Opinion: National conversations

ICT in schools, Steven Joyce's super ministry and the goings on at ACC are three possible topics for national discussion

I recently had the good fortune to sit beside two strangers at an industry function and enjoy one of those conversations that go in unexpected, but interesting, directions. We got onto the topic of New Zealand’s flag, which we agreed needs changing.

For example, I pointed out to one of my companions, during the Rugby World Cup more people flew the black and white Silver Fern flag from their car windows than the hybrid Union Jack/Southern Cross star arrangement that we currently have.

But if you change the flag then you have to think about whether we should replace the Queen as the head of state. This caused a bit of debate and then, unable to resist, I said if there is no Crown, where does that leave the Treaty of Waitangi? And right about then one of my companions pointedly changed the subject.

It got me thinking about the idea of national conversations. The topics that start out being discussed around the dinner table, and end up being debated in parliament.

For example, the trouble with Telecom in the mid-2000s. That was a topic that had been raging in the telecommunications industry for several years and it wasn’t until the telco’s lack of investment and blatant price gouging became the subject of barbecue conversations that the government finally acted. The result? A painful transition for that company, but a more competitive industry and the construction of national infrastructure (the Ultra Fast Broadband network) that will benefit generations of Kiwis to come.

So what kind national conversations should those of us who are passionate about ICT ensure become part of mainstream discussions? Here are three conversation-starters that spring to mind.

Firstly, making computer science the fourth science in secondary schools. When Orion Health CEO Ian McCrae coined that phrase earlier in the year it summed up what has been the major barrier to getting smart kids interested in IT careers. We need a computer science curriculum that teaches logic and reasoning, as opposed to how to create a power point presentation.

Hats off to the New Zealand Computer Society for advancing the cause with its ICT Connect programme and good on those companies who’ve collectively stumped up around $300,000 to support it. Getting IT professionals into schools and talking up technology will get this national conversation going.

Secondly, what on earth is this new super Ministry that Steven Joyce is building supposed to achieve? On July 1 it will “absorb the functions” of the Ministry of Economic Development, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Department of Building and Housing.

Combining the MSI which spends $770 million a year, including giving out plenty of interest-free loans to tech start ups, with the MED which advises on essential policy such as the 700MHz spectrum is an interesting development, to say the least.

Thirdly, what is going on in the IT department at the Accident Compensation Corporation? Journalist Randal Jackson has been following the saga of its ICT services contract for some time. The latest development - that Datacom has replaced Gen-i as supplier — prompted a raging debate in the comments section beneath the article, which at one stage I had to put on hold because of defamatory comments (by the way, we welcome robust discussion but we cannot allow anything that breaks the law).

Is this an example of poor tendering practice in IT or poor leadership — or are the online comments just from a bunch of disgruntled ex-employees digging the knife in?

So there you go, three possible topics for discussion at the next industry event. If nothing else it makes a change from talking about the weather.

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Tags Datacomgen-iACCSteven Joyce

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