What's on the digital agenda?

Industry leaders make their calls on the issues that have to be addressed at the forthcoming Digital Future Summit 2.0.

Minister of communications and IT David Cunliffe has announced the dates for the latest government sponsored digital gabfest, dubbed Digital Future Summit 2.0.

Cunliffe says the event will address the challenges of becoming a high-tech, high-value, creative economy and how New Zealand can benefit from utilising new technology, says Cunliffe.

As an agenda-setting newspaper, Computerworld asked industry leaders what they wanted on the agenda. Here are their responses

Rod Drury, founder of Xero

What are your thoughts on The Digital Future Summit 2.0?

The timing of the summit is turning out to be a focal point for the industry. We have spent the first half of 2007 having a conversation, surfacing the issues, and putting alternatives up for debate. The time has come for action and leadership.

What would you like to see on the agenda?

This needs to be a forum where the various parties have a discussion. A facilitated session would be ideal to see if we can establish some sort of consensus and path forward.

What outcomes would make the exercise worthwhile?

Tabling of the value of the public benefit of broadband, a strategy moving forward and clear guidance to the market that would then allow investment decisions to be made.

Jesse Ball, co-founder and managing director SMX

What are your thoughts on The Digital Future Summit 2.0?

It is my view that we need to invest in the technology sector a great deal more to benefit New Zealand. Digital knowledge can be exported cheaply and quickly, aggressively creating value. The summit is highlighting the importance of becoming a high-tech, high-value economy, but only action will have a benefit.

What would you like to see on the agenda?

I’d like to see a large focus on how the government can assist small- to medium-sized, high-growth technology companies, with a focus on pre- and low-revenue (less than $2 million). It is in this space that unique innovation takes place and, with the right support, this is the sector that will put New Zealand on the map in the years to come.

What outcomes would make the exercise worthwhile?

I’d like to see the government develop a “finger on the pulse” group that focuses on high growth areas of technology — the gap between startup and NZTE export assistance (an area that I do not feel is well serviced). A focus on this area would see an increase in the “valley start-up” culture I believe New Zealand needs to build.

Garth Biggs, executive director of the HiGrowth project

What are your thoughts on The Digital Future Summit 2.0?

Needs to be focussed on the private sector. The private sector is our future.

What would you like to see on the agenda?

ICT equals productivity equals raised standards of living for New Zealanders.

What outcomes would make the exercise worthwhile?

The private sector starts down the track of really working smarter.

Tony Clear, associate head of the School of Computer & Information Sciences, AUT

What are your thoughts on The Digital Future Summit 2.0?

Overall it’s a positive move, after the disappointing events in February when Computerworld reported on the Digital Strategy: “It is so broke it has no money to renew the contract of its manager, Peter Macaulay, or to replace him when his contract ends on February 16.”

I think the ground has now shifted significantly. The Digital Strategy itself should be applauded as it has spawned some sound new initiatives and had some very positive outcomes — for instance aspects of the ‘capability’ development in the Digital Horizons programme, with laptops in schools, Digi-ops projects, the KAREN network and the FIT project as good examples.

In the area of ‘connection’ — Project PROBE, the Review of the Telecommunications Act and the Nelson Loop are good examples. The community partnerships fund has seen a couple of projects with which AUT computing students have been engaged, including “Upstage”, an innovative venture in cyber-performance spaces, and a planned “Regional Settlement website/portal” for the Auckland Migrant settlement trust.

What would you like to see on the agenda?

Where the last strategy had the three “C”s (content, confidence and connection), I think the new C that needs to be added is “collaboration”.

In the era of Web 2.0 the challenges are not solely in content, confidence and connection, but in the new forms of collaboration, engagement and value generation that socially networked computing are bringing about.

The new business models where anyone can provide material to co-create a new platform on which to transact activities and build new business forms are a challenge to many but a great opportunity for an innovative country such as New Zealand.

Collaboration with government is also an important theme. We need to move beyond the spare transactional contracting models of the 80s and 90s to more strategic relationship models with government. The public finance act is a major inhibitor to this. While there is the inherent risk of ‘crony capitalism’, I think the present models generate that anyway, in their large hordes of pilot-fish entrepreneurs circling their government hosts hungry for crumbs and occasional larger morsels.

Certainly my experience with the FIT project saw a frustrating loss of traction and dispersal of collaborative groupings that had been built up over time, as we moved into each new contracting phase.

How we deal effectively with the monopolistic or duopolistic telco situation in New Zealand in both land and mobile provision needs to be fully addressed.

At this year’s National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications Conference, sustainability was a major theme and a strategy to address the skills shortfall in the IT industry is required, perhaps facilitated by the creation of some form of sector skills council.

What outcomes would make the exercise worthwhile?

Good progress on developing strategies and goals to address the above issues and build upon the work done to date would be useful.

There may need to be an acceptance of the need for some bulk infrastructure funding to enable the network usage to grow, rather than be choked by premature initial charging regimes.

In addition, some hard and focused identification of priorities is required. If we look at the Digital Horizons programme for instance the balance of spending of millions of dollars on community computing programmes in the end user space, versus the few hundred thousand directed towards developing a quality high school computing curriculum and potential flow-on to IT professionals in tertiary studies was extremely lopsided.

Tom Chignell, GM corporate affairs, Vodafone NZ

What are your thoughts on the Summit?

The Summit is an excellent opportunity to bring together the wide range of stakeholders who have an impact on the New Zealand ICT industry. It creates the forum for us to address key issues, have healthy debate and work together on how we use innovative ICT to make NZ a better place to live, be that through economic growth or social inclusion.

What would you like to see on the agenda?

Infrastructure investment: the role of central and local government and commercial enterprises [and] partnerships, an action plan for the future; a focus on customer needs. How ICT can help us meet those needs in an increasingly connected world; how the ICT market here compares with what’s happening around the world. What can we learn from foreign experiences? And, finally, the weightless economy — what is the vision for future economic growth and what is the role of ICT in supporting that vision.

What outcomes would make the exercise worthwhile?

A concrete action plan that all parties can collaborate on which is then worked into government policy. From our perspective we are keen to get clarity on the outcomes and roles from both a Vodafone and Telecommunications Carriers’ Forum viewpoint.

• The summit will be held in Auckland on 28 and 29 November.

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