NZICT plan wins praise, but is it good for Kiwi IP?

Concerns raised about potential lock-out of Kiwi ICT suppliers

NZICT’s near-term ICT priorities plan for New Zealand has received praise from representatives of the New Zealand user community following its release on Monday.

However, some local ICT suppliers are concerned about the plan and the direction of the new industry lobby.

Vendor group NZICT is calling for a raft of actions in education, infrastructure and ICT planning that user-based organisations have broadly given the thumbs up.


See also: NZICT Group lays out digital priorities
Chris O’Connell, the chairman of the Telecommunications Users’ Association of New Zealand (TUANZ), says it is a long list of priorities and it’s hard to disagree with any of them. He says he looks forward to when such a list is a top three, rather than three pages.

“The fact there are so many shows how integral ICT is to move New Zealand forward,” he says.

O’Connell says he would like to see user participation on some of NZICT’s proposed working groups to make sure they are not “presales” but a serious attempt to get the best bang for New Zealand’s ICT buck.

O’Connell says it is good to see NZICT focusing on New Zealand’s international network connections in its priorities.

“Is this a digital strategy emerging by stealth?” he asks. “I don’t care whether it’s formal or informal, as long as it leads to a result.”

Peter Macaulay, IDC New Zealand’s end user practice leader, says the agenda is a “very, very good document”. He says it takes a broad brush and avoids becoming a blame exercise.

He says the focus in the priorities on applications for broadband over its delivery remains risky.

“Unfortunately, you can’t do that. You have to strike a balance,” he says, adding that the plan does go back and do that later in the document.

Macaulay says it also hits R&D and entertainment well and he also approves of the “aggressive” support it gives to programmes such as the Computer Clubhouse and Computers in Homes programmes to boost digital literacy.

“There’s a lot of good stuff on skills and education and innovation,” he says.

From an end user perspective, Macaulay says it does the job and doesn’t become self serving to the vendor community.

“I’m impressed. It’s a good piece of work.”

O’Connell says an emphasis on government in the document is understandable given it is New Zealand’s biggest bulk purchaser. He says ICT minister Steven Joyce’s focus on getting the cost focus right is critical to success.

Don Christie, speaking as head of Catalyst IT rather than as president of the Open Source Society, says as a New Zealand software vendor he worries about the tone and angle NZICT is taking. He says he does not see the organisation as representative of New Zealand suppliers.

Christie says there needs to be a focus on government IT spending. This needs to provide better outcomes for citizens and drive the development of knowledge businesses in New Zealand.

He says in Australia it is very hard for such smaller local ICT businesses to break into government IT work and NZICT “seems to be taking us down that track”.

In a recent blog post, New Zealand internet pioneer, writer and start-up adviser Nat Torkington says NZICT is an industry lobby group and its offers and advice should be taken with a grain of salt.

“New Zealand has precious few independent economic voices (New Zealand Institute has served admirably in the past), and NZICT is not one of them.

He says NZICT’s plan to establish a working group with the Government Technology Services group of the Department of Internal Affairs to improve public sector ICT efficiency could be read by a cynic as: “NZICT members will have privileged access to centralised government IT planners and buyers, bypassing or rendering moot a procurement process that attempts to provide a level playing field”.

He describes the plan as a mixed bag.

“I’d give them 6/10 for speaking with a single voice in such tight harmony with the government’s stated policies. There’s still work to be done in producing something that’s useful, rather than a positioning paper, but this is a promising first step from a new industry lobby group.”

Torkington applauds the industry getting together to try and figure out how it can help the rest of NZ grow and the idea that ICT can contribute to the lift in national economic performance that the government wants.

However, he writes that he doesn’t like the high-level generalities of the NZICT report.

“It’s their first report and in many ways is a stake in the ground to say ‘we’re here, we’re doing good things, we’re on the right side’. That would explain the vague parroting of political objectives (‘step- change’ is the new ‘sustainability’). The report is cannily aligned with political objectives (broadband, more efficient public sector, education, R&D) but many of the recommendations are little more than ‘we will work with you on what you’re already doing in these areas’,” he writes.

Where there are specifics, they’re not great, he writes.

“Very few of the paper’s many recommendations come with a problem statement, and solutions to unknown or poorly-specified problems often turn out to be timebombs, turkeys, or turds.”

NZICT's CEO, Brett O'Riley, says the group worked with others to produce its near-term priorities plan and he feels it has had a "pretty good level of input". He says he views the New Zealand Computer Society as providing the user representation in those discussions.

He says users representatives could be included in some of the panels and working groups the paper recommends.

"We see our role as being a facilitator," he says. "If others want to be involved, bring it on."

O'Riley says open source suppliers are welcome to join NZICT. He says he has met with Christie and invited Catalyst IT to join and the New Zealand Open Source Society to become a potential "community of interest" to the group.

"They've chosen not to. We'll continue to ask," he says. "We want to reflect the broad church that is the ICT industry."

O'Riley says there is some disquiet among suppliers about what centralised government procurement might mean. NZICT is not against such a move and it is clear that ICT minister Steven Joyce is looking for better quality spending from government.

However, he says, clear direction and advance notice of changes will help suppliers adjust.

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