Why does something that should be so simple turn out to be so hard? Four years is a long time to wait for a New Zealand Government to establish a high level technology advisory role. A lot happens in the tech world in four years; New Zealand firms have sent rockets to space, developed autonomous vehicles and put faces to artificial intelligence. The pace of technology change presents enormous opportunities for New Zealand’s future, yet the Government lacks a trusted advisor to help them navigate the path.
During NZTech’s 2017 AGM panel discussion with MP’s, the idea of a CTO or tech advisor for the Government was first mooted by Rod Drury. NZTech’s then CEO, Candace Kinser, picked up the idea and developed it into a core pillar of NZTech’s 2014 Technology Policy Platforms. The recommendation was for, ‘the creation of a Chief Technology Advisor reporting directly to the Prime Minister to provide advice on the strategic use of technology across government and throughout society’. Unfortunately, no party backed the concept in 2014.
However, great ideas don’t just roll over and disappear. During the early months of 2017 NZTech, IT Professionals and InternetNZ brought together a collective of 20 leading technology groups to develop the Tech Manifesto for the 2017 election. The call was put out for a Ministry of the Future, a pseudo-agency bringing Government and the private sector together, led by a Chief Technology Advisor. The proposed focus, positioning New Zealand and all Government agencies and society to take the best advantage of a technologically enabled future.
Both parties eventually indicated support for some form of CTO role. Labour’s ICT manifesto stated that they ‘recognise the strategic importance of digitisation and will appoint a CTO to ensure that digital development is planned to achieve the best national outcomes’. It looked like things would rocket along as the Cabinet approved the role by early December 2017. The two aborted recruitment processes have been well blogged about by tech leaders who all have something to contribute to helping define New Zealand’s digital strategy. Check out the personal experiences of Vaughan Rowsell and Dan Khan.
Last week, the speculation was finally over when we found out what was happening with the New Zealand Chief Technology Officer role when Derek Handley shared an update on LinkedIn. Having been offered the role, signed the contract and relocated his family from the US, he arrived back in New Zealand to find out that the role had been canned. What a shocker! My sympathy goes out to Derek, who is the victim of an incredibly poor process.
Now, I don’t think we should wait for the Government anymore. Let’s just get on with it! In the past three years, NZTech has managed to bring together a national Tech Alliance and support 21 tech communities without any Government funding to do so. Now representing over 800 organisations throughout New Zealand, from tech firms, startups and high tech manufacturers to universities, Government agencies and large corporations like banks, insurance companies, agri-businesses and an airline. Across these 21 tech associations many are already starting work on national strategies. The AI Forum has over 100 people voluntarily helping drive working groups, including the development of a national AI strategy.
So guess what I am pitching at the NZTech strategy and planning day this Thursday? Let’s bring together the people who cared enough to apply to be New Zealand’s CTO. Let’s develop our own Ministry of the Future and collectively start developing a national digital/tech strategy for New Zealand.
Let me know what you think and are you up for it?