Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity

Charities can be potent mixes of passion, politics and penury. For CIOs working in the sector it can make for a challenging environment

Reaching Far and Wide

Perricone's role is very much that of keeping the IT lights on and supporting the activities of The Spastic Centre. One of the biggest users of his platforms is Robyn Cummins, manager of information services, who provides access to information for staff, clients and families associated with the centre. She and her team manage the intranet, Web site and publishing operations. "We have about 15,000 people with cerebral palsy in NSW that we need to reach, irrespective of where they are," says Cummins.

"The Internet has made a huge difference because of the consistency of message and we can deliver the most up-to-date information across our 80 sites." Until now, however, the Internet has largely been a repository of "official" information, and although it is a good source of data for people with cerebral palsy and their families, there has not been much in the way of two-way communications.

"Web 2.0 will give a consumer voice. One of my passions is that the people with the best knowledge are those living the issue," says Cummins. She is now migrating a published series of interviews with parents online. "What I want to move toward is a content management system to set up communities of interest. A MySpace sort of thing with blogging, especially for teenagers.

"But it all takes money and there wouldn't be too much change out of $500,000, so we are looking at open source along with a lot of NGOs," she says. "There are some strategies we can use to overcome the resourcing issues — we can't overcome them all of course. But we can explore open source, although we can't with our systems for payroll or accounting, but we can to manage subscriber lists or for our publishing systems."

And while Perricone's IT team keeps the underlying systems working, Cummins has turned to other organizations such as Macquarie Bank, which has been a supporter of people with cerebral palsy and done "some pro bono IT development work" for The Spastic Centre.

"Often these organizations like the Macquarie Bank Foundation think more broadly about how they support us and make 'in kind' support such as helping with the development," she explains. The Sony Australia Foundation has also helped build and fund the Web site aimed at reaching young people with disabilities.

Besides tapping corporate support Cummins is also enthusiastic about sharing IT savvy and know-how with other non- profit organizations, "to avoid reinventing the wheel and share the intellectual property among the members".

One of the barriers to how inventive Cummins can be, however, is the need to make sure information is accessible. A passionate advocate for the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative to ensure online content can be accessed by devices other than a standard visual Web browser, Cummins acknowledges that conforming with the standards does limit what you can do — "you can't do anything whizz-bang" because of the need to ensure that screen readers can access Web site information.

Supporting Cummins and Perricone with accessibility tools is Colin Slattery, the manager for technical services at The Spastic Centre. His role, he says, is to explore information systems from an accessibility point of view of people with disabilities and find what peripherals can be added on to the computer to enhance productivity.

For some clients accessing the systems, this involves the use of a specially designed key guard to ensure keys are accurately activated rather than inadvertently knocked or harnessing synthesized voice systems or head mounted infra-red trackers that can be used instead of a mouse. Perricone's standardization on Microsoft has helped as Slattery says that XP has some useful built-in accessibility features: "Our service is part of the therapy service offered at The Spastic Centre. We assess clients, select and support devices."

According to Perricone, information technology has always been high on the agenda at the centre and demand for information technology continues to rise as The Spastic Centre is expanding its services to more remote location and "needs to have IT services running 24x7". His standard, simple approach to IT means "more and better services can be provided with the same spend. Therefore stakeholders are getting better value and better services, and the perception of IT is looking a bit better."

SIDEBAR: Second Life for Laptops

CIO Council members' efforts see laptops go walkaboutBy Caroline Bucknell

CIO Executive Council members, Aristocrat Leisure Ltd, Investa Property Group and Toll Holdings Australia have recently joined forces with The Exodus Foundation to deliver laptops to some of Australia's most remote Aboriginal Communities in the Western District.

The Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa-Martu History and Archive Project, made possible with the provision of funding from BHP Biliton and the Pilbara Development Commission, has collated over 10,000 photos, documents, video and audio, chronicling the past 60 years of the Martu people.

The aim of this project is to make the archive accessible to members of the Martu community in order to assist them in passing on their rich heritage to younger generations and to bring the joy of remembrance to those of older generations.

Through the provision of laptops, the CIO Executive Council has extended the reach of this project into remote communities while also growing technology exposure, experience and skills in traditionally technologically arid environments.

"These may be old, superseded computers in Sydney and Melbourne, but they're perfect for our needs and they will dramatically extend the reach of the archives into the communities," says Peter Johnson, the project coordinator for Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa.

"The opportunity to participate in a wonderful initiative and to help a really worthwhile cause was something that the team embraced wholeheartedly," Investa Group CIO David Miller says. Investa is involved in a number of community programs

Reverend Bill Crews, founder of the Exodus Foundation, expressed his sincere appreciation for our assistance, thanking the CIO Executive Council and our members directly.

"CIO Executive Council members have saved us thousands of dollars by donating computers for the needy kids we work with both here in Sydney and in remote communities. Many of the young people we see live away from home in crisis refuges, medium- to long-term refuges, independent living, or with friends or relatives. Some live in extremely remote communities where the use of technology becomes critical. What ends up happening is that these kids are shut out of today's technological world. Our kids benefit a lot from your generosity."

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