Forum: The Digital Summit: is it for real or a sideshow?

If you look at the agenda closely there aren't many sessions from companies like Tru-Test or Rakon or Fisher and Paykel

It’s really hard to know what to make of the government’s Digital Summit, to be held this week in Auckland.

It could be interpreted as a sign of failure: that here we are eight years into this government and we’re still trying to work out our digital place in the world.

It could also be cast as a progressive update of all that has gone before. But to do that you have to believe that what has gone before has, on some level, delivered.

The very first words of the Summit, which starts on Wednesday morning, will be from the chair, journalist Rod Oram. His introduction, somewhat tortuously billed as “contextualising the Digital Strategy and therefore the Summit”, will deliver a call to action for our digital future.

“Another one?” a cynic might ask.

Over the past few weeks, Computerworld has twice reported on New Zealand technology companies suffering because of our incredibly volatile currency. Tru-Test and Rakon have both taken hits that can be directly attributed to that single, seemingly insurmountable, challenge.

The impact of our hyperactive dollar on local businesses, and not just high-tech businesses, cannot be understated. There is a world of pain out there and, no matter how many “calls to arms” you issue, I don’t see anything coming out of this Summit to address that.

One of the other items on the agenda is “building globally competitive firms”. It’s hard to see how that can be done when you don’t know whether your currency will be worth 60 cents US or 90 cents US from one quarter to the next.

Fisher & Paykel Appliances has all but thrown in the towel on even trying to forecast. The company’s chief executive, John Bongard, told the New Zealand Herald this month the exchange rate cut $52.6 million off the company’s revenue.

“Once you get over the fact that the rates are unhelpful, it’s this volatility that we’re going through which makes it impossible.

“I think it’s time everyone sat down and had a real good think about it,” Bongard said.

So, we’re trying to build globally competitive firms in an environment where business planning is all but impossible. Good luck with that.

The Digital Summit will address all sorts of worthwhile themes such as transformation and the long tail, Gen Y and ICT-driven productivity, but if you look at the agenda closely there aren’t many sessions from companies like Tru-Test, Rakon or Fisher & Paykel — you know, companies that develop and make and export stuff.

The telcos are well represented though, but then again, they are major sponsors. Government, the biggest sponsor of all, gets to have its say too.

It is also unfortunate that the Summit comes in the same month the government pulled the plug on ICT-NZ. Whether you think the Summit is a sign of failure or a sign of progress, there is no doubt that over three years there has been an outright failure to sort out exactly how the ICT industry should be represented in government.

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