The first 40–50 years in Australia

A retrospective needs to adopt a largely chronological presentation, and to divide the period covered into digestible pieces. One possibility is to apply an interpretation of the phases of the IT, such as that in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1 Information technology history and its implications




Processor technology

Grosch’s Law: bigger is more efficient

VLSI/micros: more is more efficient

Commoditisation: chips with everything

Network technology

Star: centralised

Multi-connected: decentralised

Wireless: ubiquitous

Processor interrelationships

Master–slave: control

Client–server: request–response

P2P: collaboration

Organisational form


Managed networks

Self-managing market/networks

Software and content

Closed, proprietary

Confusion and tension



Authoritarianism: intolerance

Confusion and tension

Democracy and frustrated intolerance

Source: Clarke, R. 2004, ‘Origins and nature of the Internet in Australia’, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, viewed 22 March 2007, <> [at Exhibit 3.7]

Such an interpretation would, however, be unsatisfactory because although technology has been a driver—and even the major driver—it has not been determinative of the development of the IS discipline. This section presents what appear to the author to have been the key events in the emergence of the discipline in Australia, divided into three chunks of time that are proposed as being useful rather than decisive. Mason (2005) uses a related but somewhat different division:

Until 1960

Australia has something of a history in automated computation. In particular, the world’s first totalisator—for ‘totalling up’ wagers, particularly on horse-races, and sharing the pool among the winning bets (and extracting fees and taxes)—was invented in Western Australia by George Julius about 1913 (Bennett et al. 1994). Although this was originally an entirely mechanical system, electrical components were later added. Julius’s company enjoyed a world-wide monopoly for some time.

Later, the fourth electronic digital computer, CSIR Mk 1 (1948–56), was entirely ‘home grown’ in Australia—at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Division of Radiophysics in Sydney (Pearcey 1988:12–19, 160. See also Bennett et al. 1994:15–58, esp. 16–30). Mk 1’s successor, CSIRAC, ran from 1956 until 1964 at the University of Melbourne. The University of Sydney’s locally designed and built SILLIAC ran from 1954 until 1968, and the university also designed and built SNOCOM for the Snowy Mountains Authority (1960–67). Adapted versions of imported machines ran at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) (UTECOM, 1956–66) and at the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) (WREDAC, 1956–66). There is a persistent mythology in Australia that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO, which succeeded the CSIR in 1949) abandoned investment in computing in favour of cloud seeding. This story is all the more poignant when it is appreciated that the last CSIRO-developed computer, from about 1963–68, was called the Cirrus (Pearcey 1988:66). A recent international perspective on the early years is in Chapter 7, ‘Wizards of Oz’, in Hally (2005:161–84). The predominant influences throughout this formative period were British rather than American, which derived in considerable measure from John Bennett’s work on the earliest machines in the United Kingdom, including the first stored-program computer, EDSAC, at Cambridge.

Pearcey (1988:157) and Bennett et al. (1994:26) identify the first computer conference in Australia as having been held in March 1951 in Sydney, run by the University of Sydney and CSIRO. Bennett et al. (1994:28) cites papers in the Proceedings of an April 1952 conference on automatic computing machines, run by CSIRO, although this could have been a late publication of the papers from the 1951 event.

The second Conference on Automatic Computing and Data Processing was held in June 1957 at WRE (later renamed the Defence Science and Technology Organisation—DSTO) at Salisbury, north of Adelaide. It had three sections, one of which was ‘Business applications’. The conference chair, John Ovenstone, contributed a paper on ‘Business and accountancy data processing’ (Pearcey 1988:47–8). This was only six years after the first commercial use of a computer in the United Kingdom and the first governmental use in the United States, and only three years after the first commercial use in the United States.

Until 1957, the circa-8 computers in Australia were all in universities and the WRE. By 1960, however, there were 34 within government alone and, by 1963, about 80 computers (Pearcey 1988:137, 159) or ‘nearly 100’ (Bennett et al. 1963:11). Bennett claimed that the count per million of population was on a par with Sweden, West Germany and the United Kingdom, and was exceeded only by the United States, Canada and Switzerland.

