NZ exports more ICT than Australia. Really?

Two sets of statistics indicate not only that New Zealand is keeping pace in ICT development with Australia but may even be outstripping it

We tend to beat ourselves up quite a lot in New Zealand. Our business community seems to gain and lose confidence on the mildest of indicators. Remember early last year and the “hard landing” everyone predicted?

Never happened.

In IT things are a bit more confident — at least that’s the feel I get from talking to local companies. Business is good and there is quite a bit of startup excitement.

Nevertheless there is still a pervasive feeling that we are lagging the rest of the world, that ICT should be driving us to a new era of prosperity, but we aren’t quite doing it yet. The Aussies are well ahead of us.

Well, maybe not. Two sets of statistics emerged recently that indicate not only that New Zealand is keeping pace in ICT development with Australia but may even be outstripping it.

Statistics New Zealand’s ICT supply survey showed local ICT exports growing 20% to $1.6 billion. Similar figures from the Australian Computer Society (ACS) put Australian ICT exports at A$5.7 billion.

During a lull in the production of Computerworld last week I broke out my calculator, converted Aussie dollars into New Zealand dollars and divided both figures by the populations of each country to get per capita export figures.

The result for New Zealand was exports of $389 per person and for Australia, wait for it, $315.

Naturally I wondered if the two figures were comparable. What was being captured in the stats? So I got on the blower to Statistics and had a yarn with a nice chap called Gareth Meech. He told me the New Zealand statistics had been aligned with the OECD models two years ago. He couldn’t speak for how the Australian figures were captured and at Computerworld’s press time enquiries with the ACS had not been answered.

I’m scheduled to talk to them shortly after this issue of Computerworld hits the presses and will report back next week.

Anyway, to say the figures were surprising is a bit of an understatement. But should they be, and is beating Australia in ICT exports anything to crow about?

As one who returned from the dusty continent relatively recently, I know the Aussies beat themselves up every bit as much as we do about their high-tech performance. Australia is no international ICT juggernaut.

But they have put an awful lot of effort and spent an awful lot of taxpayer money to change that. And they’ve got a much bigger home market from which to grow their ICT startups.

For those reasons, if these stats stand up, I think we have something to be quietly pleased about.

Anyway, as I write, the Reserve Bank has just lifted interest rates again. I can already feel our business community, and exporters in particular, wilting as the dollar strengthens.

Such changes hit commodity exporters hard. But the feedback we’ve gathered from ICT exporters is that, yes, it’s not good, but also that technology, and especially software, is a different kind of game. Technology exporters do not have to be price takers like farmers.

That’s why it’s so important we get this right and get it moving.

I’d like to think these stats provide some evidence that is happening.

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