The Green's ICT policy: Just a jump to left …

Ian Apperley

Last month I looked at Labour’s ICT policy. You would expect in the run up to the general election that parties would have their policies front and centre but the only one really making any noise has been Labour and the next most detailed policy belongs to the Green Party. The other parties are either so old they don’t know what ICT (information and communications technology) is or just don’t think it’s a priority.

The Greens ICT Policy can be found here. To be honest though, that particular page should probably just be deleted. It’s so once over lightly that you could be forgiven for reading it, thinking there was little substance to the policy, and then carrying on to pastures greener.

A much better description is here, and for those who are interested in understanding more, a Green Discussion Paper can be found here.

Now, there is a tonne of information so I’m going to pick out specific themes.

The first is open access, to everything, all the time, including internet access. This is an important policy that most other developed countries have taken seriously. New Zealand has lagged in this area, no more so than with local government, which is where this policy is likely to start and finish. The Greens have taken some time to think practically about how this could occur, pushing the idea of community hubs for ICT while proposing internet access be available to all, including free wireless. Which, while I have your attention, is not that expense. The cost of extending wireless to all of Wellington City has been estimated at $250,000, as an example.

The Greens are also interested in making government databases (that can be under security and privacy) freely available to the public. This is another area that developing countries figured out well before us. Making that information available, again most importantly at a local government level, drives innovation and the development of smart applications that can make use of that data. It reduces the cost on agencies and councils significantly as they don’t have to invest in the development of those smart services. You effectively let the market do what it does.

The Greens strongly support open source software, using the word “mandatory” in at least one paragraph. Now, I’m ambivalent when it comes to this stuff. I think that rather than leaning in to a major technology type, you are better off figuring out what you need, then sourcing the product that works. Having said that, there is a new wave of proprietary software and hardware heading in our direction that we haven’t quite picked up on as an industry and need to be aware of.

Some cloud providers (none in New Zealand) are creating very proprietary services, here’s looking at you Oracle, that are going to not only capture the ability to alter software as required but also the data that is associated. Try getting your financial systems out of Oracle cloud (let alone into it). In addition, the Internet of Things, on the slow rise of hype, is already being heavily dominated by the major global ICT players who want to turn those billions of sensors into proprietary objects. Now, to give you an example, a sensor developed using RasberryPi might be as low as $US35 whereas a similar sensor bundled from one of the big multi-nationals could exceed $2000 for the same power.

So Open Source, software or hardware, is extremely important. However I am not sure of the mandatory leaning of the Greens. Any time an agency tries to mandate something, everyone finds reasons not to do it. We don’t like being told what to do, right? However, when they offer guidance, as the recent Cloud Assurance work by DIA demonstrates, it’s quickly adopted, disseminated, and evolved to suit agencies needs.

The Greens push hard for agencies to buy locally made. This makes sense to me. I think that local companies should have the same opportunity to bid and win for work as multi-nationals do. I don’t think they should have an advantage, just because they are Kiwis. That might be a recipe for disaster.

I’m probably not explaining that particularly well. We have seen over the last decade tenders released by government agencies that include wording that deliberately excludes local providers. The most recent accusation was leveled at Inland Revenue in respect to its billion dollars or more of work. Local ICT ICT lobby groups have railed against this for a long time and NZRise and others have made significant progress with government in the last three years.

Not so a certain lobby group that is reported to have said that it would be better if local NZ ICT companies just sub-contracted through the multinationals. No prizes for guessing who that is. Let’s not forget the “Mexicans with cellphones” debacle of 2001 shall we?

The bottom line is that we do have the expertise to do the work here and it can be done cheaper. Where a multi-national will charge $300 an hour for a programme manager while paying the contractor from New Zealand $135, we can just do it for $135. There is no value in a multi-national playing body shop for resources.

There is a push to increase ICT Workers rights with the perception by the Greens that technology is taking over their lives and their days are long and miserable. Now. I see this all the time, but I’m not sure that we need direct intervention.

As an example, I was talking to a gentleman who worked for an organisation the other day who was in total despair over his boss demand that he stayed at his desk during work hours. In fact, I see this quite often. Anyway, in this example the gentleman in question had a performance measure written into his employment contract that said something along the lines of “must be visible at least seven hours per day at your desk.”

The reality is that ICT is allowing for fractalised working, the ability to work anywhere, at any time. Counter to that has to be a move to results based performance as opposed to activity-based performance. The benefits of working from home, or the cafe, or anywhere, are many and scientifically proven. So, do we need intervention by government to push that?

Probably not. What happens is that the dinosaurs who demand staff work late, at their desk, for rubbish pay, and other poor conditions will find that in a market where resource is tight, they won’t have staff. Pretty simple.

There is a huge section on e-waste, which I agree is a looking issue. However, I don’t think it fits in an ICT Policy. It’s wider than that.

The paper on ICT and our industry is a little more modern in terms of the rest of the Greens' policies. It’s a discussion paper for want of a better category that looks at the ICT industry and how it can be supported, matured, and grown. No one else has displayed a lot of thinking in this area as yet.

In that, the Greens support investment by government in a range of areas including a second, diverse, communications cable connecting New Zealand to the rest of the world. Given the cost of that investment, the likely returns, and the reduction of risk, it surprises me no one else has pushed it.

In summary, the Greens' view of ICT is a little jump to the left, as you would expect. Regardless of your view on their wider policies, these are quite good. Now, there is still time to run, so it will be interesting to see what Labour and National, in particular, settle on. The thing that I quite like about the Greens' policy is that they explain quite clearly what they are going to do, rather than talk in generalities or rhetoric.

One of the things that I would have like to have seen, not just from the Greens, is more emphasis on Smart City investment. Careful investment in that area can yield massive dividends across an entire spectrum of areas from transport to citizen engagement. I haven’t seen anyone touch this policy area yet.

Ian Apperley is the director at Isis Group and blogs at Whatisitwellington

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