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Talk to South Australian Branch

by Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society

Wednesday, 27 March 1996

6:00 - 8:00 pm, Commonwealth Centre Theatrette, 55 Currie St., Adelaide

Draft of: 23 March 1996


Tom Worthington Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society discusses how our society is coming to grips with on-line information provision. He relates his recent experience appearing before various Parliamentary and government enquiries into regulation of the Internet. He discusses his practical daily use of the Internet as a tool for an IT professionals. Mr. Worthington outlines the role of the ACS in assuring Australia's future as a prosperous networked nation.


This is the fourth is a series of presentations I have been giving to ACS Branches and Chapters. I started work on this talk in late February. Ken Godson [] Chairman of the ACS SA Branch asked for:
  1. Something topical and crowd pulling like your experiences with the various Senate Committees etc. and the media on things like Pornography and censorship on the Internet. Members should know how the ACS is playing a role in such things and as you know the topic is of universal interest.
  2. How the Internet will change the lives of IT professionals:
    • at work
    • in professional development
    • in social situations and at home
  3. An advertisement for the ACS profile:
    • what are the current National activities of interest to SA members.
    • directions for the ACS Nationally

How does that sound?

Well Ken, it sounds like a lot, but I will give it a go.

Internet Pornography

The aspect of the Internet which has captured the interest of the media, politicians and is of some concern to members of the community is children obtaining undesirable material via the Internet. I have made two presentations to a Senate committee, been interviewed by the electronic and print media. Subsequently the ACS has made a very detailed, extensively researched submission to the ABA on the issue of Internet regulation.

The ACS has taken a position in its submissions in favour of mild regulation. Most of the fears of the technology evaporate as soon as people actually get to use it and experience first hand its benefits and its problems. The ACS has made a major contribution to the discussion by presenting non-sensationalist factual information and by providing expertise in use of the technology through its members access to ACSlink.

For me the really interesting issues with this technology have not yet been discussed. The Internet is now changing how organisations work. This can provide both a source of economic growth and a social and cultural benefit. Australia is a significant international Internet user and a regional Internet superpower. This is a "natural advantage" provided by the outstanding work of our academic community. With a sensible and mild regulatory system for the Internet, Australia can exploit this natural advantage for economic benefit.

How the Internet will change the lives of IT professionals

I gave a talk to the ACS North Queensland Chapter on 7 February. This was a "future history" of information technology in Australia in the year 2005. In that talk I warned about listening to imported experts presenting their view of the future. IT professionals are practical people so let me tell you not about the future, but about how the Internet has already changed my work and life.

I am writing this on a notebook computer, on a Saturday morning in Tilley's Cafe, Lyneham, Canberra. Much of my work, particularly for ACS but also for Defence, is done out of the office, wherever I happen to be.

Most of my briefcase is taken up with the notebook computer, a pocket modem and assorted accessories. There is very little room for "papers" or need for them.

Of course I also carry a digital mobile telephone, with me 24 hours a day. The phone is connected to an answering service, where a human operator answers and sends a text message to the phone, if I can't or don't want to answer.

Like many telecommuters I have a big problem keeping up with my e-mail. To overcome this I have separate e-mail addresses for my Defence work and ACS/private material.

Each morning I get up and check my ACS mail from home with my laptop and pocket modem. It takes about two minutes to log-on, receive mail and send any I have let over from yesterday. I get about forty messages and send about fifteen. I don't do anything with the received mail at this point, just collect it.

Next I go to my office at the Defence Material Division, of the Department of Defence. Everyone in the division has X.400 and Internet e-mail access to other areas of Defence and the outside world. There are specially secured facilities for sensitive internal communications. But I work on unclassified general IT policy, with people in computer companies and use "Commercial Off The Shelf" hardware, software and communications.

Each day I get about one hundred messages, from people in the office, in other parts of Defence, from other agencies, companies and around the world. Most of the routine announcements and office organising happens by e-mail. The official Defence circulars and many of the manuals are on-line.

During the day I get about five pieces of paper correspondence and twenty telephone calls. The usual procedures for handling a work item is to prepare a reply and send it by e-mail, with copies to my colleagues. It is generally easier to communicate with the person in the next office by e-mail than face-to-face, because they are often on the phone, in a meeting or out of the office on visits. Some staff are out on projects for months at a time and we communicate by e-mail and weekly visits.

