Saturday, June 16, 2012

NSW Digital Economy Industry Action Plan

The Sydney Morning Herald has released what they claim to be the full text of the "Draft NSW Digital Economy Industry Action Plan". The SMH reported criticism of the draft plan and the makeup of the industry committee in "Heavy fog on information superhighway as action plan scorned as 'fluff" (Asher Moses, 12 June 2012).

The plan is 53 pages long (415 Kbytes) and proposes eight initiatives:
  1. International Digital Leadership
  2. Digital Precinct
  3. Connected Regional Communities
  4. Digital Skills
  5. Finance and Investment Channels
  6. SME-Corporate-Government Networks
  7. Open Data Innovation
  8. Integrated Port Logistics System
Having been involved in preparing such plans before I can understand how frustrating it can be and how hard not to just come up with the same bland platitudes as previous plans.
The first initiative of "International Digital Leadership" would be better described as "Marketing NSW As a Place for Creative Industries". That is, the state needs to market itself as a place where digital businesses can set up. The obvious way to do this is to showcase major digital organizations already located in NSW. One way I suggest the NSW Government do this is to sponsor events particularly less formal free "un-conferences", at places such as Google Sydney, the Australian Technology Park and NSW universities, vocational training centres and cultural institutions. The recent GovHack/GovCamp (which I helped organize), provide an excellent model for showcasing Australia to the world. One venue with considerable potential is the "National Centre for Creative Learning" at the new Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art Building.
The task force recommended creating a "NSW Digital physical and virtual precinct". This is not a particularly new idea, the NSW government invested a considerable amount in the "Australian Technology Park", with some limited success. Government attempts to build "virtual precincts" have been even less successful. The plan's recommendation of "Building multi-disciplinary teams including thought leaders from government, business, academia and community will produce pioneering digital research and industry-applied solutions." is an example of the sort of nonsense language which can harm, rather than help such initiatives.

The report recommends "stimulating the Digital Economy of regional NSW communities by improving technology access and literacy to allow communities from across NSW to connect". This would be an excellent complement to the implementation of the NBN. However, it will require investment and some politically difficult changes to current government services. As a example, school teachers will require retraining to use online educational techniques. This will improve access to education in regional areas, but will also result in the closure of some face-to-face teaching facilities.

The report correctly identifies the importance of digital skills and education for them. However, there are no proposals to bring this about. One area of need is digital skills for senior management in government, the commercial sector and academia. While more junior staff are learning how to implement digital initiatives, they are being held back by a lack of basic understanding by their superiors. Formal courses at business schools and also less formal "un-conference" events tailored for senior executives would valuable to help them "get it". The less formal events can also be used for marketing NSW as a digitally literate place. A live web cast of senior NSW executives at an event on digital industry, with the camera panning to take in the view of the Sydney Opera House, would be a powerful marketing tool.

The plan's proposals for Finance & Investment Channels and SME-Corporation-Government Networks do not appear to be workable. It would be more cost effective for the NSW Government to remove impediments for business generally and provide support for staff straining and basic infrastructure.

The last two of the plan's proposals appear to not fit with the previous six and may have been added at the last minute. Open access to government data is worthwhile, but is unlikely to have a major effect on NSW industry. Integrated port logistics would be useful, given NSW's lack of investment in this area, but has little to do digital issues generally.
Here are some excerpts from the plan:

The NSW Digital Economy Task Force was established by the NSW Government to develop an Industry Action Plans to position this key sector of the State's economy for strong growth over the next decade.

Industry Action Plans are an important element of NSW 2021, the Government’s 10 year strategic plan. The decade to 2021 will present both opportunities and challenges for our cities, towns, businesses and communities. For example, our position in an increasingly connected global economy, with fluid markets and consumer demand, advances in new technology, and a growing and ageing population, are just some of the mega-drivers that we need to navigate. Industry Action Plans will help NSW industries meet these challenges as well as capitalise on opportunities.

This Industry Action Plans has been developed with the aim of ensuring strong growth, resilience, improved innovation and productivity, global competitiveness, and new investment opportunities for the NSW Digital Economy over the next decade.