Few of the computers were intended exclusively for research. Commonwealth government agencies—beginning with the Department of Defence and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)—had installed computers for administrative tasks. In defence, for example, Ovenstone, an immigrant from the United Kingdom, was appointed to the new position of Controller of Automatic Data Processing at senior level (Band 2 SES), and drove the project from 1958 to 1964 (Pearcey 1988:72–4). The organisationally logical way for bureaucracies to integrate programmable computers into their ways of working was to conceive of them as super-tabulators, and manage them in a similar way.

The first Australian companies to install computers are understood to have been the two insurance companies AMP and MLC—both in 1960, nine years after the first in the United Kingdom, and six years after the first in the United States. In interview, Bill Caelli said that BHP had IBM 1401 and 1440 models installed in Newcastle and Wollongong by no later than 1962, and applied them to a variety of operations-management and commercial functions.

From 1960 to 1973

The Australian National Committee on Computation and Automatic Control (ANCCAC) was formed in 1959, with John Bennett as chair. It appears that ‘the First [Australian computer] Conference was held at the University of Sydney and the University of NSW on 24–27 May 1960 under the chairmanship of Dr. J. M. Bennett of SILLIAC fame’ (McDowell 2002). According to McDowell, 43 of the 158 papers at the event were focused on ‘commercial applications’.

This was very early in the international history of computing outside the confines of closed military institutions. The first international congress was held only in 1959, in Paris. The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) was formed in 1960—and John Bennett was one of the key instigators of its formation.

Computing was a new field and suffered the classic ‘bootstrapping’ problem. Very few staff with the necessary background were available for hire—although migrants from the United Kingdom who could claim some relevant background, such as cryptanalysis, were in demand. Tertiary institutions could not yet offer courses, because they had no staff who could develop teaching materials and provide instruction. Agencies depended heavily initially on such training as was available from the suppliers of the technology they had purchased, and on the internal training schemes that they put together. A limited set of design techniques was available at this stage; however, Caelli recalls Fred O’Toole at BHP Newcastle being a strong fan of decision tables in 1963.

The second conference in 1963 included 20 such papers, primarily case-study reports, including one by Ovenstone on the Department of Defence, and others on the Snowy Mountains Authority Stores System, insurance and banking.

Training within the Commonwealth public sector was formalised as the Programmer-in-Training (PIT) scheme, beginning in 1963 (White and Palfreyman 1963; Bennett et al. 1994:108; ABS 2005; interview with Gerry Maynard in 2005). This ‘was oriented toward training staff for establishing and running commercial and administrative applications of computing’ (Pearcey 1988:122), and involved ‘a full year at about twenty hours per week of class time, and effectively more than twenty hours per week of related private study’ (p. 121). The scheme was run at least in Canberra and Melbourne. In Canberra, the Department of Defence ran it for its own staff and the then Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (CBCS, soon after renamed the ABS) ran it for itself and other agencies. The Postmaster General’s Department (PMG) ran the Melbourne courses. Coordination was provided by the Public Service Board (PSB, disestablished in 1987).

The CBCS/ABS variant was what would later be called a ‘sandwich course’, including ‘two ten-week stints of on-the-job training’. In an interview, Gerry Maynard said that the content was about 50 per cent programming and 50 per cent systems analysis and design. The 1965 CBCS syllabus included two languages, FORTRAN and COMPASS (CDC’s Assembler), and the 1971 ABS syllabus somehow managed to cram in COBOL as well. ‘Exams at the end of the year included a major systems analysis and design exam for which a time was allowed of “up to seven hours if required”’ (ABS 2005).

Some hundreds of people entered the industry through these courses, primarily into the Commonwealth Public Service, but with substantial ripple effects into state government agencies and the private sector. This author’s professional life in IS began in 1971, when he was hired into the Sydney industrial corporation Wormalds by Neville Clissold, a 1965 PIT scheme graduate.

