Interview: NZTech CEO: 'We don't have enough big ICT companies'

NZTech's CEO, Candace Kinser, talks about the need for bigger companies and bolder ideas from the country's ICT companies, and how government policy frameworks can help enable it

Q: What would be your wishlist of the NZ government?

CK: It is the government’s responsibility to provide a framework, not theirs to be the bank for businesses or universities. From my perspective, I believe that being able to create enabling legislation that the education system can utilise, being able to take advantage of technology or best practices that are being done in other parts of the world, to learn from those, and to say 'look, these are the frameworks within the education environment that are producing highly motivated, highly skilled students that are completely capable of operating in the 21st century in the digital framework'. That is one part of it.

The second part of it is when you look at growth and funding in high growth companies, there are some real issues that we have. For example, having our Kiwi entrepreneurs live and work in the US is very difficult because we don’t have the agreements with US immigration that Australia does. For Australians, it is very easy to live and work and do their business in the US. Their government works very closely with the US to make that work.

We have been delinquent in that area. There is this whole list of requests when it comes to export entrepreneurs who are not just going to the US but all around the world. We also need frameworks around different taxes, subsidising around R&D and related credits and creating joint initiatives with other countries. That is the framework we need. It is not necessarily throwing money at entrepreneurs so that they hop on a plane and go overseas.

My wishlist would include working closely with the US on policy framework around core areas like skills and talent development, and export and high growth companies and their needs. Then look at domestic companies – how do we incentivise them to grow and reinvest in their business, either through R&D or increased collaboration with each other? And having some policy framework within our central government that actually pays attention and enables support for some smaller NZ companies. That does not necessarily come down to governments buying from small companies, but it comes down to perhaps incentivising the larger providers to work with smaller providers to come up with solutions.

If we look at skills talent, export-led firms, domestic and government relationships, those will uplift and help the industry to grow as a whole.

The problem that we face right now is that it has become extremely fragmented. And the ability to have all of these different industry groups try to work together in a cohesive plan can be difficult.

Q: How does the fragmentation nature of industry associations at local and regional levels affect a move towards national improvement of the industry?

CK: There are more than 50 industry associations that I know of which are related in one shape or form to technology and ICT. A number of them have been around a lot longer than our group has. Some of them have sprung up recently. A large number of them are regionally based.

One thing that NZ is very great at is when something needs attention and we need to do something about it, there is no shortage of people getting together and saying we are going to make a difference and change. The problem that we face right now is that it has become extremely fragmented. And the ability to have all of these different industry groups try to work together in a cohesive plan can be difficult.

One of the things that have been requested by government, is to try and consolidate these areas, which is not an easy task.

We are quite happy to be the body that actually is the one that interfaces with the government, and quite happy to represent different ideas and opinions. But one of the key issues that I see is that some of these groups have their own agendas that work against the tide. We have an agenda that we can collectively agree on. We have relationships, we have developed close ties with NZTE, Callaghan and the central government. We have that interface, and we are quite happy and supportive to be the go-to-person for other industry groups in the future. I do think the pressure would be on that it does continue to consolidate.

Each of our regions has a different feel, personality, different issues, strengths and weaknesses. New Zealanders are competitive. That works for and against us in many ways. From a regional perspective, having that close representation, having those networking events and getting to know peers in those areas are vital.

As for regional program, I am aware of whole bunch of them. It is like growing a company. Being able to scale, get the traction and the buy-in on a national level and have it take priority over what other companies are doing can be difficult.

Often times there are initiatives that are being done in a community level and that is where they should remain, because they are having the greatest impact in that community. If you tried to bring what is working to another it just might not work at that level. So again, looking at that passion and commitment we have and whether it can or not scale is a case-by-case basis, but it is something that we need to look at closely.

Watch out for Candace Kinser's regular column on computing and technology in the country on ComputerWorld NZ in 2014.

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Tags policysilicon valleyentrepreneurtaxationframeworkDepartment of Internal AffairsCallaghan InnovationdianzteCandace KinserNZ Technology Industry AssociationNZTechgovenment legislation

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