What really drives our digital futures?

Digital Strategy or not, we will move beyond broadband

I attended and participated in the American Chamber of Commerce’s Digital Future Now event, held in Auckland last week.

As you can read here, communications minister David Cunliffe dropped some hints about the direction of the Digital Strategy 2.0 rewrite, a rewrite that will move beyond the broadband discussion that has dominated the last few years into how to take advantage of improved infrastructure to deliver economic growth.

While several at the conference appeared concerned about that change of emphasis, worried that the job of improving infrastructure is not yet done, it is fitting that at some stage we do have to move on. Decent broadband is an enabler of business and collaboration, but there is no time to waste in taking advantage of the opportunities it presents.

However, I did find myself wondering exactly how much a Digital Strategy document really contributes, both to broadband development and the exploitation of broadband.

If we think back at the drivers of change over the last few years, changes that have seen Telecom operationally dismembered, the unbundling of the local loop, the arrival of number portability, a massive increase in investment and a bunch of other goodness, what drove that was essentially a consumer revolt.

Telecom, which had played a clever monopoly game and managed to keep a lid on growing discontent for many years, made a series of missteps that effectively made it impossible for the government not to act.

Theresa Gattung found herself offside with the Prime Minister, the public got sick and tired of marketing lies and the OECD broadband statistics became intolerable.

To my mind, all of that would have happened whether we had a Digital Strategy or not.

So what will a new strategy achieve?

All around the country there are businesses large and small not engaging in the rewrite. Why? Because they are to busy creating the future. There are many bodies involved in the strategy rewrite and new ICT industry representative bodies emerging, but unless these can really engage with and deliver to the entrepreneurs and technologists on the front lines of change, their claims to representation will appear hollow to many.

That isn’t an easy task. Business and ICT people are extremely time-poor. The simple acts of engagement, engagement in social media, in web and content development ensure that.

I spoke to some of the young people whose expenses the Ministry of Economic Development paid to come to the Digital Future Summit last year. They were energised about being involved, but also sometimes a bit unsure of what was expected of them.

It is interesting to watch what really appears to motivate the young entrepreneurs into action. Some were motivated by the launch of the iPhone to develop applications for sale through Apple’s iTunes store. Some engaged with Google on its Android project. They get together on a Thursday night in Auckland and at similar events in Wellington and elsewhere to share and show off their innovations.

All of these things are done organically, though, and largely outside of the the traditional structure of the ICT industry that is now rewriting our digital strategy.

To some extent this is recognised in the way people have been allowed to contribute to the rewrite online. We can only hope they had time to do so.

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