granted without realising that even a few short years ago many of them were not even thought of.

Computing is everywhere and we would be challenged to manage without it in this modern, advanced civilisation. Imagine how we would get on if there were no computing in buildings to manage secure access or control the lifts and air-conditioning. Where would we be without computerised train scheduling, signal control and airline scheduling? Nowadays we take for granted technologies such as fly-by-wire complete digital control, with no direct connection between the pilot and the control surfaces on the plane; car engine management systems that control not just the engine but antiskid devices and airbag inflation; and embedded digital controls for microwave ovens, fridges, televisions and mobile devices. There are now industries such as Internet search optimisation, website hosting, and online auction companies like Trade Me for buying and selling second-hand goods that not only depend on computing but couldn’t exist without it.

Science and business have utilised advances in computing to pioneer major breakthroughs in medicine, health, transport, education and communication. The advent of the Internet has allowed information sharing on a scale unimaginable to previous generations. Now a vast information repository is available to almost everyone with just a few clicks of a keyboard, mouse or touch screen. One example is the phenomenal growth of social media technology. However, along with that growth new dangers have emerged; a novice user can unwittingly give away personal information that can be exploited by unseemly characters.

This incredible explosion of computing technologies means that society often struggles to keep pace. Legislation and societal norms quickly become outdated. Computing technology is now readily available to almost everyone. Its accessibility, flexibility and ease of use enable users to adapt it and use it in ways the original developers never envisaged. It has also spawned new innovative, successful business ventures and grown New Zealand’s export revenue.

Computers have also introduced unforeseen consequences and dangers. The introduction of electronic mail, and along with it spam and popup adverts, has been both a boon and a bother. Viruses, hackers, trojans, identity theft, phishing and many other scams have made security a major concern. New technology brings its own health issues, such as occupational overuse, and ways have to be found of preventing user damage. Digital addiction, where people spend many hours a day logged onto the Internet, is possibly a new form of illness.

Today we carry the power of the digital age in our hands, with the ability to transact business, conduct financial transactions and communicate directly while on the run. We carry our personal devices everywhere during work and play.

It must also be said that some in the community have been left behind and there is a growing digital divide, where access to the technologies is limited and digital literacy poor. Being able to access and use the Internet is becoming essential to everyday life and we must ensure that we do everything we can to increase digital literacy and provide access for all. The Computer Society has worked strongly over the years advocating for better and more affordable or free access for the less well-off by directly approaching both government and non-governmental organisations. The society has also assisted community support groups and worked with partner organisations such as Internet New Zealand, Netsafe, and the 2020 Communications Trust.

Computing has certainly come a long way in 50 years. Through all this change the Computer Society has continued to advance ICT professionalism and education for the benefit of New Zealand. We do this by promoting ICT education and setting policies, standards and practices. The society fosters ICT education, training and qualifications to raise the level of digital literacy in New Zealand. This includes the formation of a digital literacy division, that under the banner of the KiwiSkills programme provides learning opportunities and international qualifications to schools, companies and the community at large. We are soon to introduce the Accreditation of Tertiary Degree courses that will ensure that the appropriate body of knowledge is taught to keep the degrees relevant and on a par with international standards.

The society holds educational and networking events on a regular basis across the country, providing learning opportunities to support those working in the ICT field. These events keep ICT professionals up to date with the rapid changes in ICT, and promote awareness of security and privacy issues.

The introduction of the Information Technology Certified Professional (ITCP) establishes a gold standard to which ICT professionals can aspire, while also providing a measure of assurance of their level of competency and experience. This is a very important factor when ICT solutions are involved in areas that could affect the health, safety and wellbeing of the general public, such as traffic light systems, emergency service systems, hospital systems, banking systems, planes, trains, cars and systems that involve social interaction and security issues.

Members of the society continue to provide authoritative, independent, professional advice on ICT to assist in dispute resolution, or to provide guidance for ICT strategy and projects.

Where appropriate, the society advocates for ICT education and professionalism by proactively addressing key issues while aiming for productive, widespread ICT use in New Zealand in accordance with the society’s Code of Conduct and Code of Good Practice. An example of this is the production of the critical report on the school achievement standards for ICT, which resulted in significant changes in the school curriculum and achievement standards.

The society needs to continue to focus on improving ICT as a profession, lifting digital literacy and promoting the safe and effective use of ICT for all of New Zealand. We need to continue to foster and grow our international links in this connected world.

After 50 years we are in good shape and spirit, and well positioned to play an even larger role in the years to come. There is no doubt that there will be changes, innovation and opportunities we can’t envisage, and new dangers and risks to be taken care of.

We thank all those who have been part of the journey so far and invite you to join us for the exciting challenges of the future. Who knows where we will be and what ICT will be like 50 years from here?