The e-mail discussion crosses organisational boundaries and involves people from junior staff to senior executives. Occasionally embarrassing arguments break out via e-mail and the people involved have to be asked by their colleagues to get together in person and sort it out. However more often the e-mail helps us keep up with what is going on day to day.

Most of the paper correspondence I get goes straight in the bin. These are product announcements and invitations from IT companies. If the product or event sounds interesting I contact the company and ask for details by e-mail and for the URL of their home page. The reason for this is that if the event or product is of interest I have to tell a lot of people, possibly hundreds and it would be unworkable to send out so many bits of paper. Most companies used to say "we don't have e-mail, what is a Web?" and I would try to patiently explain, then give up and put their invitation in the bin. More are now saying "yes of course we can do that."

Each week I attend only about one or two meetings. I avoid meetings by asking people if we can get rough agreement by telephone and then sort out the details by e-mail. The remaining meetings are usually intensive working party sessions on difficult technical and policy issues, or casual "get to know you" sessions. I take a laptop to all meetings and prepare notes during the meeting. As soon as possible after the meeting I send my notes to my colleagues by e-mail. This has a very powerful effect on the others at the meeting, as they know that my version of events will be disseminated very quickly.

Once a month I attend the Commonwealth Internet Reference Group. This is an interdepartmental forum for issues with federal agencies use of Internet. This group has gone further with use of Internet than any other and can be a bizarre experience for the uninitiated. Most of the work is done via an electronic mailing list. This list is available to anyone to subscribe to, not just public servants. Some sensitive discussions take place off the list. Anyone not on the list has little chance of understanding what is happening at the face-to-face meeting, as conversations which were taking place on-line continue in mid-sentence in the face-to-face meeting.

The use of on-line communication has reached the point where I write only about one or two "paper" letters a month. Policy documents are still rendered on paper, but there are far fewer paper drafts prepared and many more electronic ones. It is now routine to make a quick search on the Web and "ask around" on-line before preparing an IT policy document. Most documents are now based on material borrowed electronically, with permission, from other agencies in Australia and overseas.

Lets see, its just about lunch time: At lunch time I will make a quick check of my ACS e-mail, which I collected in the morning. To handle the volume I have my e-mail program sort the material by subject. I then read the first item, if its interesting I keep reading, if not I delete all items on that subject. If a reply is needed, I read all items on the subject, before replying to any. The mail system stores the replies until my next on-line connection. I wait several hours before sending and often edit or delete replies in that time.

After lunch I might have to update the information on the Defence home page. This requires either preparing material in Web format or just uploading material someone else prepared (after checking it is correctly formatted and authorised for release). With the material uploaded I might need to send out an announcement of it on relevant newsgroups and mailing lists. Normally this happens in the office, but it can happen from anywhere with a sufficiently secure and reliable communications link (such as from Mallactoota for military exercise Kangaroo'95).

If I have a presentation to give for Defence or the ACS, I prepare it in Web format. If it is for public viewing I upload it to the ACS or Defence server well in advance of the talk and invite people to comment and correct it. When paper handouts are needed, these can be prepared by printing the Web pages. Generally I will prepare a "paper", which is a wordy document (like this) and a "slide show" with a few dot points for presentation on-screen at the event. I used to print a copy of the slides on clear plastic, in case the Internet connection or video broke during the presentation, but don't bother any more. I used to have to bring my own equipment, but many conferences are now equipped for Internet presentations: just walk up, type in your URL and start presenting.

Many of my friends and acquaintances are now on-line and we keep in touch by e-mail. In July 1994 I gave a presentation on "Hi-tech Tourist on the European Information Highway" , featuring photos from my European holiday. Since then I have been organising and documenting my holidays on-line.

Let's see: its time to go home. On the way I might stop at Tilley's for a coffee and inspiration (where I am now). At home I spend several hours working on ACS business, mostly by replying to e-mail and preparing Web documents. I might log-on to the Internet twice in the evening to collect and send material.

