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ICT with a mission

ICT with a mission

Hazel Jennings, IT manager at the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, is working hard towards making her systems more customer-focused, though this isn’t because she is trying to expand her market.

Hazel Jennings is working hard towards making her systems more customer-focused, though this isn’t because she is trying to expand her market. “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be here,” says Jennings, IT manager at the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind. “It would be great if nobody needed us.” She has a compact team — around five — composed of technical and non-technical staff and works with an outsourced infrastructure team.

Jennings says the Foundation has around 11,700 members, with half over the age of 80, while significantly fewer people have congenital blindness.

One service the Foundation provides its members with is adaptive technology training, which she says is the current jargon that refers to making technology accessible to blind people. These are technologies that provide accessible formats for email, a screen reader that talks or magnifiers for people with low vision.

She would like other ICT managers to know about services the Foundation provides for enterprises with staff who are blind or vision-impaired. “We can work with the IT department, and we can help you adjust using your existing tools, for example, showing you how to make Microsoft Office accessible.

“There are a lot of people who are not aware we do this,” says Jennings. “I want to get out there and raise awareness about the huge difference technology can make to blindness.”

And while the Foundation is a not for profit, she and her team face the same challenges as her enterprise colleagues. “We are like all other businesses,” says Jennings. “We need the robustness, we need business continuity, we have compliance and privacy issues, security, the whole works.

“Our [Foundation] workforce is mobile,” she says. “We are running nearly 200 laptops out there. We have volunteers who need everything staff have. We have to train them and some of them require systems… That is part of my challenge, getting that enterprise perspective in our systems.”

She says one of the highlights of her job is when “we get something right”. Foundation staff work with members to improve their basic IT skills, or to get them into employment. They hold classes where members are taught how to shop online and other aspects of independent living.

Jennings moved to New Zealand in 2002 from the UK, where she started in software development and worked at Defence, building early simulators in the UK. She moved from the technical to the commercial sector, working at British Telecommunications before it was privatised and also for Hewlett-Packard. One of her final roles at HP was managing the HP-UX development laboratory in Europe. While there, she studied for a masters in organisational development. The subject dovetails into her current mission of how to make people’s lives easier.

“I am not into gizmos for gizmo’s sake,” says Jennings. “I am not a typical IT gadget freak. I use a paper diary a lot, but what I like is making people’s lives easier. I get that here. What is great about this job is making people’s lives better through technology.”

Fairfax Business Media

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