John Key on the Wellington ICT Industry & is Nicola Young our future Wired Mayor?

IMG_0516It’s not that often that you get face time with the Prime Minister, so when Wellington mayoral candidate Nicola Young hosted a meeting, called Wired Wellington, on Friday that saw John Key meet a wide cross-section of Wellington’s ICT success stories, it was always going to be interesting.

Nicola Young yesterday hosted what is, as far as I know, the first face to face between Wellington’s homegrown ICT companies and … the Prime Minister. In what has to be the coup of the local body elections to date, Nicola Young managed to get John Key to come and spend some face time with over forty of Wellington’s local geek powerhouses at Prefab in Jessie Street. I’ve listed them at the end of the article.

The format was simple. Nicola Young spoke for less than three minutes on her push for the Mayoralty (she is also standing for Lambton Ward, being the CBD area of the city) and John Key about five minutes on his thoughts on the ICT industry. The next hour or so was spent with the Prime Minister directly talking to the throng of geeks that had been invited.

There were some specific themes that came out of the afternoon that I thought were worth covering.

Nicola Young is not the only candidate who has a hidden geek (she codes her own website), however she is the one that has shown a very active interest in the local ICT industry. Organising an event like Wired Wellington would have taken a lot of effort, string pulling, and organising to get the Prime Minster to turn up for a couple of hours. It bodes well for the industry when a local candidate for mayor and Council displays that level of interest.

Another thing that was interesting, was that there was no mainstream media there. So from John Key’s perspective it wasn’t a PR event. In fact, this may be the only information that you read about it.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the concern that the New Zealand ICT industry has about getting access to Government tenders for ICT. There was a subtle message that seemed to say (I could have read it wrong) that the $1.5B set down for IRD refresh is likely to be broken into some pieces of work that will go to market in New Zealand. He however did point out that local industry would need to compete with everyone else.

This is worthy of a blog on its own, because I know that for a small to medium size ICT company in New Zealand to compete with a full blown government RFP is almost impossible. From personal experience I know that I can’t afford to respond to tenders that are released. In fact, a lot of RFP’s are highly-geared, in my opinion, to a particular outcome. That will be a hard thing to break down and those responding to tenders who are getting locked out, need to make it known and government needs to follow a leaf out of the U.K. experience where they have made it easier for local SME’s to access the market.

The PM talked about the fact that he had “restructured” and put a Government CIO in place to drive change in the use and consumption of ICT across Government. There is a very strong push in his statements toward technology as an interface to government as opposed to traditional infrastructure (such as an office). That makes sense from a cost and accessibility perspective and is not a new message. However, translating that too reality is proving amazingly difficult. If we use the current RealMe deployment, an upgrade on the old iGovt logon, in some cases to get your ID you have to use a fax. An example of how Government is struggling to create new life in ICT while the old processes and culture chews at its ankles.

John Key also laid out his view that the Government itself was somewhat scared to actually do large ICT projects. Unsurprising given the high-profile problems over the past year.

Having worked almost all sides of the industry, it is clear to me that there is a clear vision for ICT from the PM and the National Party, that is hampered by the machinery of Government itself. Something that will need to be overcome before real progress can be made. One of the issues is that when Government does get it wrong, there are calls for “a body in the courtyard”, as opposed to finding out and making transparent what actually occurred. This drives a culture of fear in Government where decision making is needlessly impeded and risk taking is not encouraged.

I personally think that its time we let the local ICT industry in close to work with central and local government. This is where all the innovation is driven from as opposed to massive multi-nationals whose business models are slowly collapsing because of their massive margins they need to drive bloated structures.

Letting the local business in to Government, is likely to result in cheaper ICT services, higher quality, more flexibility, more innovation, and more agility. Those barriers between the two have to be broken down.

One can only hope, that we see more of these face to face discussions with the local ICT industry leaders and the Prime Minister directly. I certainly think, listening to the conversations around the room on Friday, that John Key heard, and listened to, some of the concerns that the New Zealand ICT industry has been talking about for a long time. Those conversations hardly ever happen on mass like they did yesterday, and it will be very interesting to see what if any impact there is in what the PM has taken away.

It’s also exciting to see a local body mayoralty candidate standing up for the ICT industry. It will be interesting to see how the competition react to that, whatever it is, it can only be positive for the geek forces of Wellington.


If I’ve missed anyone then drop me a line on the contact page.

The Gallery

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  1. Reblogged this on Bill Bennett and commented:
    Getting Prime Minister John Key in front of Wellington’s IT success stories is a political coup for mayoral candidate Nicola Young.

    In theory Key and the National government should be a natural fit with freewheeling technology entrepreneurs. Yet Key’s government seems out of touch with the needs of a modern, global digital economy. That needs to change.

    While technology companies do not speak with a single voice, many have talked of problems with recent legislation. There’s disquiet over the GCSB and TICs legislation which could put barriers between technology exporters and overseas customers.

    Likewise some are not happy with proposed changes to the Telecommunications Act to discriminate against copper broadband connections. Others are still smarting over the 2011 Copyright Act changes.

    So a more open dialogue between the prime minister and the industry is needed. Let’s hope this isn’t the last time Key gets in front of tech successes.

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