By the mid-1960s, courses that were the precursors to what became ‘computer science’ were emerging in various tertiary institutions in various departments, including physics (Sydney), engineering (UNSW) and mathematics (Newcastle). The author and several reviewers were subjected to primitive versions and crippled subsets of FORTRAN about 1967.

In Australia, as elsewhere, the computer science discipline largely avoided applications, particularly those in business and government. This provided space for the emergence of data-processing specialisations and the IS discipline.

In 1965, the Caulfield Institute appears to have established the first specialist department, called Electronic Data Processing (EDP). The foundation staff were John McClelland, Doug Mills, Jack White and Pearl Levin, joined soon afterwards by Peter Juliff, Bob Grant and Gerry Maynard. Trevor Pearcey joined as head of department in 1972. The courses combined instruction about technology with teaching about how to apply it. Programming was a central feature, because all applications had to be custom built, few utilities were available and the era of code libraries was yet to arrive (Greig and Levin 1985).

Meanwhile, IS topics were emerging in university accounting departments. These were isolated, and the period was poorly documented. From interviews, it appears that the first mover was Ted Dunn, from 1965 to 1973, at the University of Tasmania, using Algol (interview with Stewart Leech). From the author’s personal knowledge, Phil Grouse was offering full units at UNSW by no later than 1968, the purpose of which was to enable commerce students to understand computers, software and their applications, programming languages and software development. At the University of Melbourne, John McMahon and Stewart Leech offered an EDP unit in 1970, but this grew out of earlier fee-paying courses for industry (interview with Stewart Leech in March 2005; Burrows 2006). Interviews have also unearthed mentions of the then Wollongong College of UNSW, and of Douglas V. A. Campbell, of the Monash Accounting Department during the late 1960s.

Sydney and Melbourne were major world cities, and Wollongong was one of the major centres in the then very large steel industry. Hobart’s early activity was presumably stimulated by the installation at the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission.

Further Australian Computer Conferences (ACCs) were organised by ANCCAC—the second in Melbourne in 1963 and, in 1966, the third in Canberra (Pearcey 1988:130). Meanwhile, various state-based associations of practitioners emerged during the first half of the 1960s. The early movers were generally well educated and scientific in outlook. The Australian Computer Society (ACS) was formed in 1966 through the federation of those associations.

The PIT scheme was operated by at least the ABS until 1972. In interview, Cyril Brookes said that he arranged for a course to be run in Port Kembla in the late 1960s, to support the BHP steelworks and local industry on which it depended. Beginning in the late 1960s, a transition was begun to several colleges of advanced education (CAEs). For example, the ABS conducted training in conjunction with the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE), with an internal bureau exam. By 1972, Caulfield Institute in Melbourne, Bendigo College and the CCAE were all operating award courses whose origins could be traced to the PIT scheme (Gerry Maynard in interview; Pearcey 1988:121–2; Greig and Levin 1989). Caulfield developed the course into a formal Graduate Diploma in Data Processing, and then expanded into a range of other specialised postgraduate courses.

Internal training courses continued to have their advantages (for example, Fiedler 1969, 1970), but gradually what would later come to be called ‘outsourcing’ was applied. For new entrants, courses were provided primarily by universities and CAEs, although training in specific programming languages and software products was offered by suppliers. Universities, CAEs, suppliers and the emergent private-sector training companies conducted continuing professional development courses.

The ACS established the Australian Computer Journal (ACJ) in 1967, and for many years also published a second-tier, non-refereed Australian Computer Bulletin (ACB). Until the establishment of the Australasian Journal of Information Systems (AJIS) in 1994, these were the only directly relevant domestic outlets for Australian IS academics.

