Tech will eventually give New Zealand the diversity it needs

How can IT help New Zealand develop a more balanced and prosperous economy?
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

The issue came to the fore again following the Fonterra milk powder contamination scare: Commentators said the scandal highlighted how New Zealand's economy was not only dominated by one industry (dairy farming) but also one company (Fonterra).

Thus, if Fonterra sneezes, the entire New Zealand economy catches a cold.

Leading the charge was Paul Brislen, chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand.

Brislen touted IT as an economic panacea, and issued a personal manifesto of government action, tax breaks, more IT training, more spending in IT infrastructure, and so on.

He was echoed by journalist Toby Manhire, who noted that previous attempts to boost the IT sector didn't really amount to much.

Like me, Manhire probably remembers those Knowledge Wave talkfests 10 or so years ago, when Labour's Helen Clark was but a rookie prime minister.

The National-led government that replaced her has its own programs, in addition to Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB), but admittedly, IT has yet to capture the public imagination in ways we might hope, and is said to have occurred in Finland and other places.

Yet, things are probably not as bleak as they might first appear.

New Zealand is experiencing something of a Dotcom Boom, with tech firms busily raising capital on the markets to fund extra staffing, more research, and to flog their stuff in more overseas markets.

Accounting software company Xero has grown substantially in recent years, with a market capitalisation reaching NZ$2 billion at times, and its rapid growth is set to continue as it funds further sales expansion.

The retail/POS world also has another star, Vend, which is prospering and making big strides.

There are other stars, too, most notably the Wynyard Group, scoring wins with a range of government agencies in Australia, the US, and Europe.

Recently, it and other Kiwi software companies formed a "Security Alliance" to grab more export sales.

Such collaboration is also echoed in a "Launch Pad" in San Francisco featuring several Kiwi technology businesses breaking into US markets.

It all augurs well for the future.

Indeed, this all comes as various reports highlight a growing New Zealand tech sector, with great pay and record-breaking exports.

Our computer games sector is growing rapidly, too.

Brislen is right in lamenting that New Zealand's IT exports are at present a "fraction" of dairy exports, but there is enough good news out there to be optimistic.

The speed of growth looks to be picking up. New Zealand has a fresh batch of new and rising stars.

And unlike Finland, which became over-dependent on Nokia, we do have that business diversity the country needs, even if we'd like to get there somewhat faster than our current pace allows.

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