Adams on cybersecurity, skills shortage and govt procurement

ICT minister Amy Adams says there is no desire to shut out local competition in the government RFP process

In part two of our Q and A interview with ICT minister Amy Adams she talks to Stephen Bell about cybersecurity, the skills shortage, and the government's ICT procurement programme.

Will you be pushing for the establishment of an NZCERT?

Well, we’ve got the government cybersecurity strategy that we’re working on and obviously that is part of that strategy; my priority at the moment is to ensure that [cybersecurity] comes to the forefront of the issues. I think it’s been rather in the background, but it is important both from a governance and a users’ perspective.

What’s your view of the staffing and skills questions in ICT? Does something need to be done, and to what extent does government have a role in doing it?

I think it’s a field in which we see tremendous potential for New Zealand and obviously the ability to take advantage of that will come down to having the right people with the right training. As to whether there is a deficiency that needs to be addressed, I’d need to see some more information before I was convinced that a further response is required. But if that case was made, I’d certainly look at it.

There is a periodic allegation that government doesn’t look enough to local industry to fulfil its ICT needs; I cite the example of the IRD business transformation tender, allegedly surrounded with so many qualifications that no local company could hope to gain the business. It eventually went to international consultancy Capgemini.

In respect of the IRD tender you’d need to talk to the Minister of Revenue. The move towards all-of-government ICT development will mean there is less decision-making department-by-department..

In my view, there is no desire to shut out local competition; but nor is there a desire to return to a protectionist view where a less value-for-money solution will be accepted simply because it’s domestic. I support local firms tendering where they can do that in a way that’s world-leading and value for money.

If you’re asking whether we should encourage innovation in New Zealand so that we have firms that are better able to compete on a market basis, we are doing a lot of work in that space and through the ICT entrepreneurs’ scheme [providing support for a year for the set-up of new ICT-related businesses under the “e-business” plank of the five-point plan] and through the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the like, to help encourage the growth of just those sorts of industries. But it is important that we support them by bringing them to the point where they can compete with international firms, not by subsidising them.

I think one of the main perceived problems is that the RFI/RFP process is cumbersome and a local firm can less afford to meet the demands on their time and effort.

That’s a fair point and that’s something we have to deal with across government; to ensure the tendering process isn’t so onerous in itself that it ceases to have relevance to what we’re trying to achieve, and the scale of what we’re trying to achieve.

That of course, has to be balanced with being very careful how we spend taxpayers’ money and ensuring that we’re very cautious when we contract for large-scale endeavours, that we’ve been rigorous in our due diligence. But there is a fair point in saying that as a government we need to do all we can to ensure that the processes are no more onerous than is justified. It’s something we’re trying to improve across all contracts and agencies.

Do you think there’s still some isolationism between agencies? Is the all-of-government ICT initiative pushed by the DIA breaking down those barriers, or is something else needed?

I think there is tremendous progress being made in that space. That’s very encouraging and I think good progress will continue to be made.

How do you see yourself filling in any lack of knowledge and experience you have in this area?

I’ve never been shy of picking up the phone and talking with any number of people to collect a range of views. In the meetings I’ve had to date with people across the public and private sector, I’ve left a very clear message that I want to hear their views from them directly. I’ve no doubt that the technical expertise to fill in the gaps in my own knowledge is available.

Will you be consulting with a range of industry organisations, both local and multinational, such as InternetNZ, ICTNZ and NZRise?

Coming into the role, there are a lot of organisations that want to meet and talk with you and you work your way through them. As far as I’m concerned, the more inputs I can have the better. It doesn’t mean I will agree with them all, but I’m happy to hear from all sizeable players in the sector. There’s only upside to listening to a range of views and I’m very open to that.

You will be more involved with a broad range of lobbies than Mr Joyce was?

I won’t make any comment on how Mr Joyce chose to approach it; I can only talk about my approach. I will work with anyone who’s willing to work constructively with me. That’s not to say I’m going to get caught in an endless cycle of consultation. I’m a great believer in collecting views, then getting on and making decisions.

In what ways might your approach to the portfolio differ from Mr Joyce’s?

Look, I’m not going to comment on that. I come to it with my own background, my own set of skills.

We all approach things in our own way. Minister Joyce obviously still has an active role in the field more generally, as minister of economic development.

We approach this very much as a team across the whole of cabinet and anything I put up has to get the approval of my cabinet colleagues; so from a policy perspective, you can expect that we will get to a view regardless of who’s sitting at the helm; but the way I approach it is a matter of my own personal style.

I don’t resile from the fact that I haven’t spent my life working in this sector, and that’s not unusual for a cabinet minister taking charge of a new area; I’m not scared of saying that’s not an area I’m expert in; I don’t consider I have to be an expert in every area that’s in front of me.

The Prime Minister’s put faith in me to do this job on the basis of the skills I have and I bring and I’m quite prepared to work with people across all component parts of the sector to find the best result for New Zealand.

What’s your view of the fading line between ICT and broadcasting; do you see yourself getting across into matters relevant to the broadcasting portfolio?

I think it’s inevitable that [Broadcasting] Minister [Craig] Foss and I will work very closely together on a number of issues. He also has the commerce portfolio, under which we see the copyright issues arising.

There is increasingly less of a divide between what is considered broadcasting and what is seen as ICT, but I still think there is relevance in two separate portfolios. We will obviously work very closely together.

Do you have any views on the contentious question of SkyTV’s monopoly over digital TV?

I am very aware of the concerns that have been raised about it and I have said that at this stage I want to see how the competitive model looks as UFB rolls out and changes the market situation.

If we see competition issues arising then that’s obviously something we will look at, but at this stage I haven’t been satisfied that there’s a need for proactive action in that regard; but it’s something I’ll continue to monitor.

AMY ADAMS – SNAPSHOT

Favourite mobile device: I’ve just gone back to the BlackBerry, simply because Parliament makes it easier to work with that; but I have to say the iPad has changed my life considerably and it’s in the category of something I can’t be without now. I did enjoy my iPhone but its interface with the Parliament system was proving a bit difficult.

Car: Hyundai Santa Fe

Favourite websites: I spend a fair bit of time covering off the political websites and I’m a bit of a TradeMe fan as well.

Most important ICT innovation: As a user, I’d say the iPad. I’m sure there are technologically more revolutionary developments but in recent times that’s the one that’s had the biggest impact for me.

Who do you most admire? Difficult, because there are so many people, relevant to different aspects of my life. Within politics, I’m a huge fan of the prime minister. He’s one of the few people in life I can say I’m very happy to follow and be part of his team.

* See part one of this Q and A interview with Amy Adams here.

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