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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Releasing stored energy

The recent articles you have published on storage have stimulated me to write. In order to put this note into perspective, I need to make a brief statement on the firm I represent. Abakos Digital Images is a leader (operating since 1987) in data capture and conversion products and services for CAD/GIS/AM/FM.

We write off-the-shelf and customised software for large data capture projects both locally and overseas (eg Energy Australia). In addition, Abakos designs and markets off-the-shelf scanning and vectorising products, which are sold into 35 international markets.

There is no question that data capture and data storage products and services operate within their own specialist market segments. In spite of this, it shouldn't be unreasonable to suggest two firms in these segments can't get together to discuss business. For one, the raster images we scan and the resulting vector files need storage, especially when clients like local councils and town planners have hundreds/thousands of documents, the question of an effective data capture/storage solution needs to be answered. In this environment it makes sense for data capture to connect with storage providers. It is not a matter of mutual dependence, more realising mutual market opportunity.

Secondly, from an investment and cause/effect perspective, data storage solutions are linked to data capture/conversion investment decisions - which are often very expensive. Did you know that 80 per cent of the total cost of implementing a GIS is tied up in data conversion - we are talking multimillion-dollar projects. Time and again, decision makers have to juggle GIS and the related technology with selection of an effective data storage solution. Both data capture/data storage are inextricably linked to the decision-making process. We have experienced this situation first-hand in a number of overseas markets. We all know that when mutually beneficial/non-competing products get together and leverage their marketing and distribution capabilities they generate better performance. Abakos has a sophisticated international dealership in place.

In summary, your article helped crystallise a hypothesis I have held for a while: connecting data capture with data storage vendors will realise greater market potential in marketing and distribution, contributing to better performance. Particularly in international markets where SMEs and government departments are now in positions to move up the IT ladder. The tangible proof is in the sale of our systems into these markets. Consequently, your article and MR Solsky's views were points of interest and verification of beliefs.

Lawrie Thomas

Export Manager, Abakos Digital Images

Nundah, Queensland

Catering to all users

I've just read your editorial in (August 23) and feel that you are spot on with your comments about the affordability of Web development.

Might I also suggest it's not just a matter of overcharging [for Web development] which is a problem, but also completeness of delivery? What I mean by this is the nasty undiscovered corners of Web sites that just don't seem to ever get properly finished, and which are not picked up at time of sign off.

You know the scenario: you're looking at a great site and then - wham - you hit an "under-construction" page, or an interactive element that does - well, nothing - or broken links that just don't take you where you want to go.

Then there's also a related matter: Web sites not meeting statutory requirements or industry standards. This is most often evidenced with shoddy HTML coding which works but isn't syntactically correct (even though it could be both). However, this isn't the major problem. It is failure to meet the statutory requirements that will sting developers in the end.

Government organisations like the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and ACCC have Web sites on their radar now.

This is an area of interest to me, not just on matters of fairness but also on the principle of business professionalism and delivering not only what was promised but what is in the best interest of the client.

I've met too many business clients that have suffered at the hands of smooth-talking cowboys. The legal ramifications are huge. Today is a case in point: SOCOG's Web site has been found wanting by a HREOC tribunal and directed to make remedies.

The findings and decision were released last week, and are viewable online at www.hreoc.gov.au/disability _rights/Maguire_v_SOCOG2.htm>.

Following is commentary from Tom Worthington, Director of Tomw Communications, Belconnen, ACT: "It is to be hoped that all CEOs of organisations with a public Web presence will now look to the accessibility of their sites. Also IT professionals who design such sites need to realise they are subject to a code of ethics and discriminating against the disabled is a clear breech of this code.

The cost of making Web sites universally accessible is minimal and has benefits which extend beyond the disabled, to those on low bandwidth links such as in rural areas and even to new technologies such as wireless Internet.

Decision makers should fix their Web sites because it makes good business sense to cater to all users. However, they now have the added incentive that it is clearly unlawful not to do so.

Decisions of the HREOC are not directly enforceable. If SOCOG decided not to comply, orders would have to be sought in the Federal Court. This would allow SOCOG to effectively delay compliance until after The Games, but possibly at a considerable cost in legal fees and costs.

Fixing the Web site would be a relatively straightforward process, as I explained in the hearing (and as was accepted by the Commissioner). To test my claim, it would take less time to fix one of the problems (the menu of sports image map) than it took to discuss at the hearing, prepared a Web page showing options to fix it. This took about 10 minutes to devise and half an hour to implement: See www.tomw.net.au/2000/sports.html.

As detailed at the hearing, my view is that only one expert would be needed to devise the fixes for the flaws in the Web site and a small team of people to carry them out. If additional personnel are needed, these could be made up of university-based IT students and other volunteers.

These people need not be Java experts, as claimed by SOCOG, but just require enough skills to implement and check the Web changes devised by experts.

Making the SOCOG Web site accessible would also provide benefits to those slow Internet connections and to non-English readers, as well as to the blind. An accessible version of the Web site would load quicker on older computer equipment and slow dial-up Internet connections (particularly in regional areas).

Non-English readers would be able to use Web translation services to read the pages in their own language. There may also be savings in the cost of the equipment and communications links needed, as less data needs to be transmitted to non-graphics users. Also, this work would enhance Australia's international reputation as a country competent in IT and with a respect for the disabled.

Eric Scheid

Information Designer,

Ironclad Netowrks


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