ALP Avoids Keyboard Trauma

While vendors hype the outcome of the recent ALP conference in Hobart as an example of an IT coup with the first 'paperless' convention in Australian political history, the real achievement was providing technology to 189 users with a low level of computer literacy and little opportunity for training.

Delegates were exposed to their terminals for the first time on the morning of the conference and the ALP's CIO in charge of the project, Dr Dennis Perry, said the level of computer literacy ranged from "none to moderately skilled".

"We had to keep it simple which was the magic of the solution; we made the interface as basic as possible, disabled the keyboard, and all applications were via a Web browser so it was just point and click," Perry said.

"Amazingly, everyone adapted quickly and it forced out phobias held by those not familiar with IT; delegates not IT proficient could seamlessly access the ALP intranet without the need to refer to an array of documents."

He said the positive feedback has just "exceeded expectations" and there has been follow-on interest from MPs wishing to reassess their computer needs in local electoral offices.

To have a vision and see it realised beyond expectations isn't easy and, as Perry pointed out, the entire project was pulled together seven weeks before the conference.

"No one believed we could pull it off, so we had the convention information on paper as well as backup, but amazingly there has not been a single critical remark," he added.

In fact, ALP Opposition Leader Kim Beazley labelled Perry a "guru" for successfully providing delegates with the application server solution, which allowed information to be shared and amended in real time on 110 terminals.

As well as access to daily ALP business, users accessed biographies on participants, a daily news service and information on local restaurants, clubs and other amenities.

"Instead of huge piles of paper being dumped on delegates' desks while business was under way Barry Jones could lead proceedings and users followed via their terminal," Perry said.

"Senior shadow ministers could go downstairs to a room to negotiate policy amendments and do it looking onto a shared screen; next time we will have more terminals available."

Using the conference as an opportunity to showcase their products vendors donated all the technology used.

Citrix's MetaFrame software was used and Infomatec provided the terminals that were connected to a quad processor Unisys server running Windows 2000.

Network infrastructure was provided by Cisco while Telstra made Internet connection available.

Citrix Systems Asia-Pacific business alliance manager Michael McGrath said Perry "stuck his neck out", proposing the project to make the conference more efficient.

The project has set a precedent for future conventions. If only all political solutions were so simple and problems resolved with a 'point and click'.

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