Year in Review: Govt IT keeps up controversy quotient

As in any year, 2003 was busy for government IT. After all, the sector accounts for anything from 11% to 35% of the total IT market, depending on how you define it and what sources you consult. And, like almost any year, it carried its fair share of controversy.

As in any year, 2003 was busy for government IT. After all, the sector accounts for anything from 11% to 35% of the total IT market, depending on how you define it and what sources you consult. And, like almost any year, it carried its fair share of controversy.


We begin the year with what most observers branded an ill-advised government attempt to sue for the recovery of the domain name before the World Intellectual Property Organisation. This rebounds badly, with the government accused of “reverse domain name squatting”, and having to resort to spending $1 million to recover the name.

Itanz moots a Centre for Advanced E-government applications, aimed at increasing local industry involvement in e-government software development and creating a subsequent export market.

IT minister Paul Swain says spam is probably too hard to legislate against effectively.

A parliamentary question from ACT MP Muriel Newman reveals shortcomings in the government’s information on the extent of benefit fraud.


TradeNZ (now NZ Trade and Enterprise) announces a plan to establish a “beachhead” in Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto. The aim is to help New Zealand IT companies enter the market.

Customs says it will persist with its face-recognition trial despite scepticism as to the workability of the technology overseas. The department has repeatedly said the procedures evolved through the trial can be adapted to any form of biometrics. Later in the year, face-recognition emerges as a more likely solution to passenger identification problems because the existing photograph in all passports will reduce costs associated with acquisition of new biometric data.

Development of a national health practitioners’ database starts.


The ICT Taskforce, one of three appointed to pursue government plans to accelerate innovative industries, presents its report to ministers.

The government sparks criticism by granting $1.5 million to international computer services company EDS to establish an applications development and support facility in New Zealand. Ministers suggest the plan will recoup many times the investment in terms of highly skilled work brought to these shores.

A proposal is put forward to map the seabed as a counterpart to the Landonline database. Unlike the protracted land project, most of the raw geographical data is already available, says Land Information NZ – and we had not, at that stage, begun to worry about who owned which part of it.


Telecommunications commissioner Douglas Webb releases an issues paper on local loop unbundling, beginning in earnest the long process of discussion on a major telecommunications development which has looked increasingly likely as the year has passed.

Webb also rejects Telecom’s model for the cost of the Telecommunications Service Obligation, the successor to the Kiwi share.

Government floats the idea of microchipping dogs and keeping a register of owners and attacks.

State-owned BCL launches legal action against Walker Wireless's spectrum acquisition, claiming the potential of the two companies’ signals to interfere with each other had not been fully addressed.


Schools get major government grant for computer systems in the government’s budget, including $24 million to improve their networking.

The budget is otherwise unremarkable from the IT industry’s standpoint; Itanz’s Jim O’Neill calls it “more a matter of positioning than scoring”.

ACC acknowledges shortcomings in governance on a wide area network project.

Government electronic authentication plan approved after public consultation. Plan is based on a single basic solution for all government departments with a centralised base of identification information. Later, it is acknowledged the database may be distributed so as to avoid a single point of failure.

The long-running Landonline project finishes its development phase.

State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham makes a formal statement that open source software is an acceptable solution for government IT.


Government’s signs its G2003 agreement for licensing Microsoft software, the first government-wide change of terms for three years. Spokespeople say it’s a good deal and will save money in comparison with the old G2000 agreement, but Computerworld’s attempts to worm out the details under the Official Information Act are stoutly resisted.

The E-commerce Action Team (Ecat) winds up its 18-month exercise in getting industry sectors to share information on productive use of online technology for business.

Government’s GoProcure e-procurement development, after a disappointing reception from agencies, is broken formally into two, with the e-government unit acknowledging that sharing information through networking is the more productive side and few government agencies will be interested in adopting the all-of-government solution to handle their internal requisitioning procedures.


Allegations of fundamental misconceptions in the technical design and execution of the PAL system arise. Geoff Lawn and provider Unisys decline to comment, but Unisys seeks more funds to finish PAL development.

Joint university library system goes live.

Brendan Boyle, head of the State Services Commission’s e-government unit since its foundation, announces that he is to become chief executive of Land Information NZ. A search is launched for a successor at the e-government unit.

Cabinet secretary Marie Shroff is appointed as the new privacy commissioner, to take over from Bruce Slane in September.

Government begins planning a new IT strategy – its first since 1999.

Ministry of Health rolls out instant messaging to its staff.


Wellington City Council approves $3.8 million for an IT disaster recovery facility.

Audit Office identifies government grant to Timbersmart for the development of a computer-based timber trading system as having been wrongly awarded; the company will not be asked to repay it.

Ministry of Justice data warehouse goes live.


Inland Revenue benchmarks mainframes in preparation for replacement tender.

Telecommunications Commissioner issues provisional decision in favour of local loop unbundling.


Ministry of Education uses SAS to identify good and not-so-good schools.

Overseas government representatives at preparatory conference for World Summit on the Information Society suggest governments should take charge of their national internet domains and an inter-governmental body should govern the internet as a whole. Our government indicates it is satisfied with present arrangements under Icann and InternetNZ.

SSC advertisement for new e-government unit head withdrawn as not emphasising the right skills.


Government information system managers' forum (Govis) holds wide-ranging conference. IDC figures on government’s proportion of total IT market (11%) challenged as too small.

PAL technical report presented, recommending replacement of rendering engine, a key part of the system.

The district health boards of Taranaki and Wellington's Capital and Coast outline the likely shape of their shared services IT model, HealthIntelligence.

Government approves millions of funding for ICT industry growth, as outcome of Task Force report.

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