Last Monday, during the opening presentation at the Singularity Summit in Christchurch, Kaila Colbin hardly missed a beat as an aftershock rumbled through the arena, shaking up the 1500 guests. It was the first of many shake ups. We heard from global experts about the latest in artificial intelligence, digital biology, energy, autonomous vehicles, healthcare, education, space, crime and the future of work. The message is very clear. Each of these domains is undergoing a massive disruption and our future prosperity as a nation depends on our ability to understand and adapt fast. Every presentation was mind expanding, but my personal highlight was a hard hitting look at the future of education from one of New Zealand’s own leaders, Sue Suckling. As Chair of both NZQA and Callaghan Innovation, the last thing I expected from her were quotes like, “the day of the qualification is over” and “my day will be made when we have the Bunsen burner on the NZQA butt to drive change”. Encouraging to know one of our leaders in this space understands the urgency and is working within the system to drive much needed change.
Recently, I attended the launch of the Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator. In his opening address, Minister Joyce highlighted the tech sector’s rapid growth and how digital disruption is making a large contribution to our strengthening economy. The Wellington based Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator, will initially fund and support 10 start-ups to build, launch and expand products in global markets. As Minister Joyce acknowledged, high growth start-ups are key contributors to the Governments goals for growing R&D, exports and making the most of the digital economy. One of my favourite quotes from the night was from Anna Guenther, CEO and founder of PledgeMe, “it should be less about the technology and more about the people, enhancing the community and be seamless. You shouldn’t see technology, it’s just what you do.”
The big news this week was Wynyard Group going into voluntary administration. As was expected by us tall poppy knocking kiwi’s, headlines and talkback all centred around the word “failure”. Suddenly, the general population is using phrases like “another pumped up New Zealand tech IPO” and “lesson learnt, avoid tech software firms investing in the sales curve”. To the many journalists I talked to this week my message was very clear. While this is bad news for Wynyard, staff and investors, it is actually a sign of a healthy, high growth market. The best tech markets in the world, like Silicon Valley and Israel, leverage experiences like this to go onto bigger and better things. Unfortunately, this isn’t as exciting as slamming the hard working managers and looking for scapegoats and not one journalist I spoke to, thought it worth a mention!
Last week, at the annual NZTech strategy day, the NZTech Board confirmed the continuation of the NZTech Strategy which is to connect tech firms and communities so that we can build scale, ensuring technology has a strong voice in New Zealand. With this growing voice we aim to promote the importance of technology and the tech sector, and how New Zealand is a leading digital nation. Our advocacy work underpins this, focussing on helping the economy and tech sector grow.
Cyber security was top of mind at Connect Smart Week, led by the Government’s National Cyber Policy Office and launched last Monday by Communications Minister Amy Adams. This year, the focus was on cyber security in the workplace, engaging New Zealand employers in educating their staff, and providing tools and courses to help employees stay safe online.
Colmar Brunton released research showing that only 17% of those surveyed had received cyber security awareness training from their employer. Not knowing what steps to take was identified as the biggest barrier for those who do not proactively manage their cyber security.
Last week at #uLearn16, the largest teacher development conference in New Zealand, I challenged Kiwi teachers to consider the world their students will enter when they leave school. It was a fantastic event, huge, with thousands of teachers. I reiterated across multiple presentations that our kids must be creators, not simply users of tech, that digital technologies and coding will be critical skills for almost all jobs, not just in the tech sector. I managed to squeeze in seven media interviews including quite a long chat on RadioNZ about how tech is fast changing and why we must evolve the education system now, before it is too late. The teachers at uLearn were already interested in change and how to do the best for their students. Reaching the remaining 30,000 will be a challenge but you can help. Whenever the opportunity presents, make sure you express how important this is for New Zealand. Tell a teacher, tell a parent or tell the media. The more noise the better.
This week, I will be in Wellington, for a day long workshop with MBIE on their Digital Economy work programmes and back again on Thursday to host our quarterly catch up with the technology strategy leads from the many regional economic development agencies. The focus of this meeting is collaborating on the delivery of a nationally coordinated Techweek next May. I can’t wait to share more about Techweek in the coming weeks as it comes together.
Have a great week
All the best
Congratulations to Christchurch based ARANZ Medical, global award winners last week in Brasilia! Meanwhile, $2m is available in the third round of Unlocking Curious Minds. Applications close 10 November.
First there was Peter Beck, then there was… the 2016 NZ Rocketry Challenge for year 7 and 8 students to design, build launch and recover their own rockets. Finals to be held on 12 November at Ambury Park in Auckland.
We are currently working on a project with ATEED and the Ministry of Education to develop and pilot models to assess the viability of providing pathways directly from high school into the tech sector. Interestingly, there is anecdotal evidence that the organic increase of high school students taking up programming and other digital technology classes is growing at a faster rate than the industry’s ability to absorb young talent. Most of our survey respondents noted that they do have skills shortages, but for people with 3-5 years experience. As a result, there is increasing demand for skilled migrants and university graduates that can’t find work.
I have just returned from a relaxing week with no email and the chance to leisurely read a good book in the sun. My holiday reading was the thought provoking Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley on ideas emerging bottom-up and how they effectively keep evolving. He argues that top down government policy seldom changes this evolutionary process. In fact, it usually just gets in the way. Matt touches on learning, how it can happen without teaching, the evolution of technology, the internet, the economy, money, morality, culture and more. Quite a heavy read, but I highly recommend it.
It has been incredibly exciting to see the technology sector become New Zealand’s 3rd largest exporter delivering unparalleled benefits in making our nation internationally competitive.
There is more work to be done with fragmentation still visible across the tech industry in our small nation. The advancement of a knowledge-based economy can only be achieved through the concerted efforts of important actors in a national innovation ecosystem. Only through unifying elements of education to funding and incentives to knowledge sharing across government, academia and industry can innovative technology companies really start to achieve amazing things.