There’s nothing special about a digital strategy — every country that’s worth knowing has one.
New Zealand’s, launched in 2005, said many of the right things but the execution was unbalanced and flawed. I remember summing it up a year ago as having succeeded in becoming the government’s Digital Strategy, but failed in becoming the nation’s.
Now we are waiting for a new refreshed “Digital Strategy 2.0” to be revealed in the coming weeks.
Much water has cascaded across the world’s digital landscape in the ensuing three years. Developed countries have markedly increased their level of telecommunications access including broadband uptake; less developed countries like China and India even more so.
Underprivileged countries are finding self-help ways to use the digital age for accelerated advancement.
The range of content available to a digitised world has exploded. Oil prices have made virtual travel far more attractive relative to the real alternative. Educators have realised that the way today’s kids are exposed to computers will have a huge impact on tomorrow’s economic and social outcomes.
New Zealand has kept up with some parts of the world but been overtaken by many.
For example, we’ve gained two places on the 30-country OECD league table for broadband uptake, yet by comparison to Australia we’ve fallen way behind. Recent broadly-based international measures of e-literacy don’t show us up at all well.
So how’s New Zealand’s Digital Strategy “refresh” shaping up?
The opportunity to comment on a draft back in May focused the TUANZ Board on the kind of content we hope and expect to see in the new Strategy when it is released — hopefully within a few weeks.
Most importantly we want to see a vision — a medium- to long-term vision for New Zealand’s economy, a statement of how digital technology will help to lead us there, and a timeline. Such a vision and action plan should appear near the start of the strategy. That’s how its done in business; a national plan should follow similar principles.
We want to see inspirational case studies included. Local ones have a place too, but if we are to stretch ourselves in the way needed we need to focus on the world’s best exemplars, not just a few local tall poppies that simply give a false sense of complacency about how we are doing.
We want the core goals — measurable targets about access, speeds and literacy — promoted to the start of the strategy, not buried apologetically in the middle.
Likewise business challenges that relate to ICT, especially its relationship to our appalling productivity performance, should be right up there at the start.
In the latest published draft business needs and challenges aren’t discussed in any depth until page 31 of the 52 page document.
Come on. Social aspirations are really important too, but where’s the money going to come from to fund them?
There’s loads of evidence linking high speed, affordable broadband to economic gain.
TUANZ believes that the over-arching goal of an ambitious Digital Strategy should be fibre to every premise in which New Zealanders live, work, study and gather.
The political climate is right. It is widely understood that such an investment is large and inter-generational so public funding alongside the industry is well justified.
Seemingly the only real opposition is the telecommunications carriers, some of whom seem determined to dampen down expectations, or raise obstacles so as to preserve the scarcity of their existing investments as long as possible. Such arguments need to be seen for what they are — self serving scare tactics.
There are many more points of detail in the TUANZ submission.
Many eyes will be on the new “Digital Strategy 2.0” when eventually it sees the light of day.
If these points have been accommodated, New Zealand will be a clear winner — the officials who have developed the new document and the government that approves it can take a serious bow.
If not, the opportunity to engage and commit the whole of New Zealand to the digital future may still prove to have eluded us at a crucial time.
Newman is CEO of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand.