Delayed Digital Development Forum to debut soon

Forum to launch as early as this week, says MED

The formation of the Digital Development Forum, a crucial part of the ICT representative group Digital Development New Zealand, is a little delayed, but not enough to worry its government backers, according to Ministry of Economic Development link-man Brad Ward.

The forum is due to be officially launched “very soon”, he says, possibly this week, and will start prioritising a work programme, elements of which have already been sketched out by the Digital Development Council, the body that supervises the new ICT planning structure.

At stake is a million dollars of funding for the first year, with 10 organisations and the broader constituency of the forum likely to press for their own pet projects. The first-year funding agreement is to be signed this week, says Ward.

This represents more than a month’s delay on the originally scheduled date of July 1, but, he says, MED does not consider this worrying. Digital Development NZ, as the council and forum are collectively known, is a complex group, says Ward “and the process of setting it up is moving a lot more quickly than what we had in the past” — a reference to the three-year failed attempt to get together the planned ICT-NZ structure.

There is no obstacle to signing the funding agreement this week, Ward says.

The Digital Development Council has done the initial work of setting up the forum, but the forum will then have the say-so over future membership of the council. One of the founders calls it a successful “chicken and egg” exercise;

“The council is the egg; it hatches out the chicken — the forum — then the chicken will lay another egg. It had to be done that way to get it off the ground.”

The original budget for the first year’s work programme was $825,000, but some of the money allocated for the organisation’s formation has not been spent and this will be added to the pool, making up about $1 million, Ward says. Funding for the second year remains at $825,000.

People originally retained to put the organisation together expressed hope of getting quick runs on the board in the shape of firm projects to make a good impression on the ICT community as a whole.

Sources have suggested that valuable work done by the HiGrowth Trust and the Digital Strategy Advisory Group (DSAG) — which DDNZ superseded — should have been picked up, but there is little sign of this being done.

Former HiGrowth head Garth Biggs says he had an early “debrief” with consultant Doug Martin on unfinished projects. Some of these, he says, would be more appropriate to DDNZ and some to the vendor-oriented industry group being coordinated by Microsoft NZ CEO Kevin Ackhurst.

A HiGrowth educational incentive known as the Digital Technology Guidelines is being progressed by the Ministry of Education, amid some controversy (Computerworld, June 23).

A representative of one of the constituent organisations says other HiGrowth and DSAG projects are being evaluated for continuation, but did not want to be quoted.

TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman says that as far as he’s concerned the organisation is progressing well. “I’m very happy with the way it’s going,” he says, referring further comment to chair Fran Wilde.

“We have gained a lot of traction given the short time we have had,” says Wilde. “There is quite a lot of work involved in setting up a new organisation and as far as I am concerned there is no point running off to the media until we have something to say.”

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