To participate in the global digital economy, New Zealand must build a new digital generation, it must be able to adapt to change and the future must be green.
So says Andy Lark, expatriate New Zealander, vice president of Dell Computer and chair of NZTE’s Beachhead’s advisory board, who believes the real dynamic of the internet is just being realised.
Now is a great time for this country to start thinking about a digital strategy, because in five years, it will have evolved into a completely different game, he told the audience at the Digital Future Summit in Auckland last week.
Lark spoke to the audience via video conference from Texas.
Half a million people gain access to the internet every day, and they are not coming online in the US or Europe, but in Asia, said Lark. If this continues, there will be 2 billion new users by 2010 — and all of a sudden, web businesses, such as Rod Drury’s Xero or Trade Me, are looking really interesting, he said.
Lark doubts bandwidth is the biggest challenge for New Zealand at this point. Power is a greater threat to the digital future than bandwidth, he said. In his view, New Zealand’s digital strategy should be concerned with finding a way to build the greenest, most power-efficient infrastructure in the world. Increasing bandwidth will create an infinite demand on power and the risk is we will run out of power, he said.
But New Zealand’s biggest hurdle in the race to becoming part of the global digital economy is its inability to produce a population that can effectively use and manage the bandwidth that has been created, says Lark.
Engineers, developers and IT staff — the very people needed to run and leverage the infrastructure — are not going to be there for us, said Lark. To put the problem in context, he said that the Indian Institute of Technology puts out more Master’s graduates in IT than all graduates combined in New Zealand.
“We must fix this pretty fast,” he said.
We can’t build the next generation businesses, that are going to take advantage of the digital platform, unless we have the people to build and run the infrastructure, and create the applications that will fuel demand for the bandwidth we are creating, he said.
“We need to change the way we think in the digital era,” he says.
The new generation businesses need to be operating 24x7, he said. A global customer base is not going to wait for support because it is night in New Zealand. Focus needs to be on new business fundamentals, such as search engine optimisation, and online conversations with customers through Web 2.0 technology, such as blogs and wikis.
A growing number of people turn to the web for advice and recommendations on products and services, he said. Companies should look at online communities and consider these as entire markets to go after in their own rights, just like they would consider a country or part of the world a market.