The ACS also took over the Australian Computer Conferences, and ran well-attended events beginning with the fourth conference in August 1969 and the fifth in Brisbane in May 1972; it then ran the conferences biennially and then annually with the last of the 18 held in 1991 (Bennett et al. 1994:296). By the early 1990s, the computing community had become the IT community, and had splintered into a great many specialist conferences. With that, the attractiveness of a focal event waned. An annual Computing in CAEs Conference also ran from the late 1960s until the late 1980s. The papers presented at these conferences were lightly refereed in comparison with the ACJ, but the topics were of relevance to an analysis of the preoccupations of the profession and discipline at the time—for example, this author’s first paper at the seventh ACC in Perth was entitled ‘Top-down structured programming in COBOL’ (Clarke 1976).

A measure of the explosion in business applications between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s can be gauged from the once-fraught area of payroll processing. Large government agencies and corporations wrote the earliest payroll applications in the early to mid-1960s. In interview, Caelli recalled using the patch-panel of an IBM 407 in late 1962 to program payroll for IBM Newcastle. In 1971–72, working as a systems analyst for an industrial company, this author had little option but to design and write a payroll application to run on the company’s GE405. In 1975, however, working for a shipping company with 400 employees and a Honeywell 2000, there was a choice of several packages, one of which was adapted to satisfy some specific requirements, and converted to run on the company’s machine, with little difficulty or delay. In short, the passage from custom-built assembler applications, via custom-built COBOL applications, to a mature market of packaged applications required, for this particular application, little more than a decade. This had substantial implications for the nature of market demand, and hence IS syllabi.

An important step in the maturation of the computer industry was the ‘unbundling’ of software from hardware. Until IBM’s announcement in 1969, computers had been purchased for a single price, with such software included as the supplier could offer. As the sophistication and significance grew, software needed to be priced separately. That in turn led to greater visibility, and what would now be called application programming interfaces (APIs) and ‘open source’, such that specialist software developers could offer add-on and replacement software (for example, Campbell-Kelly 2003).

Although academics in foundation disciplines such as mathematics and physics had played a considerable part in the establishment of the ACS, its primary role quickly became that of a professional association. Its most direct relationship with tertiary institutions was as an accreditation body, assessing the suitability of courses as a basis for professional membership of the society. As Pearcey (1988:131) put it, ‘[T]he direction of development of the ACS moved away from its early, more academic style to represent the wider interests of [its] new membership more directly.’ This encapsulates nicely the way in which the relationship between profession and discipline has seemed frequently to be as much about tension and distance as about mutual respect and cooperation.

The ACS has played an important role in the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), whose working groups run important international conferences in the computer science and IS disciplines. Several Australians have been major players in IFIP, including Ashley Goldsworthy as president, Bill Caelli as chair of TC11, Guy Gable as chair of WG 11.2 and similar contributions by others to TC8 and its working groups. Several major IFIP conferences were held in Australia, including the World Congress in 1980, and major TC8 conferences in 1984 and 1988.

By about 1970, IS was becoming a recognisable disciplinary activity within universities. At the University of Queensland, computer science offered a postgraduate diploma in IS, and accounting offered an Honours unit taught by British academic Peter Richards. Ross Jeffery and Ron Weber were in the same University of Queensland Honours class in 1970–72, and both submitted Honours theses on IS topics. Weber’s, in 1972, was entitled ‘An examination of file structures for information processing systems’. Other institutions active about this time included the New South Wales Institute of Technology (NSWIT, later the University of Technology, Sydney; Philip Stanley) and Queensland Institute of Technology (QIT, now Queensland University of Technology; Alan Underwood).

The author’s Honours thesis at UNSW, also in 1972, was on an IS-related management accounting topic. It is noteworthy that, of the strands noted in the origins section of this chapter, almost all were represented in the readings set for the UNSW Management Accounting Honours unit in 1972, which was designed by liberal accounting professor Bill Stewart. The exceptions were O&M (which had already been covered in undergraduate IS), management theory (represented by Ackoff and Likert, but not yet by Macfarlan and Scott Morton) and socio-technical and soft-systems thinking (which were yet to make their impact in Australia, and in any case did not fit well with the then strongly numerate and rational patterns of management accounting and the emergent IS/MIS discipline). The author has no record or memory of the Minnesota School having an influence at that stage, although it did soon afterwards; nor is this author aware of contact between the Queensland and UNSW schools until after 1972. Ross Jeffery did, however, move to the latter in 1975.

