Swain signals e-government initiative this year

A new 'network-type model' for e-government has been sketched out and submitted to the Budget process and Information Technology minister Paul Swain is promising a launch later this year.

A new "network-type model" for e-government has been sketched out and submitted to the Budget process and Information Technology minister Paul Swain is promising a launch later this year.

In a scene-setting speech to an IPA seminar yesterday, the minister laid out what looks the first advance on thinking on electronic government since last year's broad-brush Labour Online white paper.

And, in what appears to be a sign that he is hitting his stride, he released two reports and put the national Y2K effort to bed.

Swain went into the election as Labour's Commerce spokesman, but returned from a serious illness recently in time to see the Commerce ministry renamed the Ministry of Economic Development and put under the leadership of Alliance leader Jim Anderton.

But missing out on the Commerce post may mean that Swain has more time and energy for his IT and Communications roles. He has already set in motion an inquiry into competition in telecommunications and foreshadowed an e-commerce summit.

"Democracy depends" on e-government progress

In his speech yesterday, Swain compared the government's move to new means of service delivery with the business sector's embrace of e-commerce.

"If Governments are to maintain their legitimacy in the future, they are going to have to be more responsive to the needs of individuals and communities. Government is going to have to find new and better ways of engaging with its people, and delivering them a better deal.

"Essentially, e-government is about addressing the new social and economic imperatives that arise from the information age. It is an issue no less important than the future of democracy itself.

"When you look at the business world, you can see companies racing to provide new and better services to their customers using the internet and the world wide web. Customer expectations of business will translate into public expectations of what Governments do, and how these things are done."

Swain said the government's three e-government objectives were to improve the quality of government information and services; to enhance relationships between citizens and the government; and to improve the performance of government agencies.

Swain also reflected what may have been the influence of the KPMG government specialists who have visited this year, saying that the "silo" model for the provision of information and services is becoming dated. "The future lies in a network-type model, where agencies work together to deliver services across agency boundaries." He forecast an e-government environment that would impose fewer compliance costs on its citizens and was more inclusive, integrated, flexible and transparent." Swain said funding for his e-government initiative had been requested as part of the Budget process and said that by later this year, "a new vision, a suite of e-government initiatives, an implementation strategy and the necessary funding will all be launched."

Seventh annual IT round-up released

Swain also hailed the seventh annual release of New Zealand IT statistics as showing "more than ever the real benefits waiting for New Zealand in the new economy."

The total IT market in 1999 was worth $6.03 billion ñ up 7.2% on the year before. Adding telecommunications services brings that total to $9.5 billion compared with $9 billion in 1998.

Swain noted that IT exports are nearly five times greater than those of the wine industry. They were up 17% in 1999 to a total of $558 million. There was an increase of 44% in software and services exports and 50% in computer and education services exports.

On the other hand, the average 25% annual growth in IT hardware exports since 1990, began to tail off in 1998, was reversed. Hardware exports fell 8% last year.

Swain preferred to talk up the booming trend in software and services exports, describing the performance in "expertise export" as "stunning - the only thing stopping faster expansion has been a shortage of appropriately skilled people."

"Results of last week's ITAG initiated survey of information communications technology use in schools are included in this report.

Nearly all schools now online

Swain also reprised the Information Technology Advisory Group (ITAG) report from last week, which found that 96% of primary and 99% of secondary schools now report some type of connection to the Internet, and that usage of the Internet in schools has almost doubled since the previous survey in 1998.

"On the tertiary front a survey of IT courses being taught in NZ universities indicates that there are more than twice the numbers of students studying IT and related subjects than has been acknowledged previously.

"I am heartened by the information in this report. It is concrete evidence that New Zealanders are embracing the IT challenges of the new online economy.

"The challenge for this government is to do everything it can to keep the momentum going and help other businesses and New Zealanders board the IT wave of success," Swain said.

Y2K officially over

Swain also officially announced that New Zealand's official monitoring of Y2K will end with the closures of the Y2K Readiness Commission and the State Service Commission's Y2K Project Office on March 31.

"There are those who claim the Y2K threat was imagined - but testing showed that more than a quarter of New Zealand businesses, and almost all of our larger organisations, found Y2K issues which had to be resolved.

"In public hospitals alone 6% of medical devices would have failed if the work had not been done to identify and fix them.

"New Zealand spent more than $1billion to ensure it was Y2K ready and there have been a number of unexpected benefits to the country from that work. Many business and public sector agencies have updated their technology and have put business continuity plans in place to manage future crises. Many New Zealanders are now better prepared at home to handle civil disasters."

The two reports will be made available on the Web later this week, at http://www.med.govt.nz/pbt/infotech.html for the statistics report, and http://www.med.govt.nz/pbt/infotech/itag/publications.html for the schools report.

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