The Government has attracted widespread criticism after announcing, quietly, that it has abandoned its problem-plagued plan to create a government chief technology officer role in favour of an advisory group.
It issued no press release to announce the decision but instead digital services minister Megan Woods sent an email to a number of IT sector stakeholders.
She said the Government had determined it would be difficult to find one person with the skill set to fulfil the role and would instead appoint a number of individuals to a small group to assist it in mapping policy to guide New Zealand's digital technology environment.
The move is reminiscent of an announcement by the former minister of broadcasting, communications and digital media government digital services, Clare Curran – whose handling of the CTO appointment process culminated in her resignation.
In December 2017 Curran announced plans to set up a group to advise it on how to build the digital economy and reduce digital divides, with the aim of making ICT the second largest contributor to the economy by 2025.
At the time of writing, NZTech had made no comment on the announcement. However in September NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller suggested the IT industry should create a CTO role, and find a suitable candidate, independent of the government.
Muller said many of NZTech's 21 technology communities with more than 800 member organisations were already starting work on national strategies.
The National Party's Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media spokesperson Melissa Lee said the Government had wasted a year on the exercise, a year that should have been spent developing an innovative digital policy."
“Industry groups will be wondering what happened to the existing working groups in this area like the Government’s Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group and the entire Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry Digital Economy team," she said.
“This whole exercise has been ill-thought out, woefully executed and has been terrible for the digital technology stakeholders of New Zealand."
The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union issued a brief press release in which its spokesman Louis Houlbrooke called on the Government to scrap the entire initiative, which, he said: "was always been an exercise of expensive vanity.”
History of a flawed process
Shortly after coming to power the government put the creation of a chief technology officer role at the top of list of priorities across digital technology, media and open government.
These were set out in a speech by then minister of broadcasting, communications and digital media and government digital services, Clare Curran, at InternetNZ’s NetHui 2017.
Curran said the chief technology officer would be responsible for preparing and overseeing a national digital architecture, or roadmap, for the next five to ten years.
The government hoped to have the role filled by February 2018 but Curran announced that none of the more than 60 applicants for post merited appointment, and the government would widen its search.
Curran resigned in August because she had failed to document a meeting with Derek Handley, then a candidate for the CTO role in this second search round.
Handley was subsequently appointed to the role but swiftly dismissed with Curran's successor Megan Woods saying the government was reconsidering its approach to digital transformation for New Zealand.