Tech think-tank led by 'chief technology officer' considered by National

Coordination would help NZ build on its strengths in technology, backers of a national CTO role say.
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Coordination would help NZ build on its strengths in technology, backers of a national CTO role say.

The National Party has reversed its stance on appointing a powerful new tech supremo to guide the country's technological future.

The country now appears set to get a "chief technology officer" whatever the outcome of this week's election, after the change of heart. 

National's economic development and communications spokesman Simon Bridges said the Government "is considering the establishment of a chief technology officer-led think tank".

"The future form of this is still to be determined," he said.

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An unlikely coalition that includes the Labour Party, Xero founder Rod Drury, Green Party donor Seeby Woodhouse and a "strategic insights panel" backed by consultants KPMG and ASB Bank have been among those championing the establishment of powerful national chief technology officer.

Drury said the chosen person could build on the country's successes in the tech sector and guide future investments.

Finance Minister Steven Joyce had appeared to squash the idea in a Twitter exchange with Drury in 2014, questioning why the sector needed "another taxpayer-funded busybody telling industry how to develop".

National economic development spokesman Simon Bridges says the country's chief technology officer would lead a new ...
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

National economic development spokesman Simon Bridges says the country's chief technology officer would lead a new think-tank.

Bridges did not comment further on what the chief technology officer (CTO) role would entail under a National government.

Labour communications spokeswoman Clare Curran said appointing a CTO had been its policy in the 2014 as well as the current election.

National's was a "curious last-minute turnaround" given it had been implacably opposed for six years, she said. 

Xero boss Rod Drury says he could "maybe" be interested in becoming NZ's chief technology officer in 10 years.
JOHN ANTHONY/STUFF

Xero boss Rod Drury says he could "maybe" be interested in becoming NZ's chief technology officer in 10 years.

Under Labour, the CTO job would be "a very senior role, akin to the chief science officer, reporting directly to the Prime Minister and Cabinet," she said.

Their primary job would be to create a "digital road map" for New Zealand, but they would not just be a cheerleader. 

The Government already employs a chief technology officer for the public sector, Tim Occleshaw, as well as a chief information officer, Colin MacDonald. Both are attached to the Department of Internal Affairs, of which MacDonald is chief executive. 

Clare Curran says the tech supremo job under Labour would be a powerful one reporting to the Prime Minister.
SUPPLIED

Clare Curran says the tech supremo job under Labour would be a powerful one reporting to the Prime Minister.

But Curran said the new position would be very different and "outward facing" rather than "internal". 

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Drury said a CTO could help the country build on its existing strengths in fields such business computing, augmented reality and renewable energy, and coordinate strategy between the public and private sectors.

There were "big issues" industry would like to work with government on, like infrastructure, he said.

"Do we have enough international connectivity? What is our strategy for mobile communications – do we go 5G? Through to electric cars; should we be working together to try to make Wellington the righthand-drive autonomous vehicle capital?"

"I'd love to see industry get together with governments and say 'these are four or five big things we need to do'."

He agreed it should go beyond an evangelical role, but neither did he see it as interventionist, he said.

"It is important there is someone who works between the public and private sector. A whole lot of us are investing quite a lot and it is important we have a coordinated strategy we are all working towards."  

The Xero boss indicated he would not be putting his hand up for the role for now. "I'm am too busy with my own job – maybe in 10 years," he said.

 

 - Stuff

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