E-gov’t application center gets backing

A plan for public-private collaboration in application development is getting support from two key directions.

The co-chair of the New Zealand government’s information and communications technology (ICT) taskforce, Murray McNae, and head of the State Services Commission’s e-government unit, Brendan Boyle, see merit in the initiative by the Information Technology Association (ITANZ).

Joseph Rousseau is director of the ITANZ project, which could lead to creation of a development center for e-government applications.

ITANZ head Jim O’Neill is chair of a team, whose members will be finalized shortly, examining the feasibility of the idea.

McNae says one of the recommendations of the ICT taskforce is that greater use be made by the government of New Zealand-based IT solutions as it takes its services online.

“If this center can foster more use of local technology in e-government, then great,” says McNae.

Boyle says he’s looking forward to discussing details of the proposed center with ITANZ, and he’s “open-minded” about the concept.

“It could make development of applications that are a bit innovative or different a little less risky,” Boyle says. Such applications might enable online transactions across agency boundaries, for example.

Rousseau says the aim of the center, which would be based in Wellington, is to take New Zealand intellectual property developed as part of our government’s online moves and sell it overseas. The process would involve local companies undertaking application development on behalf of government agencies, with multinational vendors attempting to sell the applications overseas.

Boyle says the center’s success would be dependent on support from the IT industry, government agency chief executives, and the government itself.

There’s already evidence of broad industry support for the center, according to Rousseau, in the list of names on the feasibility study team. While unconfirmed at press time, they included representatives of IBM, Microsoft, Telecom, EDS, Synergy and local software cluster groups.

IT minister Paul Swain has been approached “in the hope that he’ll encourage government CEOs” to back the center. The response was apparently positive, with Swain keen to see the results of a feasibility study.

One wing of government, Investment New Zealand, has already been persuaded the center is worth pursuing, granting ITANZ up to NZ$100,000 (US$55,000), to be matched by industry contributions, to fund the feasibility study.

Investment New Zealand acting chief executive Ross Campbell says backing was given because the center promises “collaboration between New Zealand companies and multinationals”, would provide “a mechanism for engagement with multinationals”, and get multinational commitment to New Zealand. It would also provide a path to market for New Zealand IT companies.

Campbell says the ICT taskforce draft report highlights the need for New Zealand IT companies to grow, and leveraging off multinationals is one way of doing so.

For the center to work, it will need to provide the applications government agencies want, he says.

Rousseau agrees. “We have to create real products with real profits,” he says.

A draft of the center’s feasibility study is intended to be ready by mid-March.