Editorial: Fewer govt reports, more action please

Sarah Putt looks at the government's Business Innovation Report released last week

Government press releases flow into reporters’ inboxes every day, but it’s not often you receive three in quick succession about the same thing. That’s what happened last week when the Building Innovation Report was released. It’s the second in a series of six progress reports released under the Government’s Business Growth Agenda.

“Prime Minister welcomes focus on innovation” was the headline on the release from John Key’s office. This bland statement didn’t make me want to read further. Who wouldn’t welcome innovation?

Apparently some people. How else to explain the Q and A in the second press release about the same report from Steven Joyce’s office? It included the following made up exchange:

Q: Why is innovation so important?

A: Innovation has driven the improvement in our quality of life since the Stone Age.

The third release, also from Joyce’s office, was about the Advanced Technology Institute – developed with a budget of $166 million over the next four years. The ATI is going to be named after Sir Paul Callaghan, who coined that lovely phrase about New Zealand becoming “a place where talent wants to live”.

Innovation is something we write about a lot in Computerworld, so I was interested to read the report. I didn’t expect to be inspired and I wasn’t.

A stated aim in the report is to lift the investment in research and development from its current total of 1.3 percent of GDP. The OECD average is 2.4 percent. Of the New Zealand investment, local businesses spend 0.54 percent of GDP (OECD average is 1.62 percent) and government 0.59 percent (OECD average is 0.73 percent). I discovered this on page 11 of the report; I’m not sure why it took so many pages to get to these depressing statistics.

Also on the same page, the report points out that internationally most R&D occurs in motoring, electrical equipment and pharmaceuticals, which are not New Zealand strengths.

So what are we good at? Creating research facilities apparently – on page 16 of the report there are 79 listed – 79!

To be fair, there were some interesting nuggets – for example under the topic of how regulation can help innovation, it mentions the Patents Bill. Which made me laugh because it is currently number 18 on Parliament’s Order Paper – not exactly urgent business is it?

Anyway, in the foreword at the front, signed by ministers Bill English and Steven Joyce, it says they welcome feedback, so here are five ideas about creating an innovation nation that Computerworld has reported on in, and which have inspired debate.

1: Pass the patents bill now, politicians keep telling us they want to, (see InternetNZ's ICT political party debate last year).

2: Create a centre of excellence at every university on one topic, rather than every tertiary institution covering every topic. Imagine what could be achieved if all the computer science departments joined together in one mega-institution (this idea from former Auckland University professor John Hosking).

3: Make ICT the fourth science in schools (from Orion Health CEO Ian McCrae, who says ICT should be on the same academic level as physics, chemistry and biology).

4: Put people who understand technology on more boards, especially government appointed ones (Robin Johansen, Beca Group CIO is actively campaigning on this). Please, no more accountants (of which there are two on the ATI board by the way) and lawyers – these professions exist to serve wealth, not create it.

5: Create a position of chief technology officer for New Zealand, who has the same status as the chief science officer (Rod Drury suggested this one).

There you go Mr English and Mr Joyce, five ideas from some of the smartest people in ICT, all of whom would be happy to discuss them further with you, I’m sure.

Why don’t you give them a call?

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