Once or twice a week I visit the ACS Canberra Branch office to collect my paper mail. Like my Defence mail much of this goes straight in the bin. If there is something of importance and public interest, I send it to the ACS National Office in Sydney, where it is input, marked up and placed on the Web. There is less and less need to do this now as the organisations and individuals who send material on paper, put it on-line as well.

During the day I also receive announcements of IT conferences, seminars and events. Also I receive items for discussion from people around the world and gossip about the IT industry. In this way I find that I have earlier and better information about developments that my colleagues who wait for material to appear in the IT media. Also it is possible to be more than a passive observer of events. If something, somewhere in the world in my business I can participate. In return for information and assistance I receive, I make sure I provide information and assistance to the IT community on-line.

This might all sound like a lot of technology and little life or work. However the Internet has become for me a routine tool for everyday work and life. This technology is not without its dangers: you become dependant on the operation of the hardware and network. When the hard disk failed in my notebook PC two week ago, my ability to work suffered for several days while I bought a new computer and restored data from the backup. Also there is the danger of being at work for 24 hours a day. You can tend to dismiss any information which comes to you in inconvenient paper format. These problems have occurred with previous technology and have been overcome with a combination of technology and social conventions.

The next step for me is to actually be on-line more often. To that end Link Telecommunications have loaned me a GSM mobile telephone with a data adapter, to try. I used this to transmit digital photos from the Tally Room on election night. The technology looks very promising, even at the relatively pedestrian speed of 9600 bps. It has passed the "Coffee Shop" test, proving quite effective for collecting and sending e-mail . It is also useable for collecting and uploading, Web documents with small images.

For this mode of working to be available to more than just the Internet enthusiasts, we need easier to operate, more reliable, more secure systems. There are a number of projects under way by the Defence Material Division to address this need for Defence's specialised requirements. There is much which needs to be done for the general business community and the social uses. These are opportunities for the Australian IT industry and members of the ACS.

An advertisement for the ACS profile

Okay, now for the hard sell: ;-)

The official line is:

The Australian Computer Society is the professional association in Australia for those in the computing and information technology fields. It was established in 1966. The Society has over 16,000 members and on a per capita basis is one of the largest computer societies in the world.

I gave a talk on "The future of the Information Technology Profession" to the ACS Canberra Branch, on 21 February 1996. This outlined what the ACS is, does and what I see it doing in the future. You can read that report for details. Here are some highlights:

In my new year's address to members on the Internet I talked about the objects of the ACS. The ACS aims to further information technology and the competence of IT professionals in its use. The question I posed then was how can we best achieve these in 1996?:

For thirty years the ACS has been setting the education standards for IT in Australia, providing a forum for the profession representing Australia internationally and speaking on IT issues of importance to the community.

More recently the ACS has been doing these activities via the Internet.

In recent years the ACS has tended to draw inwards, discussing issues of professionalism for its members. At the ACS Council meeting, which I chaired in March, the issue of the ACS's role in promotion of the Australian IT industry was discussed. It was generally agreed that the ACS could do more to promote the industry, without loosing sight of its role in promoting excellence of individual members.

There are bodies which specifically address the needs of the IT industry, such as the Australian Information Industry Association. The ACS already works with these bodies and can provide more complimentary services, not duplicating them. As an example of this co-operation, the ACS provides the AIIA's home page on the Web. The ACS helps promote activities undertaken by Australia internationally, such as CeBIT'96 and the 1997 Australia Prize.

Because of its status as a scientific and professional body the ACS can promote Australian interests in international forums which are not accessible to industry lobby groups and Government officials. Provided we don't go in with too much of a hard sell, I see no reason why I and other senior ACS representatives should not promote Australia's expertise to the world, via these forums.

In September 1996 we are hosting IFIP'96 - 14th World Computer Congress in Canberra. It's just down the road from my office at the Department of Defence. ACS committees, with support from Government and industry have been working on arrangements for this for years. In just a few months time I will be welcoming the world's IT professionals to Australia. I need your help to show them what we have to offer. If you have not already registered for the conference, do so now. If your organisation hasn't booked an exhibition stand or provided sponsorship, do so now.

See also:

About the ACS

The Australian Computer Society is the professional association in Australia for those in the computing and information technology fields. It was established in 1966. The Society has over 16,000 members and on a per capita basis is one of the largest computer societies in the world.

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