Dear NZ Digital Strategy Team,
We are pleased to see New Zealand drafting our own digital strategy to strengthen trust, inclusion, & growth of our information technology sectors. This message lists our suggestions, as government contractors, for how the New Zealand government can help achieve this:
1) Publish all government communications using established open standards.
Open Standards allow for greater private sector innovation regarding the presentation of information to end-users, including better catering to disabilities & cultural differences. Requiring the use of specific tools like Microsoft Word or Twitter should be strongly discouraged. We are not suggesting that the government shouldn’t reach out to people on, say, Facebook. Rather, communications sent via open standards based protocols should be encouraged. Not restricting access to a specific channel also allows for kiwi ingenuity.
To be clear, when we speak about open standards, we are referring to well-governed international standards from organisations like OGC, IETF, ISO, IEEE, Kronos, & W3C. These allow technology partners to provide non-innovative parts of their software uniformly, leading to more market competition and innovation.
Participation by government agencies in the governance of open standards that are of high importance to their organisation should be encouraged and adequately funded. Guaranteed levels of quality is a separate yet related issue.
See also: https://openstandards.nz/
2) Require all government-funded software development to be published as open-source
This requirement would have many benefits to the growth of NZ’s IT sector, as described by NZGoal and a recent EU report, but the one we wish to draw highlight is the ability to enhance trust. Like with the COVID Tracer app anyone with the necessary technical skills can see for themselves that the app holds to its privacy promises and can assure their friends & family of its trustworthiness.
3) Establish a mechanism by which government departments can help fund the opensource development work they rely on
We appreciate the difficulty of agency budgets paying for things without legal requirements. Still, the reality is any public or private department nowadays relies heavily upon ongoing 3rd-party open-source software development work. Unfortunately, critical software infrastructure components often go unfunded, leading to “burnout” as those who maintain these projects no longer have the time or mental capacity to do so. Therefore, agencies that require these technologies need mechanisms by they can support these projects both financially and technically and be encouraged to do so.
See also: https://www.fordfoundation.org/work/learning/research-reports/roads-and-bridges-the-unseen-labor-behind-our-digital-infrastructure/
4) Favour kiwi owned & operated technology partners over foreign multinationals
The capabilities of New Zealand based technology partners should be taken into account when procuring IT solutions by government agencies. Proposals should not be of a size that prohibits participation by capable NZ firms. Procuring agencies should restructure proposals to prevent this. Agencies should avoid excluding equivalent solutions NZ firms can provide.
5) Focus on growing “stayups” over startups
The Angel Investor model, focusing on startups, rarely leads to sustained businesses. Angel investors typically look to fund rapidly growing businesses with a good idea, but most importantly, an “exit plan”. The best exit plan is a buy out by one of the major multinational technology companies. This short term profit covers the losses they accumulate on those who do not succeed. Sustaining a moderately successful business that employs people on a long term basis is not their interest. Stayups, the nurturing of New Zealand based IT businesses, should be the focus. This approach helps support the critical mass of IT skills and resources that provide a solid foundation for this industry positioned well for growth and become an international centre for excellence.
Adrian & Byron Cochrane OpenWork Ltd