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Griffin on Tech: We have a digital strategy. Now what?

Peter Griffin, Editor. 16 September 2022, 1:13 pm

With the final publication of the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa, New Zealand finally has an overarching document outlining our aspirations for our place in the digital world and the actions we will take as a nation to achieve them.

If you’ve read the draft strategy, you won’t find too many surprises in the final version. It is still built on the three pillars: Mahi Tika — Trust, Mahi Tahi — Inclusion and Mahi Ake — Growth.

No one can really argue that those aren’t appropriate priorities. But many people in the sector will and already have had something to say about the various initiatives currently underway and in the pipeline under those three titles and the measure of success attached to them.

I think it is fair to say that the Government has taken a fairly conservative approach on both counts. Many of the initiatives outlined are already well underway, though there are a few new ones that look interesting (see below).

Ambitious targets?

The measures of success seem ambitious on the face of it. "All New Zealanders" will feel safe and supported online, be able to afford high-speed internet, and use a digital identity if they choose to. How exactly will those outcomes be measured?

Only one measure has a target specifically stated - that the digital sector will employ “more than 10% of the New Zealand workforce in high-value jobs” by 2032. On cybersecurity, an area other countries have targeted as a priority and committed significant funding to, the measure is very carefully worded:

“The economic impacts of cyber incidents in New Zealand are lower than in comparable countries”.

Who will we be comparing ourselves to?

Screenshot 2022-09-15 at 8.43.30 PM.png

The plan of action

Nevertheless, the Strategy outlines a lot of good work underway, from the Digital Boost scheme to help small businesses get digitally savvy, to the rural broadband improvements.

At least we now have an overview of priorities so everyone can pull together to progress them. The 2022-2023 Action Plan that accompanies the Digital Strategy will now attract the most attention. It is where the rubber meets the road. The immediate priorities include:

2022 initiatives

- Digital Boost checkable tool launched

- Innovation Trailblazer grant launched

- Māori Data Governance initiative co-design and implementation continues

- Activation of Tech Story

- 5G spectrum allocated

- Pacific Community Digital Hubs established

- Digital Identity Services Trust Framework Bill passed


2023 initiatives

- Lifting Connectivity in Aotearoa launched

-Remote Users Scheme commences

- Christchurch Call leaders meeting (2023)

-Digital Skills and Talent Plan being implemented

- Digital Device Fund rollout

- Data roadmap for Cyber Resilience Measurement Framework created

- Digital accessibility and connectivity support to Pacific communities via 0800 Tech Hub line rolled out

Further out, a dedicated skills body will be put in place (2024 - not yet funded). 2025 will see a Data, Ethics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Centre established and National Digital Twin infrastructure and interoperability (both are not yet funded or committed to in the work programme).

The general election is just over a year away. Things could change, though the strategy itself has a good chance of surviving a change of government.

Board oversight

The Digital Strategy will also be overseen by a Digital Executive Board comprising the chief executives of Statistics New Zealand, Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The inaugural chair will be Stats NZ CEO Mark Sowden, who will serve an initial two-year term. An independent advisor will also be appointed to the board, as well as a director to support its work.

This is a useful addition. Between them, those four departments are responsible for the bulk of the initiatives coming under the digital strategy so it makes sense that they work together to keep things on track.

The board has identified five initial priorities:

Rural Connectivity: Announcement of a Rural Connectivity Improvement Programme

Digital Divide: Announcement of a multi-year and multi-agency work programme to tackle the Digital Divide

Cyber Security Uplift Package: Development of a package of options for the Minister to consider and consult that may include items under the 4 streams identified in the Cabinet paper

Digital Identity Trust Framework: Establishment of the framework and first tranche of accredited providers

Measuring the Value of the Digital Economy: Development of a set of measures to measure the digital economy.

I really hope that the board tasks itself with reporting annually on progress with clear indicators of progress across all initiatives in the Strategy.

Speaking at a TUANZ event in Auckland on Wednesday, Digital Economy and Communications Minister, Dr David Clark said he planned to work with stakeholders “to refresh the Strategy’s Action Plan on an annual basis”.

He describes this as a living strategy, one that will be adapted as priorities change. That is as it should be.

Overall, the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa isn’t as ambitious (with concrete measurable outcomes) as I had hoped. It isn’t well enough resourced and I’m not confident that will change anytime soon.

But it’s a start. It gives anyone interested in the digital sector a reference point to understand what is going on to bolster trust, inclusion and growth. Despite us having a population similar to that of the island of Sicily, too often our work in Aotearoa is fragmented and siloed.

The Strategy affords an opportunity to get everyone on the same page and hold the Government to account to make sure its aspirations for 2032 are achieved.


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