NZ government plots new ICT strategy

Computerworld New Zealand Online

The government is embarking on a refresh of its core ICT strategy, to be completed by the first half of next year.

The previous strategy was formulated in 1999, and its objectives have either been achieved or are well under way, says Ministry of Economic Development IT policy unit chief Reg Hammond.

Examples include the Telecommunications and Electronic Transactions Acts; the Crimes Amendment Act, covering hacking and communications interception; and the government’s side of the broadband initiative, centred on Project Probe.

There are no hurdles of comparable size for the next few years yet, Hammond says. The deliberations, led off by internal “brainstorming” and then taken out to informed industry participants and commentators, may always turn up some significant aspect not seen at the start.

Spam and the continuation of approaches to online pornography are likely to be among the issues to be tackled, he says.

The new strategy formulation follows the identification of ICT as one of the three core areas for New Zealand innovation. Hence it is likely to concentrate on ways of encouraging the growth of the ICT industry itself, as well as its role as a facilitator of industry in general and a factor in the evolution of society, he says.

The ICT Taskforce study emerged ahead of the other two streams, in biotechnology and the “creative” industries, so the IT policy team had something of a coordinating role over the whole three-pronged innovation exercise, says Hammond.

This is typical of the way in which the ICT team’s expertise tends to blur and establish synergy with other areas of policymaking.

This has included a dual role for Hammond himself. “Two years ago, I was covering intellectual property matters alongside IT, and for the last year, I’ve been managing the industry and regional development policy group as well as the IT group.” Those interfaces have had a very positive effect, the former in the topical consideration of IT matters as part of copyright law reform.

As for the latter, “If it hadn’t been for my involvement in industry and regional development, we might not have had Probe”. The close connection with Jim Anderton’s portfolios helped ensure practical and financial support from that quarter for the Probe initiative, as well as, naturally, from the education ministry under Trevor Mallard.

The policy group is both reactive and proactive, Hammond says. “We’ve always got to react to what the minister (Paul Swain) asks us to do” — or now, he reflects, ministers plural, with the appointment of David Cunliffe to an associate IT role. But the group does its own advance investigations of questions likely to be important.

Spam is a case in point, he says. The evolution of an approach was in response to a specific request from Swain — with no small stimulus from media such as Computerworld, he says. “But we’d been following it anyway.” The group had also explored intellectual property questions by the time the matter of DE Technologies e-commerce patent manifested itself. “We monitor and are aware of such things, so we can react when asked to. We have a significant amount of free rein to think laterally.

“We’ve said we’ll put together the strategy for this financial year (ending June 2004) and we’ve made an initial project-planning start.” Brainstorming of ideas will be followed by a phase of background research then consultation sessions with the experts. Provisional conclusions will be subjected to a “peer review” process before being firmed up.

One possibly touchy question likely to be tackled in the near term is the degree of freedom in decision making by chief executives of individual agencies, in the context of encouraging the local IT industry and enabling the growth of industry in general.

The former has been highlighted recently with the demise of The PC Company.