An agreement between India and New Zealand to explore joint IT and telecomms ventures will allow small-scale Kiwi smarts to be mated with large commercial forces, says IT minister Paul Swain.
The agreement resulted from a visit by Swain to India earlier this month, and is, to his knowledge, the first formal co-operation agreement on the IT&T front that New Zealand has signed with any other country. It could lead to the “operationalising” of New Zealand-developed ideas and distribution of them around the world, says Swain.
He sees mutual benefit in establishing strong commercial links with India, and discounts suggestions that they might direct IT development work away from New Zealanders to lower-cost and larger forces of Indian programmers.
He cites the role of Indian IT giant Tata Consulting Services in developing systems for the Tower group here. “There have been some good New Zealand ideas developed in Tower. Tata can take those, add value to them and scale them up. The international insurance agencies will be much more interested in looking at a development with Tata’s name behind it than Tower’s, which is far less well-known.”
And there is still a shortage of IT expertise worldwide, he says, though it has eased in some areas, so there need be little fear of New Zealanders missing out on work as a result of the stronger links.
Tata is considering establishing a development laboratory in New Zealand. This, Swain says, will employ New Zealanders chiefly, “though there will obviously be a few Indians”, so it will not act as foreign competition for the local industry. The agreement also encompasses sharing of information on aspects of IT and telecommunications regulatory policy, India’s telecomms being quite strongly regulated, and sharing of research methodologies. Specific topics on which information will be exchanged include public key infrastructure (PKI) and digital signature technology and intellectual property rights, Swain says.
The locally topical question of rural broadband communications could also benefit from exchange of ideas with India, where the problem exists on a much larger scale. Many years ago, India established a network of public telephone stations, one in each village, and an internet access network will now be piggybacked onto this. But in the broadband area, like New Zealand, India is tackling its major cities first.
The minister also visited Singapore, where he viewed a huge science and technology park. Its operators “are keen to get New Zealand companies up there”, says Swain. In return they would get cheap rent and access to Singaporean expertise and venture capital.