Industry brainstorms for future strategies

In what could be the biggest think-tank in New Zealand's history, up to 400 people will ponder the state of the local high-tech industry and come up with a blueprint for its future development. Next week, at a workshop hosted by the New Zealand Software Association and Auckland's North Shore City Council, participants from industries ranging from software development and education to finance and property development will brainstorm on a future strategies for high-tech industry in New Zealand.

In what could be the biggest think-tank in New Zealand's history, up to 400 people will ponder the state of the local high-tech industry and come up with a blueprint for its future development.

Next week, at a workshop hosted by the New Zealand Software Association and Auckland's North Shore City Council, participants from industries such as software development, hardware manufacture, electronics, telecommunications, education, politics, finance, recruitment and property development will brainstorm on a future strategy to strengthen and promote the high-tech industry in New Zealand.

Harvard business school professor Michael Porter, author of the report Upgrading New Zealand's Competitive Advantage, will speak on how high-tech companies in other countries are clustering to gain competitive advantage.

Auckland's North Shore has often been mooted as a possible New Zealand "silicon valley".

NZSA vice-president Allan Morton says New Zealand must focus on developing its "high value-add knowledge-based industries" if it is to remain competitive in the new millennium. "Future Active is a way of taking action to create the best possible environment for these industries to develop," Morton says. "No one wants a handout but we want an industry that has a chance."

Morton says the NZSA wants to get the software and high-tech industries on the political radar as there is still a lot of government focus on agriculture. The NZSA believes New Zealand's software exports substantially exceed the official 1997 estimate of $132 million (more than the high-profile wine industry) and together with associated telecommunications, electronics and multimedia, exports most likely exceed $1 billion.

"My candid opinion is that we typically undervalue our intellectual property on the world market because we're not known as a high-tech country. The finance and education systems could also be better focused on the needs of the software, hardware, electronics and telecommunications industries given their combined size."

Morton says initiatives from FutureActive might include addressing training options, building the profile of the high-tech industry in New Zealand, ensuring tax treatments are similar to other countries for software development or encouraging foreign investment, depending on what participants see as priorities.

"Why doesn't the banking industry in New Zealand place security value on intellectual property? We had six months of dealing with New Zealand bankers for our CD plan. In the end I gave up because the only thing they were interested in was the value of my house. Yet I got a loan out of Germany in 16 hours. They understood our business plan and they liked what we were doing."

He says there are also a whole series of issues regarding immigration. "It's quicker for software developers to get a green card to get into the US than to get into New Zealand," he says.

During the workshop groups of eight delegates will discuss various topics and enter their ideas into a computer. Wellington-based companies Cluster Navigators and the decision support centre operated by Victoria Link (a subsidiary of Victoria University) is installing Ventana's GroupSystems decision support software on a network of up to 40 computers to facilitate discussion and analysis of ideas.

The feedback will be processed and collated centrally, then posted simultaneously to a large screen at the front of the room.

Growth strategies for local high-technology clusters will be developed during the session and the initial action steps will be implemented under the auspices of the NZSA over the following year with funds raised from the workshop.

Morton says the workshop process will take delegates through three stages with participants being asked initially to describe a preferred future for the Auckland information and technology cluster, then on to the development of a topic that interests them. The third stage will see delegates forming short-term action plans for implementation of the stepping stones.

Morton says the North Shore in Auckland is ideally suited for the clustering of high-technology groups. "Favourable factors include density of tertiary qualifications, the presence of Massey University, high income levels, living conditions, the existing high-tech industry base, available land and access to national and international transport links," he says.

North Shore City mayor George Wood believes that the area has great potential for development in the high-tech sector.

People can register online via the NZSA Web site at www.nzsa.org.nz/futureactive.

The workshop takes place on November 9 at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna. The cost is $200 a head for the workshop plus Michael Porter or $75 for the Porter presentation only.

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