WE ARE CLOSER AND YET FURTHER APART THAN EVER!

NICK ROBERTS

The Excellence in IT Awards that recognise the people making IT happen are nearly upon us. I sat down with one of the finalists for the New Zealand IT Professional of the Year Regine Deleu to talk about her experiences and journey within the technology industry. Originating from Belgium, Regine has had a nomadic career before arriving in Wellington to work for the NZ Government. Fluent in four languages, Regine talked through her experience with a smile on her face, demonstrating that her passion for technology is as strong as ever.

I see you were a Finalist for Innovation for the 2015 Women of Influence Award?  Do you feel those women are starting to get better representation in IT?  What more can be done to encourage / support woman in IT?

There are certainly more women in IT now than there were when I began my career.  Some of the barriers are being broken down but there is always more that can be done.  I was the only female on my Computer Science course at the Open University in the  Netherlands. A teacher said that it wasn’t an industry for me as it was a male industry. That comment inspired me to continue and succeed.  Women are still underrated in the technology world, although there  are some really bright women who have the same potential as everyone else, and employers are doing their bit by creating flexibility which helps.

It is really important that we continue to highlight and build the profile of successful females in IT to encourage girls at school to follow in their footsteps. I’m lucky, I was encouraged as a young child. I didn’t like playing with dolls, I was fascinated by things that moved and made sounds. I would take them apart to see how they worked.

In regard to your Human computing project that you did looking into the Hotel industry, how would you describe the lessons learnt since your project over 15 years ago?

A lot has changed but the real change is the adoption of smart devices. The development of these devices has pushed voice and face recognition forward with identification no longer being just passwords. A great example of this is the work that IRD are doing with their voice recognition. The wider pubic may not be aware of the great work that government is doing to make interactions easier. It is so much easier to be connected with friends and family on the other side of the world. At the same time we are less connected with people around us as we immerse ourselves in our smart devices rather than meeting up locally. In Netherlands for example they have traffic lights built into the pavement for smartphone-using pedestrians.

When looking abroad are there any governments that stand out in terms of design of digital services? And what is it that stands out?

The ones that come to mind are Estonia, Canada, and the Netherlands. Canada is doing some great work in Blockchain. Estonia has done a great job in building public and private sector start up accelerator programs. None of this would be possible though without Estonia have full coverage of free internet. We have seen here with the census for example that we can’t just think about technology if it isn’t 100% available. We have to think about the people who don’t want to or can’t be online and digital.

What currently excites you in terms of technologies that our Government are implementing?

There is so much to mention but for me I am really impressed with the work NZTA do in data capture and knowing what they have and how they can use it. TEC use their data really well to follow students through employment and help them. IRD have their own life events that are well defined and have their channels connected smartly.

But of course, there is always more we can do so we are just trying to bring great minds together to share and challenge ideas. I chair the Know-MAT (Knowledge Maturity Assessment Team) group which has 30 agencies involved with senior managers and thought leaders taking part in an old school 1 ½ hour monthly meeting, sharing ideas and good practice with each other. Besides coming together we also use technology like yammer as well to communicate and collaborate.

The assumption that for example that the US is ahead is not true. The public and private sector here are doing some really cool things, collaborating on creating services that fit citizens’ their life events and life journeys.

New Zealand has hosted the 4th annual gathering of the world’s most advanced digital nations in February 2018. Digital 5 2018 brought the Digital 5 (D5) nations together to share best practices and key learnings, collaborate on common projects and help each other become even better digital governments faster and more efficiently.

Obviously, data security and integrity are challenges, but data has huge value if used smartly.

It would be good if the Governments could share information between agencies as this would make it easier to serve the citizens’ their specific needs. In many European countries they have a unique identifier for individuals that make information sharing easier. Of course, everyone should be able to opt out.

The data you share on social media like Facebook or Twitter is really scary. I did an 8-week data science course in Washington and found that if you submit yourself as a developer of certain large US organisations you get access to all the information..

What is about Wellington or NZ?

I love the openness of Kiwis. In London people don’t connect, they don’t take the time whereas here everyone is friendly and open. It is also a beautiful country which I am enjoying exploring. Technology helps me to talk to my family every day. On the other hand I like to get away from my device. I live in a boat and I often disconnect myself to get away from everything and recharge myself. I paint which helps me to be creative when it comes to solving technology challenges. It gives me inspiration and opens my mind to think differently.

 

In summary it was a pleasure to meet Regine and we wish her all the best for the Awards night on the 12th July.  The IT industry needs more creative, determined and passionate women like Regine who look to utilise technology to enhance our human interactions but don’t get lost in the digital world either.