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Griffin on Tech: More ambition please: the verdict on the digital strategy draft

Peter Griffin, Editor. 22 April 2022, 11:14 am

As a vision statement for New Zealand's place in the digital world, the Government's draft digital strategy has been given a mixed scorecard at best.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment just published the feedback on the draft and it aligns very closely with what I've been hearing from people across the tech sector.

Whether it comes to digital inclusion, trust in the use of technology or growing the digital economy, the Government has failed to grasp the exponential change that is going on in the digital world and which will only accelerate in the years to 2032 covered by the strategy.

As Xero noted in its submission, a strategy of doubling the contribution of technology to gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030, a despised outcome of the "growth" pillar of the strategy, actually looks decidedly unambitious.

"Xero's view is that technology could increase its contribution to GDP four-fold in that period, particularly if well supported by coherent and integrated policy," Xero's submission said.

"Somewhat underwhelming," was how BusinessNZ summed up the strategy document, suggesting that the Government looks to what other countries have done and undertake a cost/benefit analysis of the recommended actions.

Risk of falling behind

The Digital Technology Industry Groups (DTIG) - which represent IT Professionals New Zealand (ITPNZ), InternetNZ, NZRise, NZTech and TUANZ suggested the strategy needs to be filled with audacious goals or it would "risk leaving Aotearoa New Zealand behind".

"We would like to see commitments to significant and effective change beyond what is in current initiatives or the consultation material," DTIG's submission noted.

Many submitters urged more of a focus on digital skills and others recommended the addition of some fundamental themes, such as artificial intelligence, digital finance and sustainability, which get scant mention in the strategy.

On digital inclusion, often touted by the Government as one of its priority areas, the telcos wanted clear expectations on what outcomes the Government expected in terms of access to broadband, while community groups working on digital inclusion projects complained about the tenuous nature of funding for their initiatives.

Victoria University's academics pointed out that across the board, the goals outlined, while commendable, "were not yet matched by a complete plan for how those goals will be achieved. Nor did the proposed success measures convey the same level of ambition that had been infused through the rest of the document".

There aren't enough concrete measures of success. What is included doesn't encourage us to strive for success and there's no evidence of the "coherent and integrated policy" Xero rightly suggests we need to make it all work.

Lacklustre engagement

Wellington, we have a problem. That's also clear from the relatively low level of feedback to the strategy - just 116 written submissions and 320 participants in a series of virtual hui held over Zoom. 

This is a strategy that has the potential to guide New Zealand along the path to becoming a digital powerhouse, making the transition to the knowledge economy we've long been urged to purpose. But many have given up on the Government showing leadership and vision in this space and have not bothered to engage.

That's a shame. The creation of a digital strategy is an opportunity to set the scene for our relationship with emerging technologies and to tackle the inequities in society by giving everyone the means to take advantage of the digital skills and tools many of us take for granted. 

The message is clear - as it currently stands, the Government risks letting this opportunity slip through its fingers.

MBIE wants to have a final version of the strategy out later this year. It now needs to go back to the drawing board, take some of this feedback and advice to heart and come up with a more ambitious and fit for purpose plan that mirrors society's ambitions for our digital future.


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Ron Segal 22 April 2022, 11:58 am

Too much ethno-nationalistic language and airy platitudes, not enough innovative, vision or concrete strategy to get there.

Peter Griffin 22 April 2022, 4:21 pm

Agree with your sentiments on the need for innovation, vision and concrete strategy, but I don't think the strategy is cloaked in ethno-nationalistic language. The references to the Treaty, Maori, Pasifika etc are highly relevant particularly on the themes of digital inclusion and trust.

Ron Segal 22 April 2022, 7:08 pm

Digital inclusion and trust should be equally applicable to all Kiwis.

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