Biggs has high aims for HiGrowth

'Snow White and the 7,000 Dwarves' to be avoided, says executive director

The goal of having 100 $100 million ICT companies by 2012 is a good "soundbite", but the HiGrowth Project's emphasis has now shifted to assisting smaller companies.

That was one of the points made by HiGrowth executive director Garth Biggs at a New Zealand Computer Society event held in Auckland recently.

"We're de-emphasising the $100 million figure," says Biggs, who took up the post last month after leaving Gen-i. "There are many $5 million companies that will never reach the $100 million mark."

There are 7,000 ICT companies in New Zealand with a turnover of less than $5 million, he says, leading to a situation he describes as "Snow White and the 7,000 Dwarves."

By contrast, only a handful turn over more than $5 million and 78 companies generate 80% of the sector's revenue.

The figures seem even more top-heavy when Telecom's contribution is taken into account, he says.

"Telecom is New Zealand's largest ICT company and takes up more than 50% of the sector."

ICT contributes 4.3% to our GDP and it is estimated the figure would grow to 6% by 2012 without the assistance of the HiGrowth Project, but that growth can be 10% with HiGrowth's help, Biggs says.

The objectives of the HiGrowth Project include growing the ICT sector to a size where it can be a major factor in moving New Zealand up the OECD ranks, growing the local ICT companies that are globally competitive and assisting local ICT companies pitching for government contracts by improving the government purchasing environment, he says.

Action to boost ICT's profile includes getting more timely data from Statistics NZ on the sector and establishing an ICT scorecard to measure progress towards HiGrowth's goals.

A key to growing the ICT sector is growing the pool of available ICT employees and Biggs says the current skills shortage and declining numbers of ICT graduates must be addressed.

HiGrowth and the Education Ministry have joined forces to boost ICT's appeal to secondary and tertiary students by launching Fit NZ (Fluency in IT New Zealand), a programme to develop an ICT framework for senior secondary students and pathways to their employment in ICT.

Other initiatives HiGrowth is working on include working with the Immigration Department on attracting and allowing skilled IT immigrants into the country and lobbying the government for more favourable tax treatment of share options more advantageous treatment of tax losses going forward, which would improve financial conditions for ICT companies.

Biggs is supported in his role by two fulltime staff and one part-timer and says HiGrowth is a "very virtual" business.

"We don't have an office," he says. "I work from home and cafes and our members are very helpful in making office and desk space available."

HiGrowth's board members sit on the board without remuneration and include chairman Datacom director Paul Hargreaves, Sir Angus Tait, Navman president Peter Maire, former Synergy chief executive David Irving, Xsol chief executive John Blackham and Bell Gully partner Wayne Hudson.

Biggs works two days a week as HiGrowth executive director and is also running his own consulting business, which he says is "focused on the space between executives and boards and IT".

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