Last week I wrote about some interesting statistics on ICT exports that came out on both sides of the Tasman. The statistics seemed to show that New Zealand exported more ICT per capita than Australia: $389 per person compared with $315 per Australian.
But the problem was that I was unsure how comparable the two sets of figures are. After talking to the Aussies about their figures I still am.
It seems both sets are based on OECD models and therefore should be similar, but you know what it’s like with statistics ... even a small change in methodology can make a big difference to the result.
I had a good, free-ranging discussion with Ian Dennis, the Australian Computer Society’s director of economic and industry policy, who co-authored the Australian report that generated the export numbers I used.
Dennis really, really wanted to talk about cricket rather than trade statistics, and who can blame him? I did manage to keep him on track, however, long enough to discover the Aussie stats are generated from Australian Bureau of Statistics trade data rather than through a survey, the method Statistics New Zealand uses. Dennis indicated the figures were comparable but I’m still not so sure. To add to my confusion, we changed our methodology two years ago.
But indicating the figures were comparable did not mean Dennis was prepared to concede any form of trans-Tasman defeat. He was highly complimentary of the New Zealand technology industry and noted it had strength in some particular sectors, such as multimedia graphics developed off the back of the local film industry. He also said we had a track record of good software development.
He also pointed out there is a lot of integration between Australia and New Zealand in our ICT endeavours — so they could be hard to separate.
However, Dennis reckons if you did a per capita comparison of any small country to a significantly larger one you’d get a similar result. He said if you did it with Zimbabwe, you’d get a similar result. I was unable to access any ICT export data for Zimbabwe so didn’t test that theory. Let’s just say he might be right but he picked an unfortunate example.
He went on to say there were better measures of success anyway, such as ICT as a percentage of GDP or of the market.
“It doesn’t really matter which way you measure it,” he said. “Australia and New Zealand always come out next to each other.”
Dennis did highlight one area he thinks could be of concern for New Zealand ICT. He says Australia has managed to create a trade surplus in ICT services but New Zealand is in deficit, despite arguably being more competitive in that space.
Anyway, let’s file the comparison in the “tentative” basket for now and hope someone more competent than me picks it up and spends a bit of time on it.