Although much of the intellectual basis of the IS discipline in Australia was provided by Americans, the materials used for teaching professional knowledge to undergraduates during the foundation years were much more eclectic. In this author’s experience, some came from technology suppliers (mostly American, but some British), much was home grown and at least as many texts and articles had UK origins as US ones. In interview, Caelli referred to early systems analysis courses deriving from the Leo experience in the United Kingdom, and Cyril Brookes bemoaned the lack of appropriate textbooks as late as the end of the 1970s.

It is instructive to compare developments in IS with the emergence of computer science. Although computer science units emerged from the late 1950s in departments of physics, electrical engineering, mathematics and statistics, the growth was very slow until the mid to late 1960s. In 1963, there were 18 full-time staff in eight universities, with only John Bennett occupying a chair (Bennett 1963:14). According to Pearcey (1988:103–18), departments of computer science emerged in the following order: Basser at the University of Sydney (out of physics, John Bennett, about 1956 and independent from 1959); Adelaide (John Ovenstone, 1964); UNSW (out of electrical engineering, M. W. Allen, emergent from 1965); Monash (initially information science, C. S. Wallace, 1968); Queensland (G. A. Rose, 1969); Melbourne (Peter Poole, 1972); and Tasmania (Arthur Sale, 1974).

Offerings in computer science in most cases migrated from postgraduate diplomas back to final-year undergraduate, eventually expanding into full majors. It appears that the first full computer science majors became available only in 1975, at the Universities of Melbourne and Tasmania (Bennett et al. 1994:152). Information systems units were well established by then, because demand had ensured that many universities offered IS service units, at least the Universities of New South Wales and Tasmania already offered IS majors and others were emergent, and many CAEs and institutes offered postgraduate diploma courses in various areas of computing, including IS. As Pearcey (1988:116) put it, ‘[I]n some institutions special courses which concentrate upon administrative uses in computing are offered outside the formal computing departments and centres.’

It was to prove crucial that, by the end of 1973, there were at least six professors of computer science, but none of IS.

From 1974 to 1987

The development of computer science was explosive. Sufficient full professorships existed, and more were established. The Australian Computer Science Conference (ACSC) was established in 1978, the Australian Association of Professors of Computer Science (AAPCS) was formed in 1982 and the total academic staff-count more than trebled from 1981 to 1990—to 388 (Sale 1994). By 1988, there were about 1200 computer majors graduating from departments of computer science or similar, in 17 universities and 22 CAEs (Pearcey 1988:124). The political development of the IS discipline, on the other hand, lagged computer science by more than 15 years, hamstrung by the absence of the political power associated with a department and at least one full professor.

Only in 1974 was the first professor of IS appointed (Cyril Brookes) and the first university IS department formed (at UNSW). This was almost a decade after the CAE sector had started to form departments of computing and data processing. The move was a strategic measure by UNSW’s Dean of the Faculty of Commerce and Economics, Athol Carrington. The Australian Financial Review reported at the time that ‘the appointment was the first at an Australian university specifically directed towards the financial and managerial applications of computers and operations research technology’ (McGregor 1974).

In interview in mid-2005, Brookes said that, in the mid-1970s, there was no body of knowledge and no clear foundation on which to build it. The SDLC and DBMS had emerged in the late 1960s, but it required years of experimentation and refinement before they matured and merged into structured analysis and design. Only then was a framework available for which project management could be overlaid, as a basis for teaching and research. In addition, no prior student knowledge of technology could be assumed, so a considerable amount of time had to be spent on introductory computing topics. Brookes suggested that UNSW was an innovator in placing data analysis in an entry unit in the mid to late 1970s, to establish disciplined thought at an early stage. Many institutions had great difficulty breaking the road-block presented by long-standing and powerful competitor departments that prevented IS from occupying more than one narrow thread in first year.

