Economic Development Minister Pete Hodgson promises ICT will be “first on the list” of priority areas in a new statement to be made about the transformation of the New Zealand economy.
Unfortunately, he said, this statement was not ready for release at last week’s Digital Summit. It is likely to emerge later this week.
The Labour-led government has “placed economic transformation and plurality at the heart of its thinking”, he told Summit delegates. “We began by seeing ICT as a component of economic transformation; then we thought of it as an enabler. It has now become clear it is a prerequisite.”
Hodgson referred to the role of digital processing in scientific applications, such as unravelling the human genome or — importantly for New Zealand’s agricultural sector — the genomes of farm animals. An intimate knowledge of genetics should improve the ability and decrease the cost of breeding better animals, Hodgson suggests.
As Tertiary Education Minister, Hodgson has his hands on the purse strings of an important input to the nation’s technology skills.
Stakeholders in New Zealand’s industries are saying they want more digital skills in the workforce, Hodgson says.
But ICT moves rapidly with the times. Skills can be taught, but also have to emerge from time spent working in the industry, he says.
Hodgson gave examples of potentially lucrative local technology-related innovation: trials of a robotic milking system at a Hamilton research facility, and of blood-sugar sensors in clothing for maintenance of health in people with diabetes. The latter he says, has a potentially huge market in the US.
Warehouse CEO and philanthropist Stephen Tindall shared little of the practical business experience some of the audience had been expecting on the first morning of the Summit, a morning dominated by government agendas and Gen-Y visions. Tindall, however, was tasked with speaking in several roles; as a businessman, he talked of opportunities to use ICT and electronic labelling to meet an expanding international need for traceability of foods and manufactured goods.
He was also instrumental in starting the KEA network, for Kiwi expatriates, to keep in touch and exchange knowledge. Now claiming 35,000 members, this exchange would not exist without ICT, he says.
As philanthropist he showed examples of schemes for introducing people in Otara to computers and networking, the Tuhoe wireless broadband project (Computerworld, August 13) and Clubhouse 247, a drop-in centre for young people to work on computer-related projects.