Opinion: Canterbury's ICT scene is red hot

Canterbury Software chair David Johnstone reflects on the ICT scene in Christchurch

How can you go about measuring the success of a region’s software/ICT scene? It is hard to put your hands on reliable statistics that are broken down region by region.

But if you were to look at the month’s Canterbury Software Summit, the opening event of the Rutherford Innovation Showcase earlier this month, you would have to conclude that the Canterbury software scene is red hot. Just shy of 500 registrations for the afternoon, which was more than double last year’s attendance.

So from where I sit, the ICT and Software scene in Canterbury is in fantastic shape. Has it just happened as a result of circumstance in the last twelve months? No.

The Canterbury Software Cluster has been around for about 14 years but around eight years ago, it had a near-death experience that fired the enthusiasm of a dedicated bunch and the cluster has grown rapidly since then.

We have speculated that this year’s summit was so well attended because there hasn’t been much else on, but then you take a look at the line up of speakers, such as Andy Lark who recently moved from Dell in the US to the Commonwealth Bank in Australia and I think that drew the crowds in.

The elements that contributed to the success of the summit may also be a great allegory of the software and ICT scene in Canterbury.

The summit provides a forum for networking with colleagues, industry partners, sponsors and education institutions.

In a similar way, the local ICT scene is big enough but not that big that in general there is 0.7 degrees of separation.

The other important aspect is that we encourage a broad community of interest, so IP lawyers, marketing consultants, accountants, and cheesemongers join in with software engineers, entrepreneurs and evangelists.

You might think I’m ‘taking the mickey’ when I mentioned cheesemongers, but following the February disruptions, the Canterbury Cheesemongers business in the centre of town was homeless for a while, so in order to help support their business we invited them to provide their classy wares alongside local boutique fine wines and ales at our events.

Collaboration in a business sense is about sharing your successes and networking.

I’m still amazed that I know business people who stay locked in their own little silo. That’s why we know that the partnership arrangement we struck with UCONZ (University Commercialisation Offices of New Zealand) was just so right.

We are a bunch of companies struggling to resource research and development while the universities struggle to find relevant projects to work on.

As an industry we are also hungry for well-trained resource. In years gone by we may have looked at the universities to grind out a sausage string of students. As a cluster we have taken proactive steps in recent years to up our interaction with the local universities.

Our recent job fair saw 100 soon-to-be-graduating students link up with dozens of local employers who had real jobs on offer.

A great recent example of local members sharing their success is the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (Epic) project. It is ambitious of Wil McLellan of Stickman Studios and Colin Andersen of Effectus to have sparked the project and to attract a bevy of successful companies to anchor the project.

One of the keynote speakers at the summit, Craig Nevill-Manning of Google (an expat kiwi), is backing the project with practical offers of assistance.

With the year coming to a close, we’ll be getting underway with plans for next year’s summit. I think it will be a tough ask to double the numbers again, but we can certainly grow them, just like I’m looking forward to next year’s spring growth that will include lots of new houses and CBD buildings.

Johnstone is chair of Canterbury Software Incorporated, a non-profit organisation which champions the Canterbury software sector

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