New Zealand's Priorities in the Digital Revolution Part II
Don Christie, CEO of Wellington-based open source specialists Catalyst, spoke at a recent ITP breakfast on how to realise the opportunities presenting themselves to us in the digital sector and how to take everyone on that journey.
This is the second part of Don's column - part one can be read here.
Responsibility of the government and corporates:
"The market will not bring digital equity" - Labour's ICT Policy 2017
Economic prosperity only goes so far if it is not beneficial to society. Digital inequality is increasing as services become increasingly digitised and those without the means or skills are left unable to access them.
"Open standards" need to be a basic principle in maintaining a civil society because it ensures everyone has access rights and that corporates can't lock people or the government out from products or services. Government and suppliers have a duty of care to design systems that are accessible to all not simply the chosen few with super smartphones.
This also means that the government cannot simply stop at the API (application programming interface) layer and hand over the final interface with its citizens to "the market". That always seemed a strange half-baked proposition. APIs are important and good practice, but equity also requires that government goes the last mile in delivering directly to its citizens and not leaving us beholden to the private to charge for mediation.
As personal data is increasingly going online, digital rights and privacy are becoming more of an issue. Offshore hosting of data and systems is a concern because it is subject to the laws of other countries, and for the government to entrust this elsewhere is dangerous.
The government must be responsible and responsive, taking care of systems and data, and responding to the needs of the whole population without making outcasts of those who find it hard to interact digitally. The local corporate sector has responsibilities as well, to build and maintain its reputation as a conscientious group. Our duty of care requires us to consider digital rights above the latest trends. Perhaps a cabinet mandate of "Rights first, cloud last" would express this most clearly.
Open strategy and infrastructure:
Open standards, free and open source software (FOSS) and infrastructure are crucial to the IT industry, as they allow modularity, flexibility, innovation. Indeed, 99.9% of all "internet age" companies are built on open source and the Digital5 charter that New Zealand signed up to places great emphasis on openness and the benefits it can bring to countries that embrace it.
In 2014 the UK government mandated the use of open standards for data and ODF office documents, saving them money and boosting innovation. Our government's lack of strategy to date around the use of open standards is willful blindness. Attempts in the past to adopt FOSS were killed off by the civil service, setting us back by years as a country and government. We won't let this happen again.
Infrastructure is an enabler for business, and initiatives such as the roll out of UFB are progressing reasonably. Open standards and open source go hand in hand and must be embraced if our sector is to expand in a way that is positive for our economy and society.
Our sector has championed digital technology as being transformational and having a positive impact on our society and economic well-being. That said, all is not perfect and in exchange for our country supporting our sector it is important to be honest and upfront when there are clear anomalies.
The IT sector has produced some crazy stuff, from tax-dodging conglomerates to rapacious business models like Uber which relies on rule bending, law breaking and using access to vast capital funds to ruin existing services. Or a single Bitcoin transaction which burns enough coal to power a city.
This is not the future we are promising.
If we seize the opportunity we have today to make forward-thinking changes to our public, private and educational sectors we can become a digital world leader and make a positive and sustainable impact on our economy and society.
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