IT minister hints at procurement change

Associate IT minister David Cunliffe has dropped a hint that a review of IT strategy might see changes to procurement policies and e-government implementation that could involve government buying more local products and services.

Associate IT minister David Cunliffe has dropped a hint that a review of IT strategy might see changes to procurement policies and e-government implementation that could involve government buying more local products and services.

“Our procurement of IT services is an issue we need to consider as part of the review process of our IT strategy,” Cunliffe says. He declines to comment in more detail, pointing out that e-government is, strictly speaking, the province of State Services Minister Trevor Mallard.

New government incentives to spark ICT industry growth will include money for education curriculum development and more direct financial backing of senior school-level and tertiary-level students to encourage ICT-related studies

These and other measures are scheduled for announcement next month as government moves to help make possible the proposals set out by the ICT task force, under SolNet’s Murray McNae.

Cunliffe says the policies will not simply be directed at encouraging an ICT industry for its own sake, but at stimulating the use of the technology in a broad range of New Zealand businesses. Like the other “innovation” priorities, biotechnology and “creative” industries such as film production, it is seen as an enabler for business as a whole.

The government is keen to see an environment created "that will be conducive to research and development onshore", Cunliffe says, pointing out that government has made a response to the McLeod review of the taxation system, also due for formal release next month.

In a now familiar government refrain, he stops short of committing to tax cuts or subsidies for the industry — though unlike some previous spokespeople, Cunliffe has a genuine reason: “I don’t have primary responsibility for tax policy” In any financial support of R&D, he adds, government has to be careful to fund genuine R&D, not activities that have been artificially shifted from other areas of company expenditure.

In an address to a joint breakfast of the NZ Computer Society and Itanz last week he was introduced by Itanz head Jim O’Neill as one “a new breed of minister” — younger, with fresher more up-to-date ideas.

Cunliffe disclaims such a status for himself especially, and thinks O'Neill "overdid the introduction", but he concedes that recent appointment of new ministers across government “is seen as an opportunity to infuse some new ideas”.

But much of his responsibility, he says, will be to follow the path already set out by the task force.

He believes that the task force’s “100 by 100” plan, to grow a hundred NZ ICT companies with a $100 million per annum turnover by 2010, is achievable.

New Zealand companies will probably do best in “niche software development and niche adaptation of software and hardware”, not in competing with overseas operations where economy of scale is important.

Follow-up of the taskforce direction will also involve “work with global partners, exploring opportunities for New Zealand to be a useful centre for their R&D”.

Asked at the breakfast what New Zealand’s unique advantages on a world ICT stage might be, he harked back to “dirt and rain” – the country’s basis in agriculture and the use of ICT and biotechnology to help add value to raw commodities and “raise us in the food chain”. Other assets cited are the familiar ones of well-educated people, a stable society and an open economy.

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