A new government means a new approach. And reflecting the tougher economic times, technology will have to increasingly justify itself too. But as an entrepreneur who has used ICT to transform his own businesses as well as the National Party, it seems ICT has a friend in Steven Joyce. The new IT and Communications Minister follows on from David Cunliffe, who is now the finance spokesperson for the Labour Party. Cunliffe’s ICT role is now taken by Dunedin South MP Clare Curran.
Joyce and National are grappling with a raft of announcements covering issues such as the government’s own $1.5 billion fibre-to-the home ultrafast broadband network, which aims to cover 75 per cent of Kiwi homes within six years. Whether Labour’s $325 million Broadband Investment Fund survives also has to be settled.
Other matters on the table include the Telecom Service Obligation, as well as ongoing government initiatives like the Government Shared Network and KAREN.
Rural broadband is another priority, with National doubling the Broadband Challenge Fund to $48 million with a refocus on remote and rural areas.
Since the new MP took up his role in November, controlling a communications budget of $89.5 million for 2009/10, Joyce has been “having a very good look at government IT”.
Government, he says, is responsible for a third of the New Zealand economy and has an important role in encouraging broadband, and its agencies in “moving to e-work”.
“But we need government to operate in an efficient and sensible manner. That will be the guiding approach, [to] definitely ensure government agencies are at the forefront of supplying or providing the sort of services we see from ultrafast broadband, but in a commercially sensitive manner.”
As the recession bites, Joyce warns government IT projects, though undefined yet, will be affected on cost grounds, just as in the private sector. “There will be some projects that will be nice to have. There will be others that bring economic efficiencies. The ones that make the boat go faster; they will go up the list.”
What will make the new government different from the old, Joyce says, is its “commitment to ultrafast broadband”. Labour, he says, “started very late” in ultrafast broadband, though he recognises it eventually “made some progress in catching us up”.
Another main difference will be “a government that understands the commercial world and looks to simplify rather than complicate things”.
National’s 90-day employee trial policy, he says, should also make it easier for IT firms, as well as other employers, to employ staff ‘risk free’, something particularly important in the current economic climate.
The son of a grocer, Joyce is a noted pragmatist and hard worker, who like Prime Minister John Key, made his money in business before turning to politics.
Joyce set up radio stations in the 1980s, which later became known as Radio Works. He took a technological approach with his business in 1993, having the first computerised radio suite in New Zealand. “Then we went onto and digitised broadcast using satellite distribution. This gave us a real advantage and helped the company grow,” he says.
After Radio Works was bought out by CanWest in 2000, Joyce became involved in the National Party. He first reviewed the party’s disastrous 2002 result, shaking up the organisation and giving campaigns a nationwide consistency, before running the 2005 and 2008 campaigns.
Technology also played a role in transforming the National Party. “One of the most powerful tools is allowing your customers their own part of your database and personalise it to them,” he says.
As a ‘hands-on’ director and then CEO at Jason’s Travel Media, he similarly transformed the company, most notably through a new web strategy.
Joyce says he tends to lead from the front and is driven by trying to make things work better. “You have to understand what it is you are trying to achieve, understand the stakeholders, collect information, keep an open mind. You keep doing that every day, take info. I like to reflect on that.”
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