The task force has considered a significant number of potential recommendations and examined the impact and achievability to arrive at eight areas that will have significant potential for the NSW Digital Economy to 2021. The recommendation categories are:
• International Digital Leadership
• Digital Precinct
• Connected Regional Communities
• Digital Skills
• Finance and Investment Channels
• SME-Corporation-Government Networks
• Open Data Innovation
• Integrated Port Logistics Systems

International Digital Leadership

Positioning NSW as a digital global leader will attract business opportunities here by promoting the state’s digital product and service capabilities – particularly in sectors where the State enjoys competitive advantage such as media and mobile.

The task force recommends positioning NSW as a global leader in the digital space by demonstrating innovation, increasing activity, promoting & celebrating success stories, forming partnerships and increasing exports.

Digital Precinct

Establishing a digital innovation precinct with both a physical and ‘online’ presence will supports the growth of an innovation ecosystem across NSW. Building multi-disciplinary teams including thought leaders from government, business, academia and community will produce pioneering digital research and industry-applied solutions.

The task force recommends creating a NSW Digital physical and virtual precinct so that communities from all over NSW can connect.

Connected Regional Communities

Access to digital services will drive regional economies, improving access to services, and improving the quality of life in regional NSW.

The task force recommends stimulating the Digital Economy of regional NSW communities by improving technology access and literacy to allow communities from across NSW to connect.

Digital Skills

For NSW to be competitive in the digital age, it needs access to a stable, competent and expanding workforce; encompassing high calibre technical and business skills, and the ability to take full advantage of the Digital Economy.

This recommendation aims to improve availability and quality of digital skills through targeted engagement and education throughout the community.

Finance and Investment Channels

Difficulty in accessing finance has been identified as an impediment for high growth SMEs and start ups. This recommendation aims to improve Finance & Investment Channels through various funding innovations.

SME-Corporation-Government Networks

Collaborative networks that efficiently link technology-based small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to corporate and public partners will facilitate investment, trade, procurement and acquisition opportunities, including leading online solutions for the provision of government services.

The task force recommends creating active and collaborative SME / Corporation / Government Networks to increase opportunities.

Open Data Innovation

Open access will empower citizens and organisations to use public data and information to drive industry innovation and unlock valuable solutions e.g. information on bus locations.

The task force recommends facilitating access to open government and public data to drive innovation and unlock solutions.

Integrated Port Logistics Systems

Development of integrated port logistics will optimise the passage of freight from producer to consumer, build best-in-class infrastructure and boost NSW economic productivity.

The task force recommends piloting programs in this area. ...

Industry Profile 12
Trends and Outlook 13
Industry Issues 14
Challenges & Risks 15
Submissions 18
Regional Forums 20

Education and Research

The presence in Sydney of the headquarters of National Information and Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) and the CSIRO ICT Centre, as well as five national centres of excellence, and two cooperative research centres in ICT–related research fields, forms an essential element of the diversity of the ICT sector.

Private R&D also flourishes in NSW, with foreign multi–nationals locating their research facilities here.

Our higher education system and strong vocational training institutions have supported the development of a highly skilled ICT workforce. In 2009, for example, there were over 14,000 students studying Information Technology at the 11 universities in NSW, and a further 14,400 students were studying information technology at NSW TAFE Colleges and through other vocational education and training providers in 2009. ...

Skills Shortages

Research suggests that major Digital projects such as the National Broadband Network and the increasing use of Web2.0 will generate significant future demand and competition for Digital talent.

The workforce and environment of the ICT and Creative Industries are dynamic. Issues such as changing technology, labour market variation, offshoring of ICT and Creative Industries and evolving business needs present ongoing human capital challenges.

Since 2004, enrolments in higher education ICT courses have declined by 6 per cent per year. Over the same period, enrolments in other courses have increased by 4 per cent per year. ...


Contributors felt that skills were an issue for the Digital Economy, both from the point of view of delivering and interacting with the Digital Economy, and also in the use of technology for delivering education more generally.

The skilled workforce, and consumer and business skills
to interact with the Digital Economy featured widely, as did access to education, technology in schools, and the workforce of the future. ...

From: "Draft NSW Digital Economy Industry Action Plan", NSW Government(?), 2012.

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