Digital debate has to embrace whole population

Former Govt CIO and Tuanz CEO expound vision at NZCS event

New Zealand needs to lift its game in a number of economic respects — such as productivity, international awareness and a broadening beyond low-earning sectors like agriculture and tourism — to do well in the digital economy, says former government CIO Laurence Millar.

To ensure those changes take place, however, we need to introduce the topic into the conversation of the population as a whole, not just formulate yet another government-run digital agenda, he says.

“Digital needs to be part of our DNA,” he told a breakfast event sponsored by the NZ Computer Society’s Wellington branch. In a presentation that drew heavily on others’ thoughts, he expressed agreement with Sir Paul Callaghan’s goal of making New Zealand “a place where talent wants to live”.

“But that needs to be more than just a bumper-sticker,” he says: “We need to drive that through education; we need to drive it through research and development; we need to drive it through our leadership and through our environmental policy.”

As things stand, the subject does not figure on our national radar. Instead he says, as shown by a Fairfax election poll, our national conversation is about everything, but technology and the accompanying opportunities.

“We talk about the state of hospitals and education – our education is ranked fourth best in the world and we’re still complaining about it – we’re talking about law and order, about drugs and alcohol. We’re talking about the cost of fruit and vegetables and about social welfare reform. Very few of those things are going to contribute to what we need to do in the digital economy.”

Agreeing with him, consultant and former TUANZ CEO Ernie Newman told the meeting “we’re imprisoned by populist politicians and — with few exceptions — populist media”.

There is little point looking to government or even to business to run the debate for us, Millar believes. The conversation needs to be continuous; politicians think on a three-yearly cycle and businesses focus even more narrowly, on the three-monthly balance sheet he says.

The change of perspective “will come from people like yourselves, out there in your workplaces and communities, talking about the world being digital.”

The digital focus need to be complemented by an internationally-oriented mindset, he says; success will be a achieved in the quadrant of a Gartner-style chart which embraces digital and international – a region where very few Kiwi companies are placed now. We need to recognise the value of overseas experience, Millar says.

As well, companies should be willing to participate in more international exchange schemes to ensure their businesspeople do get that broad exposure, Millar suggests.

DIGITAL DECADE

2001 – Telecommunications Act establishes office of Telco Commissioner

2002 – Alcatel signs up as the Telecom’s technology partner

2003 – Vodafone announces it has a 51 percent mobile market share

2004 – Telecom launches 3G network

2005 – REANNZ formed

2006 - Telecommunications Amendment Act (2006) passes into law LLU and Telecom Operational Separation

2007 – Digital Summit

2008 – National elected, promises $1.5 billion broadband network

2009 – XT and 2degrees mobile

networks launched

2010 – UFB and RBI tenders released

2011 – Telcommunications Amendment Act (2011) passes, structural separation of Telecom pending.

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Tags laurence millarernie newmanNZCS

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