In interview, Gerry Maynard indicated that curriculum development at Caulfield was largely insular, with little input coming in from overseas. Course committees were more effective in communicating what needs industry had. Ron Weber also considered that the published curricula that progressively emerged—primarily in the United States but also in the United Kingdom—while informative, were not well fitted to the Australian context. They were comprehensive and oriented towards either computer science or the specifically US form of graduate schools of business. Because limited time was available within IS service units, topics had to be selected and integrated into local course environments, particularly ‘accounting information systems’.

A major report on computer-education needs and resources was published in late 1975 (Smith and de Ferranti 1975, usually referred to as the Barry-Barry Report). The report, for the Australian Commission on Advanced Education, presaged the rapid growth in small business computer systems and packaged software.

Demand for IS graduates, and hence the growth of the IS discipline, were driven by corporate endeavours to exploit the use of computing by individuals. This was associated with the explosion in the accessibility of inexpensive devices beginning in 1975 (particularly the Apple II in 1977, Visicalc in 1979 and the IBM PC in 1981) and lasting to about 1995. This was reinforced by the rapid improvements in the interconnectivity of PCs from about 1985 (internally) and 1995 (externally).

About 1975, postgraduate contributions beyond Honours began to emerge. This author’s Masters sub-thesis, completed at UNSW in 1976, appears to have been one of the first. Its title, ‘The implementation of functional system design and development techniques in a COBOL environment’, is indicative of maturity in the software development phase of IS, but not of any broadening out towards what IS was to become.

The late 1970s saw progress internationally, with the first IS-specific refereed journals in 1977 (MIS Quarterly and Information & Management), the conversion of the long-standing IS journal Database to refereed form in 1979 and the first International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) in 1980. (Because the author was in professional positions in London and Zürich from 1977 to 1982, his archives and memories of the IS discipline of that time are limited.)

From about 1980, as skills became more structured and teachable, and as large volumes of product-related training became necessary, the vocational-education sector and particularly colleges of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) became active in the IT area. A number of private colleges also emerged, a few of which have been active for an extended period.

The first local textbook appears to have been Brookes et al. (1982). It had few competitors, and had some success overseas as well. The orientation in universities was most commonly towards application software development, particularly analysis and design, in order to draw the focus of development away from programming and achieve relevant and effective information systems. There were parallel developments in IS management, and in decision support. Over time, information management became a distinguishable body of knowledge, and intellectual relationships developed with library science.

After UNSW’s pioneering move, other early movers at departmental level were QIT and NSWIT. There was, however, a long delay before recognition of the discipline was sufficient for further full professorial positions to be created. The next professorship did not emerge until 1981, and even then Ron Weber’s position at the University of Queensland (1981–2004) was throughout a joint accounting and IS role. The next appointments were not until 1988 (Bob Galliers at Curtin); in 1990, at UNSW (Ross Jeffery), the University of Queensland (Maria Orlowska), the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) (Igor Hawryszkiewycz), and Monash (David Arnott, Peter Juliffe and Phillip Steele); in 1991, at UNSW (Michael Lawrence); and in 1992 at the University of Tasmania (Stewart Leech). Monash University, when it absorbed Chisholm in 1988, took over the mantle from QIT/QUT as the largest concentration of computing-related academics in Australia. Snapshots of IS professorships in Australia are provided in Appendix 2.1.

Arguably, the first doctorate completed by an Australian in IS was that by Ron Weber, supervised by Gordon Davis, and awarded by the University of Minnesota in 1978. The first IS doctorates completed in Australia appear to have been those by Errol Iselin in 1982 and Iris Vessey in 1984, both at the University of Queensland and both supervised by Weber. Ross Jeffery completed his at UNSW in 1986 under Cyril Brookes, and Rick Watson completed his at Minnesota in 1987 under Gerardine DeSanctis. Appendix 2.2 lists the IS PhDs known to have been completed by Australians, from the first in 1978 until 1995. For most Australian IS academics, however, the first opportunity to become acquainted with American and European professors was created by the ACS/IFIP TC8 conferences in Sydney in April 1984 and March 1988.

