New locally-focused lobby group formed

Group, dubbed NZrise, will promote local IT industry

Local ICT companies are forming a lobby group to coordinate their efforts and wrest government business away from multinational vendors.

Provisionally called NZrise, the proposed new organisation will present a picture of the local industry as smart and more flexible and mutually cooperative than multinational providers.

“You wouldn’t get Microsoft telling a prospect ‘hey, one of our competitors has this great software you should be using as part of that project’,” says Nick Rowney of Wellington software developer 3months. New Zealand companies are more disposed to cooperate with one another to land a large job, he says.

His company 3months is behind NZrise, with Catalyst IT and Silverstripe also involved.

NZrise is not an open-source lobby, Catalyst IT founder Don Christie emphasises. “A dozen or so indigenous software developers have been having discussions for a few months about the lack of strong representation for indigenous IT companies in New Zealand,” he says. “We still have some way to go before an official launch but we have very good momentum.”

NZrise has been mooted in an atmosphere of some discontent with what is perceived as influence of leading lobby group NZICT, particularly in government circles. Though representing itself as a New Zealand industry organisation, NZICT is said to be dominated by the big international players by some in the industry. Even the appointment earlier this year of Simpl’s Bennett Medary as NZICT chairman (Computerworld, August 26) did little to mute the critics, as readers’ comments appended to that online story show.

Of particular concern to NZrise’s prospective members are government’s moves to set up “panels” of approved ICT suppliers in advance, to simplify negotiation of future tenders.

“Bias [against local companies] can be seen in many ways, but right now it seems to be growing,” claims Christie in an email. “With many agencies setting up effective cartels of suppliers, it is hard to see where the future Orion Healths, Catalysts and Jades of this country will get their kick start.”

Brett O’Riley, CEO of NZICT, in an email from China, where he is part of a trade mission organised by NZ Trade and Enterprise and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, takes a cooperative stance. “We have met with NZrise and welcome their involvement with NZICT directly or in collaborations,” he says.

“The vast majority of the 300 companies we represent are New Zealand companies and a significant number are small and large software developers, both domestically and export focussed. These include some of the companies on the trade mission,” he writes.

“Our focus on government procurement is on lowering the barriers of entry for companies and fostering innovation. Now is the time for the industry to show cohesion and step up to the challenge of driving export revenues and productivity improvement across all sectors. That is our focus and we welcome companies and organisations that are like-minded to work with us.”

Rowney challenged Government Technology Services general manager Stephen Crombie at a NZ Computer Society breakfast in Wellington last week, where Crombie was presenting the government’s ICT roadmap (see page 5). The cumbersome and inflexible nature of the “request for proposal” process disadvantages small and local companies, Rowney claimed.

Crombie had emphasised government’s intention to be more “open and innovative” in its procurement processes.

“The RFP process would have to be the least open, least innovative way [to solicit ICT services] especially to a small company like us [3months],” Rowney said at the seminar. “We work in an agile manner and there is no conversation with government around the process of developing services.”

RFPs tend to be a matter of putting up a fixed system description with the simple question: “can you meet this specification?” and next to no opportunity for interactive discussion and flexibility, Rowney said in a later conversation with Crombie and a few other attendees at the breakfast seminar.

“We feel the appetite for risk in government is defined as nil,” he said. “Anyone in business knows there is risk. The idea of life is to expose that risk, embrace it, succeed or fail, learn from it and move on. I wonder whether the appetite for risk under [the more centralised all-of-government procurement guidelines] you are proposing will in fact decrease, in which case there will be an even greater chance for it to fail.”

Government has embraced the need for procurement reform, Crombie responded. “We have accepted that we need to have a really solid look at the capability acquisition processes and make sure they are fit for purpose. All change is risky, but the risk of not [reforming government ICT] is probably bigger than the risk of doing it.”

In such exercises as the one.govt network and the changes to procurement, government had shown its preparedness to accept risk and learn, he said.

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