Telus takes home corporate IT Hero award

Telus Corp.’s use of Upopolis, a social networking tool designed specifically for hospitalized children, has earned the telecommunications giant a corporate IT hero award from the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC).

Sponsored in part by IT World Canada, the annual ITAC IT Hero Awards celebrates one corporate and one community-based IT achievement that significantly improve the lives of Canadians. Burnaby, BC-based Telus – this year’s corporate winner – received its award after funding the creation and deployment of a private social networking tool for sick kids at the McMaster Children’s Hospital. Telus said Upopolis uses technology to improve patient care, help kids stay connected with their friends, and even finish their schoolwork, while in the hospital.

According to Telus, the hospital’s child life team works with every patient to introduce them to Upopolis and set them up with a personal profile. “From there, the patients explore any of the dozens of functions the program offers from secure mail, instant chat, discussion boards, personal blogs, links to children-friendly games and kid-friendly health and wellness information,” Telus spokesperson Allison Vale said. “Child-friendly health information gives kids the opportunity to learn about their illness and the procedures that they may be undergoing.”

The origins of Upopolis date back six years ago, after two teenaged friends – Christina Papaevangelou and Katy McDonald – were admitted to the intensive care unit at McMaster Children’s Hospital with life-threatening illnesses.

“Shortly after, Katy was diagnosed with cancer and had to be hospitalized for a long period of time, feeling disconnected from friends, family and keeping up with schoolwork,” Vale said. “Sadly, she lost her battle with cancer. However, her friendship and common experiences inspired Christina to explore ways to help kids in care stay connected.”

This led to the creation of the Kids’ Health Links Foundation (KHLF) – established by Christina’s father, Basile Papaevangelou – which worked with Telus to create the innovative program. Over the next several months, Telus will continue to provide site expansion, managed Web hosting and application support for Upopolis. The company also plans to help KHLF roll out the platform at other children’s hospitals across Canada.

“The fact that Telus spotted this is something extraordinary and it’s just a wonderful, Canadian innovative,” Bernard Courtois, president and CEO at ITAC, said. “What we look for with our IT Hero Awards is a confirmation that Canadian innovations can be world leading and this is a good example of that.”

Telus said the feedback it’s gotten from the kids using Upopolis has been tremendous and that the company is continuing to look at ways to improve the program based on their input.

“Sometimes a small change can make a big difference to a child isolated in a hospital,” Vale said. “For example, we have enhanced our instant messaging tool since the launch. Children could always text, but they can now see the names of their buddies online when they go to send messages to each other. It makes a big difference to them.”

For the community-based award, ITAC recognized the City of Moncton in New Brunswick, which deployed a free Wi-Fi mesh network in the city’s downtown core. According to ITAC, an outdoor wireless mesh network had never been installed in Canada before this implementation.

“It will be attractive for tourists, residents and businesses looking to establish themselves in Moncton,” Courtois said. “And that’s what these awards are really about; using IT to make the community a better place to live and build businesses.”

The ITAC IT Hero Awards was held at the organization’s annual dinner in Toronto on June 26.