Provincial members welcome, but multinationals a priority: NZICT CEO-elect

Interview with NZICT's new chief executive Candace Kinser

New NZICT Group CEO Candace Kinser sees the organisation reaching out more into the ICT industry in the provinces, but the needs of multinational companies will remain a priority .

“I can’t believe we only have about five members in Tauranga and very few in the South Island,” she says; there’s a lot of good work going on in ICT there and companies there should be better supported and linked with the rest of the industry, she says.

However, she adds, the needs of Tier One members such as Microsoft, IBM, Unisys and Datacom will continue to be important.

Kinser, whose appointment was announced yesterday, is aware that criticism has been directed at the organisation for emphasising the needs of multinationals while sporting “NZ” on the front of its name.

“I don’t think that criticism is fair”, she says. “The big companies generate thousands of jobs and have a major effect on the New Zealand economy, and they have some important priorities.”

During her tenure, she says NZICT will be reaching out to its members of all sizes and offering help and guidance about extending their market: where they can get financial backing; how to contact appropriate bodies in government and private industry and, crucially, how to extend their reach overseas.

As CEO of Auckland-based biotechnology software company Biomatters, her immediate past role, Kinser had first-hand experience setting up Biomatters offices on the east and west coasts of the US. She came to New Zealand from Texas 14 years ago.

For member companies operating purely in the domestic market “we will make sure they are exposed to the best of breed,” Kinser says; she sees this being done by bringing over acknowledged leaders of the industry internationally and hosting events for the local companies, as well as arranging “field trips” for local firms’ representatives to companies overseas.

She says NZICT is now in its “post start-up” phase and this requires a different emphasis from its early years.

Important in the first two-and-a-half years were discussions with government in which the organisation put forward the concerns of the industry; they achieved some important steps forward, such as playing a role in the Ultra Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband initiatives and the push for a role in the Square Kilometre Array radio-telescope project, she says.

The shortage of skilled staff, often raised by NZICT in its early years as a priority issue, is not unique to New Zealand; it’s a worldwide phenomenon, she says. “Skilled people are not falling out of the trees anywhere.”

One approach to the problem is to interest students at school and university level; the Rutherford Innovation Showcase, to kick off later this month, includes, for example, a School Robotics World Cup – a competition for students to design and build robots.

Kinser also sees NZICT involving local masters-level students in “moot corp” contests, where they pitch innovative ideas to potential funders in the style of TV’s Dragons’ Den. This will help encourage them into entrepreneurial frame of mind, she says.

Some of the need for skills will, however, inevitably have to be met from overseas, and this means continuing negotiations with government agencies such as the Department of Labour and its Immigration New Zealand arm.

Why did she apply for the job? She has spent years working for individual companies, including Telecom NZ, SolNet NZ and Biolab Scientific as well as Biomatters, and wanted to move into a broader role facilitating contacts across a whole industry, she says. She was a director of the NZ Health IT Cluster for nearly three years and is currently a director of NZBIO, a membership-based group that represents companies and organisations in the biotechnology sector.

The ICT industry in New Zealand is often seen as overloaded with sectoral organisations - TUANZ, the Computer Society, InternetNZ - but Kinser doesn’t see it that way. Each started with its own individual niche or view of part of the industry which must have been valuable or they wouldn’t have attracted members, she says.

She says that NZICT will cooperate with the other ICT industry organisations and facilitate links among them and combined efforts, though “we won’t be trying to take them over,” she adds.

Kinser starts her new role officially in October, but is already busy with NZICT affairs. Her first 90-day plan will involve getting around the country and meeting the board members, putting in place improved membership and “CRM” software to facilitate service to the members, and planning events for “December and early next year”.

The next few weeks, however, will be dominated by NZICT’s pivotal organisational role in the Rutherford event.

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