The Greens rev up the ICT sector

The Green Party has posted a discussion document aimed to raise the level of debate about ICT and its role as economic driver in New Zealand. My hat is off to them, in no small part because the document reads like it was pulled from TUANZ’s policy section.

The document is broken down into three recommendations: increasing government support for our ICT industry; encouraging youth into the ICT employment market and taking a cornerstone shareholding in any future international capacity provider.

Let’s look at each one in turn.

I’ve long held the belief that New Zealand government agencies (at all levels, local and national) should be using more locally-developed ICT services. There seems to be a belief that unless you’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an internationally sourced product, it’s worthless.

Yet here in New Zealand we have the same needs for our government departments and agencies that they do in Holland or Germany or Canada or Australia or just about any other country in the first world. Better than that, our needs are on a much smaller scale so we shouldn’t have to pay quite as much as we do for these things. Our datasets are smaller, our databases more easily managed and analysed. Do we need bespoke, handmade systems developed by IBM or the like? I’d wonder.

Instead I’d much rather see our local developers given a ready supply of local opportunities. All too often they’re told they’re too small to bid for any particular tender – that attitude has to stop. Government buys a lot of ICT related services – let’s give some of that money to local developers.

Getting kids into the industry is a passion of mine and goes back to my time at Computerworld. It’s vital we have the right staff at all levels of the industry, from layer 1 (actually from layer zero I suspect) all the way up the stack. The Greens are talking about including ICT in our apprenticeship schemes and that’s already begun, albeit in a small way. But I’d like to see more flesh on the bones of this proposal – tax breaks, encouragement into training, course credits and so on. There’s a lot we can do to encourage our young people to take up ICT related employment over and above other areas in which we suffer a surfeit.

Which brings us to the most controversial part of the discussion document – the $100m cornerstone shareholding in a second international cable.

Already the naysayers are out in force. We don’t need one, it’s totally redundant, it’s a white elephant.

Sorry, but I disagree. We don’t need one if we carry on pottering along at today’s rate, but I want to see a step change in terms of our economic use of the internet. I want to see data centres built in New Zealand using our clean, green power supply. I want to see IT firms basing their R&D labs here, growing their developer bases here and generally using New Zealand as a hub to take on the digital world.  I want to see ICT grow from being worth 6% of our GDP to being 25% - I want to see it match the primary sector in so far as revenue goes, because then I’ll know we’ve done what we could to take our place in the digital economy.

So full credit to the Greens for raising the bar and I’m hoping we’ll see more of this kind of thinking from all the parties. Currently we seem to have a “yes yes, ICT is important too” attitude that frankly won’t change the world at all. I’d like to see us try and who knows where we might end up.