After more than 30 years’ working in the ICT sector globally, one thing I can say for certain is that New Zealand IT companies are among the best in the world. I’ve seen New Zealand’s ICT sectors grow significantly, emerging as an agile and innovative industry. But I really believe that it could have grown and innovated a lot more, had it the recognition it deserves from within New Zealand. It is no secret that New Zealand ICT companies face an ongoing struggle to compete with multinational brands. Typically, larger organisations and government agencies have dealt with these brands – and not necessarily because they offer the best service, but more often due to a perceived security around ‘big brand’. Yet, local companies often deliver exactly the same service with significantly better value for money and backed by a level of project and relationship ownership that you won’t get from a multinational provider. This country now has some large and successful ICT companies, the likes of Datacom, Simpl, Optimation and Intergen, which have had the agility and commitment to wear through the challenges, prove themselves and grow to the extent that they can now compete with the global players. Yet, my passion is our smaller, highly-specialised New Zealand companies, the ones that provide targeted expertise. I speak as CEO of Techtonics, one of New Zealand’s oldest ICT companies launched in 1987 when email didn’t exist and cellphones were the size of a man’s boot. As experts in information management and infrastructure optimisation, Techtonics has survived various global economic crises of the times and had the agility to move with the rapid technological changes. We’ve just signed a major four-year contract with the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) for the implementation and maintenance of Open Text Content Server 10, a new records and information management system that paves the way for enhanced connectivity through the public sector. We need to see more large organisations and government agencies like MED look to the skill base at their doorstep for the sake of efficiency, value for money and to nurture this country’s innovative and agile ICT industry. Techtonics walks the talk. Recently I upgraded all our back-end systems so we now use 100 percent New Zealand solutions from accounting, payroll, job-costing and time-sheeting through to IP telephony systems. Techtonics is also a founding member of key industry bodies, the NZ ICT Group which is a great organisation in terms of the whole industry; and more recently NZ Rise, which represents solely New Zealand, owned and operated ICT companies. It has arisen to promote the use and growth of these specialised companies, linking together collectively in a body that will have the capacity and motivation to compete with the big players. This brings me to the Government’s shared procurement policy, which clearly has good intentions. But, I’m concerned about the execution. It is already very difficult for smaller companies to win business in the public sector and procurement on a large scale is even more limiting with the restrictive costs of tendering. The potential outcome is a handful of players, leaving the small, expert, agile and innovative Kiwi companies in a position where they’ll have to partner with the big players, possibly just to stay in business. I don’t think that’s a healthy outcome for our innovative ICT sector, especially in Wellington While shared procurement is a good idea for sourcing ICT products and other commodities, it’s not as practical for sourcing people skills, those expert ICT practitioners who carry out consulting, implementation and maintenance. This should be kept open to all local ICT companies to ensure services remain agile, flexible and responsive to changing needs. Historically, we’ve seen shared services in the public sector rise and fall several times. Take the shared Government Computer Service (GCS) that was commercialised and eventually devolved because individual CIOs wanted to do their own thing to satisfy their different drivers. Ten years later we saw part of it arise again with the State Services Commission’s shared Government network (GSN) – which never really got off the ground. Now we’re looking at shared procurement; again with a clear intention to increase efficiency and reduce public expenditure. But at the services level, I think it could be more limiting to Government agencies than it will be enabling. Indeed, there is a lot of potential to reduce public spending with a closer look at current global ICT procurement, reviewing such factors such as the long-term outcomes and the costs. In the long-term, I am in no doubt that New Zealand ICT companies provide better value. For starters, hourly rates are much lower and then, when specialised expertise is required, there’s no need to pay massive charge-out rates for an international expert to be flown in. In essence, a New Zealand ICT company will provide:
- World class expertise
- Project ownership
- Innovation and agility
- Value for money
- Long-term commitment
Don’t get me wrong. I support and acknowledge New Zealand as part of a global economy. We need the multinational players here to help keep our (tiny) global footprint. And I do recognise that they employ Kiwis as well. But much of the money they make from this market goes offshore. Profits we make stay in New Zealand and, we pay tax on them. Government must not underestimate how important this is. The profits Techtonics has made has allowed us to invest in more training, more skills development, and a programme aimed specifically at giving young people an opportunity to build an ICT career. To then export New Zealand’s brilliance we first have to invest in it by using the services of our own ICT companies, allowing them to get ahead and innovate, taking our solutions to the world. Indeed, I’m so passionate about the innovative potential we have in New Zealand that I’ve recently started hiring young Kiwi talent not on experience or qualifications, but largely on attitude – passion, agility and creativity. And, these are turning out to be some of the best hires I’ve made. Greg Bickerton is CEO of Techtonic, experts in Information Management and Infrastructure Optimisation and a founding member of NZ Rise.
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