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A life-altering digital strategy

A life-altering digital strategy

Why the Warehouse CIO Owen McCall is checking out a lot of computer games lately, and encouraging ICT colleagues to do the same.

Owen McCall, CIO of The Warehouse, has of late been involved in online games and is encouraging other ICT executives to do the same. He is one of the organisers of the Life Game Project, which aims to use immersive games technology to "develop life skills and positive lifestyle choices" for New Zealanders aged five to 19.

The group, which first met two weeks ago, has the following “big, hairy, audacious goals” by December 2012: Measurably impact the lives of 2000 Kiwis, their families and friends through the programme; establish 50 effective games delivery operations; and develop two immersive games for the local communities and for sale globally.

In the short term, they plan to have at least one such centre with six to 10 PCs up before Christmas this year, in an underserved community.

His involvement in the Life Game Project is congruent with his CIO role. “What I do at work is to use technology and figure out how to use technology to drive value for the business, The Warehouse,” says McCall. “We wrapped that up internally around the mantra of not only to be a world class IS organisation, but [also] in using technology to help complex problems in business and the community.”

McCall, who is also a coach for StepUp that assists underprivileged teens, says the group chose to harness games technology on the premise that the more immersive and involving the technology, the better the learning experience and learning outcome will be.

“It really springs from a belief that most people will make good choices in their lives if they have the skills and the capabilities,” says McCall, as many online games are driven by participants’ decisions and their ability to complete specific quests or tasks. “You can teach them or allow them to learn and experience through the games what good choices and what skills and capabilities they require to be successful.”

McCall says the project will provide access to the games, plus some structure and mentoring on how people will get to them. There are already a lot of games the Life Game Project could use, but they also plan to develop some of the games themselves. He says the organisers will also talk to the games manufacturers to see if they can offer the products for free to the centres.

One of the project founders, business consultant Ian Howard, says today’s games are more interactive, intensive and compelling. Howard who is also an avid gamer, says the games industry is worth US$50 billion and growing, with players ranging from four to 84 years old.

Howard says rather than setting up another not for profit IT organisation, the group is looking for a registered charitable trust that could be the project’s “home”. This way, the organisers can concentrate on the project. The group is promoting the project across multiple channels, including Second Life and Linked in.

McCall says the project reuses technology from corporates. When the panellists at the recent Summit discussed their programmes of refreshing their individual enterprise computers, McCall thought about using the three to five-year-old PCs in underserved communities.

The power of the desktop is irrelevant, he explains. Applications, including games, are moving to the cloud. “With software moving to the cloud, the desktops are good enough to run a browser,” he says.

Nicole Fougère, general manager of online learning company Litmos, who was at the group’s initial meeting, agrees with McCall. She says basic, web-based games can be accessed through these PCs via dial-up. “But if it is web-based games with more graphics, it might be that high-speed broadband is needed with the same computers. Then the real issue would be internet coverage in the area, whether that is some kind of ‘daisy-chain’ via a wireless access point or something else.”

Fougere says the group also concluded during the initial meeting that putting the PCs in a community house would be preferable, as it will hopefully encourage social interaction and culture around the activities, and better security.

Howard says the group is inviting volunteers for its teams working on content creation, infrastructure and deployment, community and support. At the initial meeting, ICT executives that attended included Aden Forrest of Salesforce, John Blackham of XSOL, David Gandar of Delta Software and Parikshit Basrur of First Mobile.

For McCall, the Life Game Project is about using education as a “backbone of opportunity”.

He says he is referring to education that goes beyond reading, writing and maths, and includes how to lead a successful life and develop yourself to fulfil your potential.

McCall says his favourite example is the Delancey Street Foundation in the US, which helps turn around the lives of substance abusers, ex-convicts and homeless persons through peer support and mentoring. “Anything you can do to support that learning at anytime in someone’s life, you get some pretty amazing results.”

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Tags leadershipnew technologieslife game projectnot for profit ciocharityCIO rolestrategyOwen McCallian howardcloud computingonline games

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