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Digital Strategy For New Zealand Long Overdue

The Government is developing a new digital strategy for the first time since 2005, but there are concerns it is missing some key elements.

The strategy aims to set out the goals, priorities and activities for the next 2 to 5 years, along with longer term results — out to 2031 and beyond.

The Government says its vision is “enabling all of Aotearoa New Zealand to flourish and prosper in a digital world.”

It has released a discussion document and is calling for feedback. Infrastructure New Zealand Chief Executive Claire Edmondson says the discussion document is a start, but there is a lot that seems to be missing.

“The discussion document has a heavy focus on connectivity and how we use it, and inclusion. That’s good, but a national digital strategy needs to recognise that digital technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself – it needs to drive economic growth and development and leverage every opportunity.

“Digital technology is already playing a significant role in infrastructure solutions. It is vital the strategy details how New Zealand can harness digital technology opportunities, including how digital infrastructure can help address New Zealand’s infrastructure deficit and contribute to environmental outcomes.

“We’ll be making a submission to ensure it covers all the bases and remains fit-for-purpose into the future. We’ll be keen to see an implementation plan and monitoring framework to ensure the strategy is meaningful and outcomes based, as opposed to yet another plan that isn’t realistic.

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“Now more than ever, how New Zealand finds its way in the digital world is vital to our future success. With the rise of working from home and the contribution digital technologies can make to mitigating the impact of climate change, there are significant consequences if we get this wrong.”

Make Lemonade reports this year’s Digital Riser Report finds New Zealand’s digital competitiveness has reduced 70 points.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital technologies,” says NZTech Chief Executive Graeme Muller.

“Companies with digital business models have been able to operate during various alert levels without significant revenue loss and many have grown.

“Companies relying on digital infrastructures and processes have also been able to keep operating smoothly.

“Whereas parts of the economy and groups of society are missing out on the benefits of the digital revolution, and this will only get worse if not addressed with more urgency.

According to the report by the European Centre for Digital Competitiveness, an analysis of 137 countries based on data from the World Economic Forum and the World Bank, found that the way governments respond to digitalisation during these covid years will define the progress of their nation for years to come.

The report notes that not only are digital technologies critical, so are the skills required to develop and manage them.

Unfortunately, New Zealand is not progressing well, compared to many nations. The report considers how governments managed the transition, driven by digital technologies between 2018 and 2020.

Digital competitiveness is studied across two main dimensions; ecosystem and mindset. The digital ecosystem includes venture capital availability, cost to start a business, time to start a business, ease of hiring foreign labour, skillset of graduates.

The digital mindset covers digital skills among the active population, attitudes towards entrepreneurial risk, diversity of workforce, mobile-broadband subscriptions, companies embracing disruptive ideas.

“Since 2018, New Zealand’s digital competitiveness has gone backward due to issues with the ability to hire foreign labour and the lack of graduates with digital tech skills, New Zealand is not adapting fast enough,” Muller says.

“Until the government acknowledges the importance of being able to get critical international digital skills into New Zealand, we will continue to slide backward.

“Productivity will get worse not better, income taxes will decrease as high paid roles continue to be shifted out of New Zealand, the algorithms that govern many aspects of our lives will lack cultural relevance and ultimately life will get harder for many more people as the years go on.

Muller says the Government’s development of a digital strategy is good news, as it identifies digital skills as critical and proposes several initiatives for fixing the local pipeline including work to improve diversity including attracting more women, Māori and Pasifika toward digital careers, work to support and encourage more upskilling and reskilling and work to improve the transition from education to employment.

“But this alone isn’t enough as there are already more open roles for experienced tech professionals than the local education system can meet, so we need to start making it easier to bring senior tech experience into New Zealand, or risk slipping further behind.”

Tech is now New Zealand’s second largest export and creates more than 100,000 high paid jobs for New Zealanders.

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