Forum: Could we make better use of our national IP?

New Zealand almost certainly own a lot of IP that we are not exploiting commercially

The Tech Ed conference in Auckland is a great place to see what’s going on in technology, albeit with a Microsoft bent. It’s also a great place to throw ideas around.

One idea that’s been creeping up on me is that we in New Zealand almost certainly own a lot of IP that we are not exploiting commercially. Now I’m sure this applies to the private sector, but my thoughts are about government.

My idea firmed up a lot, after seeing a Tech Ed presentation from Statistics New Zealand last week, about how they’d used mainly Microsoft technologies to build their online census collection and publishing system. This is pretty much a world first and it is full of smarts, with in-built rules, a complex data cube in the background, automated analysis and, in version 2 now under development, tight integration with Excel.

It’s smart, smart, smart and there probably isn’t a national statistics department in the world that could not use it. You catching my drift?

I wonder how many other gems like this are out there in our government, which spends untold millions on IT every year. Our universities and research institutions are getting very keyed in to the commercial potential of their innovation. Network appliance maker Endace, out of Waikato University, is but one example of a successful spin-off from tertiary research. For the life of me I can’t see why that kind of attitude shouldn’t spread right through government.

Imagine if you will a small, very small, agency that has the management rights for innovations created within our government and is charged with both protecting that property and creating ways to commercialise it, presumably through a private sector partnership or even complate privatisation with royalties paid back to government.

The business-savvy bureaucrats who work for this agency would go inside IT departments and development shops in government and interview developers and their managers about what they’ve been up to for, say, the last five years.

They’d not just look at big systems like that at Statistics, but also the clever workarounds and point applications some of these development shops have created. They’d talk to people who worked for these departments on contract as well.

Through this they would build an inventory of clever stuff, clever stuff that we all own but very few people know about. They’d then start looking at the commercial potential of these innovations and talk to potential partners about how to make these assets work for us.

In the private sector, this is quite common. PC Direct, of course, was a PC assembler. When it was sold to Gateway, some of the principals of the company left and made sure they took ownership of the company’s bespoke accounting system with them. They formed a company called Exonet on the back of that technology which was later sold to Solution 6. Similarly, Carter Holt Harvey successfully spun Oxygen out as an SAP service provider.

SOEs are doing it too. As I write, Computerworld Excellence Award-winner Airways New Zealand is implementing its FlightYield aviation billing package in China. So why not do this in the core of government as well?

I knocked this idea around with guys from development companies Simpl and Intergen over a few beers at Tech Ed this week. We all thought it had legs — and that wasn’t just the beer talking.

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