ICT-NZ fathers look to the future

Industry body is evolving, chair says

ICT-NZ co-chair Chip Dawson appears ready to roll with the punch delivered to his organisation last week.

“I’d say it’s not dying, it’s evolving into something different,” he says.

He and co-chair Ross Peat issued a statement last week, after the government announced it was pulling the plug on ICT-NZ, saying they support the establishment of a new body and the concurrent evolution of the Digital Strategy.

“We need government and local government and those other [sectors]; it’s more than just the industry,” Dawson says.

John Blackham, of Xsol, says the suggested new body, with its promise of closer cooperation and mutual responsibility between ICT industry and government, is “a good idea”.

“It’s vital that government gets more IT into its strategic thinking,” he says. “I’m hopeful that this does break new ground, because the approach at the moment is woeful.”

However, reading the Cabinet paper (pdf) in more detail leaves him less confident that government and its advisers have the right idea. In aiming at a grand unification of the needs of the industry and users, they are trying to reconcile two different sets of priorities and “sowing the seeds of their own destruction”, he suggests.

“Community development is a whole different ballgame from the encouragement of the ICT industry,” he says. “If you just want to encourage use of [computers and other digital devices] then why not buy them all from China and do it more cheaply?”

The attempt to fund both sides could degenerate into a battle over the money, he suggests.

Dawson, told that at least one industry figure saw such a wide brief as unwise, said immediately; “I know John Blackham has been saying that kind of thing, but I think we’ve got to have a fresh look at how this industry is structured.”

The local software industry in collaboration with the particular kind of customers we have here, such as the agricultural sector, has produced some unique deliverables, he says.

In one of the suppressed appendices of the Cabinet paper, commentators from digital strategy advisory group members such as the National Library, NZ Trade and Enterprise and the Ministry of Research Science and Technology point out that Intellect UK, regarded as a model for the new body, was formed spontaneously by the industry itself. They question whether, if there is no impetus from the NZ industry, such a body is needed here.

Blackham sees this as tantamount to asking whether New Zealand needs an ICT industry at all. “This kind of lack of support from this administration has left us with an industry so weak [in its identity] it’s incapable of forming its own industry body.”

NZ Computer Society President Richard Donaldson says the NZCS strongly supports the formation of an umbrella ICT representative organisation.

“We especially look forward to the consultation mentioned in the Minister’s [announcement] which will provide an opportunity to explore whether a government or industry-led initiative is the most appropriate structure, and potentially help avoid some of the issues that prevented the Society and others becoming more heavily involved with the previous ICT-NZ venture.”

He concludes “the NZCS is committed to working with the Government to help ensure that any structure is complementary to existing industry representative bodies, and welcomes the Minister’s indication that resources will be made available to facilitate industry representation in the future.”

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