Sir Gil: the summit really matters

This week's government e-commerce summit is 'absolutely vital for the country' says its chair, Sir Gil Simpson, in an exclusive interview with IDGNet today.

Aoraki Corporation founder Sir Gil Simpson will chair the government's New Zealand E-Commerce Summit in Auckland tomorrow and Thursday. IDGNet's Russell Brown asked him what all the excitement was about.

How and why did you get involved with the e-commerce summit?

The genuine reason is that I really think it's absolutely vital for the country. I looked upon it as an opportunity that was presented, that was created by the government. And I thought, this is great. Someone's got to do it and it might as well be me. It could have been any number of people, but I was asked to chair it.

What's been your input since then?

Initially the conference was seen more as government unveiling of its e-commerce strategy and a discussion between business and government about that strategy. The opportunity was far too great for that and I put a lot more emphasis on it being used to make particularly small and medium enterprises aware of the importance of e-commerce and e-business. So that when they leave the conference and they're confronted with the decision about what to do with e-commerce or e-business, they're in the best possible position to make a choice.

The other goal, of course, is to put an e-commerce strategy by the government on the table and have that discussed with business people so you get a strategy that starts to evolve. I really think the e-commerce strategy from the government is like an early explorer's map. The coastline's very vague and there's lots of areas where they're not really sure where the coastline is. Hopefully the conference will help find some of those areas and achieve a recognition by everyone that it's unexplored.

So you obviously think it's important for the government to have an e-commerce strategy – to have a vision?

Absolutely. It's fantastic that they're releasing it - not as a draft, it's not that – but they're releasing what they know at the moment and clearly accepting that this thing is going to evolve. And they're doing it involving business from day one. That's unique – I don't know of any other strategy in government that's actually done that.

Getting back to the idea of the usefulness of the summit, I was struck by how much there is going on in the workshops.

There is a lot going on. I actually pulled one keynote address from the conference because it was just going to be too much. People have to have time to network - and run their businesses. It's a big commitment by many of them to be there.

What I've tried to do, without in any way demeaning the sponsorship, is make it as much vendor-neutral as possible in the sense that it's vendors talking about the space than about their products.

And that seems to be something of a shift from what was originally sketched out.

It is. And I think the vendors will also get a lot from the conference by hearing other perspectives, which will enhance their understanding. The vendors often only know particular things, and I think the conference will give them an opportunity to broaden their horizons as well.

It also struck me that in a lot of cases you'll got people being addressed by their peers. It's nice to see someone like Richard Shearer from WebFarm get to stand up in front of an audience and talk about what he's done already.

Absolutely. The model is 'People Like Us'. You're sitting in the audience listening to somebody just like you. There are gurus there, people who are a couple of pages ahead of others in the book and they're very important. But the guts of it is 'People Like Us'.

What are you personally looking forward to?

I'm looking forward to perhaps three key items coming out of the conference that New Zealand business wants to do in terms of the future of e-commerce and e-business. I'm going to try and grab what those three things are, and I don't know what they are going into the conference. I'm hopeful those things will emerge and create a platform for moving forward.

How does your role in this event tally with your role on the Business Roundtable, which has been offside with the government all year? Is this a way towards a better dialogue?

That's an interesting question … I think the Roundtable contributes a great deal to the policy debate in New Zealand, and without it there wouldn't be the debate that there is. This event isn't in any way connected to the Roundtable, but in some sense it probably shows that the Roundtable is made up of people like me who want to do the best for New Zealand.

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