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Turn up the heat

Ian Apperley, Guest post. 24 July 2017, 6:35 am
Turn up the heat

Before I drift into spurious opinion on how government can better support the technology sector, I thought I'd start with the challenges that we are currently are facing. The issue is that the current policy is disconnected from Cabinet, the various agencies with responsibilities in this area, and government agencies in general. 

What I mean by that is that often Cabinet does issue an advanced edict or paper on how government should either adopt technology or support the industry, which is then roundly ignored by agencies. 

An example of that would be the Cabinet paper that tells agencies to go "Cloud First" and use Public Cloud services in preference over legacy systems. The evidence tells us that the multiple large (and on balance failing) projects in the public-sector information technology space are still legacy with more created month on month. 

It's being ignored and that's a problem because it means that whatever policy the next ruling government comes up with is likely to remain just that, while the machine whirrs merrily away underneath. 

It reminds me of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when Arthur discovers that there were in fact plans in place for the destruction of earth. 

"But the plans were on display..." 
"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them." 
"That's the display department."
"With a flashlight."
"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard.'

Not only do agencies not seem capable, or willing, to carry out government strategy, they also seem to contradict each other, sometimes even in the same agency. 

The DIA issued their forward strategy for technology a few months back, which on balance was promising. One of the things that they were going to get rid of was the panel system. Despite this, several new panels have been issued. 

There is little co-ordination between agencies including DIA, MBIA, NZTE, and others including the plethora of agencies charged with security. This leads to contrary advice being issued. 

While there appears on the face of it to be a skills shortage, I think what we are more likely facing is a lack of fresh thinking and blood in the industry. As a recruiter in Wellington said to me the other day; "It's the same old people moving between different companies and agencies in a continuous circle." 

That will simply encourage the same old processes and thinking that has perpetuated the industry for the last few years. Breaking that thinking is likely to encourage more innovation than throwing in new grads (who quickly are embedded into the system) and the same with new international talent. 

There's something wrong with R&D and hubs. They tend to promote that new thinking but they don't seem to appear to produce results. On balance, government spend in R&D produces less than a 0% return. So, while money is flowing through the system, results aren't forthcoming. 

Education remains a constant concern. We know one thing; tertiary institutes are very coy about the success rate of new grads in the Computer Science area. They won't release figures on success rates. Anecdotally, I've been told that roughly 25% of new grads get jobs in the New Zealand sector. If that is true, we need to shake education up significantly. 

Finally, we are facing a world of automation that will seriously hit the job market and professions in New Zealand, and we are doing absolutely nothing about it. Internationally resignation has set in with the Europeans looking at introducing a universal basic income, however, this is a defeatist attitude and there are ways to exploit our new robot overlords. 

Ian Apperley is well known to many in the ICT industry as both participant and commentator and craft beer apologist.


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