The prior computer-usage experience of first-year students changed significantly from year to year during this period. The author conducted surveys of first-year accounting students from 1984 until 1992. The first commoditised personal computing device (the Apple II in 1977) and the accompanying first spreadsheet modeller (Visicalc) had laid the foundations, but it took a further 15 years—until the early 1990s—for matriculating students entering Australian business faculties to have sufficient exposure that computing basics could be switched from core to remedial mode. Although entrants to IS courses tended to have had greater exposure to IT than had entrants to business courses, ‘introduction to computing’ groundwork consumed a considerable proportion of the limited available curriculum space in IS until at least the end of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, between the 1970s and the 1990s, there was considerable growth in the proportion of matriculants continuing to post-secondary studies, and then in the numbers of mature-age candidates returning to post-secondary education—at bachelor and postgraduate levels. During the next decade, a considerable proportion of these undertook at least some IT-related study, including IS.

By the mid to late 1980s, a moderate collection of textbooks was emerging to encapsulate the mainstream knowledge in the discipline and facilitate its transfer to the next cohorts of students. Clarke (1987) provides a snapshot of one person’s assessment of the list of books that should have adorned ‘the computing professional’s bookshelf’ at the time.

Since 1988

The orientation in universities was—and continues to be—towards theory and the intellectual aspects of disciplines. There was a tension between this orientation and the government’s wish to produce rapidly increasing numbers of graduates. The government wanted people whose secondary-school performance had been lower than the highest rank to emerge as graduates who were familiar with the new and rapidly mutating hardware and software technologies, and who had an understanding about what to do with them.

The needs of these more practically oriented candidates were serviced mostly by the institutes of technology and CAEs, which had existed since the previous sectoral reorganisation in the mid-1960s. The CAE sector performed a role midway between the abstract, education-oriented work within universities and the concrete training provide by technical colleges. This resulted in a wide array of courses and units relevant to IS. On the other hand, staff in CAEs had longer contact hours (typically 13–16 rather than seven–eight hours a week), they were not funded to perform research and they had limited opportunity to attract external research funding. The CAEs accordingly provided a home to only a minority of the research-oriented academics in the IS discipline, and there was something of a cleft within the still-emergent discipline.

Rather than focusing its attention and resources on the CAEs, the government chose to demolish the highly valuable distinction between institutions with industry-oriented mission statements and those with primarily academic orientation. The restructuring of the tertiary education sector, initiated by the Labor government in 1987, has been highly disruptive and massively wasteful. The diktat saw the disestablishment of the 40 or so CAEs and 25 other smaller elements and the amalgamation of their operations variously into the existing 19 universities and six some-time institutes of technology, or into one of about 15 new combinations (AVCC 2004). Substantial and vital differences among the missions of the various types of institution were ignored, and remain confused even now. The previously more industry-oriented institutions came to perceive substantial roles for themselves in research and sought better access to research funding. The sector has been in more or less continuous flux since, driven by a culture of interventionism by the relevant agency, most recently the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). Flurries of additional administrative responsibilities have been imposed on universities, drawing resources away from teaching and research.

Among other things, the 1990s saw the death of the concept of a university as a collegial undertaking, and the imposition of managerial rationalism. To a considerable extent, profitability and return on investment are now the measures of worth of universities’ senior executives. Academic ideals of all kinds—such as the pursuit of knowledge, freedom to research, open access to research outcomes and tenure—have become constraints rather than objectives. Pluralism has been deeply compromised by ‘mission statements’, ‘key performance indicators’ and the simplicity of ‘the bottom line’. Oxford, Bologna and Tübingen wept; the Harvard Business School exulted.

