Kia ora koutou — we’re the Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand. We’re looking forward to sharing our mahi (work) here with you. In keeping with the #weeknotes approach, we want to be transparent about our work. Plus, we’re looking for input from people from all walks of life to inform our advice to the New Zealand Government on harnessing the potential of digital and data to make Aotearoa New Zealand a great place for all.
On 20 April, we hosted a full-day meeting, hearing from leaders and senior representatives of small to medium business enterprises (SMEs) and, separately, the primary industries sector.
Covid-19: the issues for New Zealand SMEs
First up, was an information-packed two-hour Zui (Zoom hui) with organisations who work with many SMEs. SMEs make up a significant proportion of our economy — 500,000 businesses are classed as small — and it was clear from what we heard they are going to play a fundamental role in supporting New Zealand’s economic recovery as we emerge from Covid-19 into the ‘new normal’.
We heard there had been a massive shift to digital caused by Covid-19, with some small businesses pivoting their operations to keep afloat and using online tools to offer new ways of serving their customers. We heard how others are collaborating across sectors to offer new services in a changed, contactless landscape. We also heard about the challenges for businesses who struggle with establishing or maintaining digital capability.
The overriding theme was how the current situation offers a huge opportunity for change. However, our SME digital capability is low compared with other countries. Most SMEs are “digital migrants” — the opposite of digital natives; they lack trust and confidence in technology, its reliability, security and online platforms generally.
Alongside a concern about low digital skills, we heard there were still high numbers of SMEs who don’t have access, devices and security around their connections. Connectivity in rural areas is still an issue. There remains a wide digital divide.
Finally, we heard how New Zealand needs to be smarter about collecting, sharing and using data to support decisions. The New Zealand Government has access to and generates a lot of data, but how can innovative organisations gain access to this data?
Poor connectivity, trust and data sharing are issues for primary industries
Talking to primary industry sector representatives, a strong theme emerged: the negative impact of poor rural connectivity. While lack of broadband and mobile phone coverage is problematic, we heard that Covid-19 has exacerbated these issues and that poor connectivity remains a barrier to rural businesses moving online and continuing to operate.
We heard how digital technologies, especially relating to supply chains, presents a huge opportunity to this sector. But, there was concern New Zealand may be falling behind other nations — this was one of many issues the sector was talking to the Government about as part of the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan, designed to help grow and scale the country’s agritech sector.
Trust and data-sharing came up as issues. We talked about the untapped opportunity for access to and sharing of data to increase productivity for our primary industries, which has given the Council some important insights.
Council work programme
We will share more about the Council’s work programme shortly. In a nutshell, we are exploring what is needed to ensure New Zealand has a trusted digital and data landscape so that we can all benefit from the opportunities that technology can provide.
Our research programme
As part of our work programme, we will carry out research. Right now, we are looking at research that explores issues of trust in digital and data-driven technologies.
We are exploring how we might keep this research focused and relevant. For example, should we zero in on the impacts and opportunities of a specific type of technology? Or should we explore issues related to something that spans a range of technologies such as the collection, storage and use of personal data?
We will share more as our thinking develops and look forward to talking to New Zealand and testing our thoughts and ideas.
Impact of Covid-19 on our work
Alongside our work programme and research work, we are also thinking about New Zealand’s digital and data future in a post-Covid world. We are considering what our new normal could and should look like and considering how New Zealand should harness opportunities that will arise from the rapid digital transformation we are witnessing.
About our work: Council members come together monthly to make key decisions and progress our work programme. Between formal meetings, members focus on various work streams. Colin and Marianne lead our research work, Kendall and Roger our ad-hoc work, and Rachel and Nikora lead our comms, while our chair, Mitchell, holds responsibility for stakeholder engagement.