NZ joins the info-rich

Feeling more information-rich today than you were a year ago? You should be. According to analyst IDC, New Zealand has travelled 11 places up its Information Society Index - to sixth spot - in the past 12 months.

Feeling more information-rich today than you were a year ago? You should be. According to analyst IDC, New Zealand has travelled 11 places up its Information Society Index — to sixth spot — in the past 12 months.

That puts us in the company of a bunch of Scandinavians and other northern Europeans: top of the table is Sweden, followed by Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Finland. Sounds a fine achievement. What’s brought it about?

If we cast our minds back over the past year, there’s certainly been plenty of talk about lifting the country’s digital literacy, and some real progress. Project Probe, the government-funded effort to extend broadband internet access to the regions, has moved ahead. Contracts have been let in a handful of locations and the decisions on the rest are nearing. Outside of Probe, energetic regional organisations — electricity supply companies, local authorities and charitable trusts — have been exploring self-help broadband possibilities.

Schools have also had an infusion of computing tools in the form of discounted software and hardware. Once Probe has extended broadband internet access to more of them, they’ll be a long way ahead of where they were when the last IDC index was put together.

But the index doesn’t just measure how many PCs a country has, nor the number of broadband internet connections. According to IDC New Zealand manager Dinesh Kumar, it also gauges social factors, a part of the index in which we’ve shone in the past year. Using data from the UN and other sources, it assesses civil liberties, educational attainment and (lack of) government corruption. On these measures, we’re ranked second in the world.

How the last of those things is judged, IDC doesn’t explain. But one country’s corruption might be another’s export incentives, or tax support, or R&D grant. New Zealand is commendably pure in these areas (a recent Economist magazine shows we pay the lowest farm subsidies of any OECD country). But how much sense is there in being a paragon of virtue when none of our trading partners place much value on that virtue? The US, self-appointed standard bearer for free trade, has just upped its farm supports by billions, and keeps its steel industry alive with federal funds.

It may be a stretch to say that it’s acknowledgement of this reality that has caused one of our government’s grant giving bodies to modify the qualifying rules for applicants for software R&D funding. Computerworld wrote last August of work being done by Technology New Zealand to redefine the rules for its private sector R&D funding scheme. The complaint with the scheme as it stood was the difficulty in distinguishing R&D from what’s business-as-usual for a software company. Last week Technology New Zealand announced it had had a go at coming up with a new definition.

It wants to see applicants stretch — in a technical way that increases capability and involves genuine innovation — to qualify for a grant. It has come up with a list of six activities which constitute software R&D, with the goal of helping “to build more internationally competitive, value-added and export-focused companies”. Corrupting? Hardly. Let’s hope they succeed in boosting the sector — and maybe the country’s information index ranking as well.

The new rules can be found here.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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