Meanwhile, the per-student funding of all institutions was progressively slashed. Institutions were forced to seek funding from external sources, predominantly by attracting foreign fee-paying (FFP) students onto their campuses or into their existing distance education offerings, or by earning revenue from foreign campuses in excess of the costs involved in running or participating in them. Many strategic manoeuvres have been attempted—many in amateurish fashion—with the result that a number of universities are in dire financial straits. Multiple experiments with strategic alliances have been tried (including the Group of Eight, Innovative Research Universities Australia, Open Universities Australia, New Generation Universities and Regional Universities), most with limited impact. The dislocation arising from this massive change in business models is still being felt, many institutions have worrisome exposure to the vagaries of the education export market and the quantity of research is less than it might otherwise have been. Meanwhile, with staff-counts down and student–staff ratios much higher than they were two decades ago, it is unlikely that the quality of teaching has improved.

In 1990–92, a government review was undertaken of what were styled the ‘computing studies and information sciences disciplines’. It was referred to popularly by the name of the committee chair, Hudson (1992). The submissions by the ACS and the ANU utilised a graphic, prepared by this author, which sought to convey the scope of IS and its relationship to the other relevant disciplines (Figure 2.1). Information systems was depicted as occupying vital space between the technical and business disciplines, encompassing a range of applied and instrumentalist topics, and interacting closely with many other disciplines and sub-disciplines. During the intervening 15 years, the topics might have changed somewhat, but the general framework arguably still provides a reasonable representation of the relationships.

Figure 2.1 Location of the IS discipline, as perceived in 1991

Figure 2.1 Location of the IS discipline, as perceived in 1991

Source: Australian Computer Society (ACS) 1992, Report of the Task Force on the ACS Towards 2000, Australian Computer Society, Sydney, Attachment 5.

Well into the 1980s, communications within the discipline in Australia were informal and somewhat haphazard. An early step to draw the scattered individuals and groups together was the development of a directory (Clarke 1988, 1991; Gable and Clarke 1994, 1996). This was merged, together with the North American directory (Davis and DeGross 1983) and the European directory (Bjørn-Andersen and Hansen 1993), into the world-wide online directory that was launched by Dave Naumann at Minnesota in 1995.

A critical initiative was the establishment of a regular national conference, the Australian Conference in Information Systems (ACIS). The first was held at Monash in 1990, chaired by Ross Jeffery, and it has run annually since then. During the first few years, the standing committee comprised Ross Jeffery, Ron Weber, Roger Clarke, Peter Weill and Igor Hawryszkiewycz. The committee then migrated to the ICIS pattern of rotating membership involving recent, current and upcoming organising and program committee chairs.

The mid-1990s saw maturation of the IS discipline at the international level. As the Internet was grasped as an opportunity for international communications and publication, the ISWorld mailing list and web site were established—both in 1994. The international Association for Information Systems (AIS) was also formed in that year. The regional forums (the Pacific Asia Conference on Information Systems, PACIS, from 1993; the European Conference on Information Systems, ECIS, from 1993; and the American Conference on Information Systems, AMCIS, from 1995) provided a broader geographical frame for ACIS. Australians were active contributors to ISWorld, the AIS and the directory project, and to ECIS, PACIS, AMCIS and other international conferences.

Meanwhile, Rob McGregor established the national specialist journal, the AJIS, in 1994 at Wollongong University. Liaison among professors and departmental heads had been emergent, and was formalised through the ACPHIS in 1995. An ISWorld page for Australia was established by this author in 1996. A chapter of AIS was established in 2001.

The discipline continued to consolidate and expand through the second half of the 1990s, but it has suffered a substantial set-back since 2000. A later section of this chapter considers some aspects of this, but to a large extent the focus is the period 1965–95.

The early sections of this chapter have provided a largely chronological presentation of the development of the discipline. The remaining sections adopt a thematic structure, picking out aspects of the story that appear to have been of particular significance.