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CIO upfront: How to build strong science, education and innovation communities

CIO upfront: How to build strong science, education and innovation communities

Two important developments at the end of 2016 bode well for the future of the sector, writes REANNZ CEO Nicole Ferguson.

It is essential to our future as a technology enabled innovator that our national infrastructure continue not just to keep up with, but stay ahead of the game, when it comes to supporting innovative New Zealand research.

Nicole Ferguson, REANNZ

New Zealand’s science, education and innovation communities should be encouraged by two important developments which took place towards the end of 2016, that bode well for the future of these sectors.

MBIE’s publication of the Science and Innovation System Performance Report in late November, coupled with news that the Government will commit a further $488,000 to the Square Kilometre Array project, illustrate that recognition is being given to the tremendous contribution science can make to growing NZ Inc.

Whilst it won’t be operational until 2021, the SKA has already been hailed as the world’s most ambitious science and IT project - and for good reason.

Once completed, the radio telescope network – which will generate images and other information to give us insight into the beginnings of the universe – will consist of hundreds of thousands of antenna throughout the Australian desert, plus a further 2000 dishes in South Africa.

It’s a project that’s been made possible through the collaborative efforts of a number of countries, and it represents a particularly exciting opportunity for the New Zealand research and innovation community.

Teams of local researchers and industry partners have already taken up a crucial role, working in tandem with their overseas counterparts to design a supercomputer (and data processor) unlike any that’s come before - capable of processing the massive amounts of data set to be churned out by the SKA each and every day.

No mean feat, given that the daily SKA data transfer will be equal to approximately ten times the amount of data transferred as part of daily global internet traffic.

The SKA is just one (albeit hugely impressive) example of the many and varied global projects New Zealand’s research and innovation community is currently involved in, spanning a vast range of disciplines and areas.

It’s also an excellent case for why investment in our local science, education and innovation sectors is absolutely imperative – so Kiwi researchers have the ability to participate in projects of this calibre, making an ongoing contribution to the global knowledge economy, and cementing our local standing on the world stage.

A broader look at the nation’s science, education and innovation sectors, summarised in the Government’s first annual Science and Innovation System Performance Report, shows that, overall, the industry is in relatively good shape.

Encouragingly, we’re relatively efficient in terms of per-dollar research outputs, and continue to attract qualified scientists, engineering & technology professionals to our shores. That said, there remains a significant level of untapped potential, and further room for improvement.

New Zealand’s ability to participate in the SKA (and other high-profile, global research projects) is largely dependent on having critical infrastructure in place to support data transfer, compute, storage and analytics.

REANNZ is a quiet achiever on behalf of NZ, providing a key piece of this critical infrastructure; a dedicated, high-speed telecommunications network. We enable unparalleled international connectivity and data transfer for New Zealand’s researchers.

Although this connectivity would today be taken for granted by many, back in 2006, before REANNZ was established, New Zealand faced the prospect of becoming a research and education backwater.

It is essential to NZ’s future as a technology enabled innovator that our national infrastructure continue not just to keep up with, but stay ahead of the game, when it comes to supporting innovative New Zealand research.

Last year, we celebrated a decade of successful operation, and the groundswell of attention and support that New Zealand’s wider scientific and research communities are receiving suggests that the future for the entire ecosystem of organisations doing great work in these areas is as bright as it’s ever been.

As the science and innovation report suggests, there’s clearly more work to do, and our researchers, educators and scientists all need to focus on stepping up to the challenges we face as a country.

As we look forward to the year ahead, however, it’s fair to say that New Zealand is progressing well towards the National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI) 2025 vision of a “highly dynamic system” that will maximise long-term value for our nation.

Nicole Ferguson
Nicole Ferguson

Nicole Ferguson is CEO of REANNZ (Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand).

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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