ECAT to explore NZ's preparedness for e-commerce

The government-inspired e-commerce action team held its first meeting this week primed with a grandiose vision -- that 'New Zealand will be world-class in embracing e-commerce for competitive advantage'.

The government-inspired e-commerce action team (ECAT) held its first day-long meeting this week primed with a grandiose vision – that “New Zealand will be world-class in embracing e-commerce for competitive advantage”.

But the only firm proposal at this stage is for what team head Sir Gil Simpson calls “an inventory of preparedness for each industry sector”. This will outline the sectors' current state of practice and readiness for e-commerce. New Zealanders can talk about being ahead of Australia in the number of websites per head of population, Simpson says, "but we don't know how e-commerce platforms are actually being used, particularly among small to medium[-sized] enterprises."

As to action to inspire future productive e-commerce development, the team is at present inclining toward an educational and exemplar stance. “There is clear evidence of [e-commerce success] sitting around this table,” says Dr Joseph Rousseau, strategic industry strategy manager at Industry New Zealand, an ex-officio member of the 19-person team. “What is needed now is to inform and educate people to see the value of it.”

The team sees industry sector bodies as an appropriate conduit for this education and “consciousness raising”, as one team member put it. There are clear benefits of online commerce in convenience, choice, cost, timeliness and access to new markets, the members say.

The next generation, says Ecat member Prashanta Mukherjee, of IBM, will expect to be able to do business and interact with government online, and it is up to this generation to ensure the facilities are there to meet those expectations.

The incentive to e-commerce will be built “as Linux was built”, he suggests; that is, by an accumulation of individual effort rather than necessarily a tightly co-ordinated set of tactics.

Rousseau suggested last week that three hours into the team’s first meeting was too early to expect any definitive strategy for promoting e-commerce.

Commerce and IT Minister Paul Swain says he does not believe the team is too large. "We are looking at a combination of expertise and sector representation. It is critical that we get and give good feedback on what farmers, for example, are doing in the e-commerce space."

Swain suggests 19 experts and representatives to talk to 3.5 million people is not overkill. "It came down to a question of who would you leave out?"

The organisers didn't want someone without intimate knowledge of an industry sector trying to talk to representatives of that sector, Swain says.

The team is defining a work programme of six three-month periods, with measurable goals for the end of each of those periods. Early stages of the work will involve visits to various parts of the country to give half- and one-day seminars. "We're planning seven or eight of those by the end of the next financial year [June 2002]."

A website is being set up as for publication and exchange of ideas.

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