Government-assisted ICT forum cautiously welcomed

It is not yet clear how existing industry associations will link with the new forum, says InternetNZ

ICT associations are cautiously welcoming the new “digital sector forum” announced last week and to be established with taxpayer funding.

It’s not immediately clear how existing industry associations will link with the new forum, says InternetNZ executive director Keith Davidson.

“I take it organisations such as ours will be members,” he says.

The shape of the body, announced last week by ICT minister David Cunliffe, will not be settled until its constitution is finalised. This is currently in draft.

“Until there’s absolute clarity, no-one can say ‘this is the way, the truth and the light’,” Davidson says.

The new body, as yet unnamed, is described in Cunliffe’s announcement as “an association of associations”. It will incorporate “representation from the community and voluntary sector, business, local government, ICT users (such as academics and the research and science sector) and the ICT industry.

“The establishment process will require further engagement with stakeholders to confirm the forum’s design, terms of membership, and mode of operation,” says the announcement.

This follows a long consultation exercise with stakeholders by consultancy Martin Jenkins, which produced a framework for the new organisation.

The outline of the structure has already been criticised by some industry sources as appearing unduly complex. It comprises a national council made up of members of the constituent organisations an executive board, elected by the council to oversee the delivery of an agreed programme of work, and a “small secretariat”.

NZ Computer Society CEO Paul Matthews is optimistic that the forum will allow his society and other ICT organisations to keep their identity within a “United Nations model” rather than a monolithic “world-government model.”

An attempt to be the latter, to completely subsume existing associations, was the biggest failing of the previous attempt at an umbrella group, the ill-fated ICT-NZ, Matthews says.

“We still have no guarantee that the interests of all member organisations will be fully represented. Our interests are different from those of an organisation like Software NZ, which is focussed on export of products and services.”

Some of the major commercial ICT companies are forming a separate forum without government aid, an effort which Cunliffe applauds. The previous major industry organisation, Itanz, threw in its lot with ICT-NZ and has subsequently disappeared from the scene.

Government funding for the establishment of the forum is smaller than that exposed by Computerworld in the confidential part of a Cabinet paper inadvertently released in November last year. That had $1.45 million being drawn from existing funding and $1.3m from new funding for the first two years of the forum’s life.

In the final plan, $825,000 a year is earmarked for that period — a total of $1,650,000, more than $1m less than outlined in the Cabinet paper. The $400,000-a year ongoing contribution from government is the same as suggested in the November paper.

That assumed $600,000 a year being contributed from the industry, but the current plan leaves industry’s contribution as “self-determining”, says a spokesperson for Cunliffe. The forum is expected to be fully operational by the middle of 2008, to coincide with the refreshed Digital Strategy 2.0.

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