Enter to win in race with no finish line
OPINION: Last weekend I raced my diminutive Type R Honda at Manfeild Raceway in The Surgery Sprints.
The Sprints are entry-level motorsport at their best. Twelve cars put out in pairs every 30 seconds, then a flying start and go like hell for four laps, with generally no car-to-car contact.
Boy racers in souped-up Mitsubishis go bumper to bumper with aging gents in classic Alfas and proficient women in Porsches.
My first race at Manfeild last Sunday was a bit of a fluke. The little Honda responded well to the cold air and dry tarmac and I ended up passing all the other cars on the track – a very uncommon state of affairs.
My old racing mentor Bryan Wyness had a great piece of advice for these situations. He told me that when you find yourself in first place, then it’s time to really put your foot down.
Bryan’s advice came back last Tuesday as I learnt that the Fletcher business school at Tufts University in Boston had released its Digital Evolution Index (DEI) – basically, a digital pulse of 60 developed countries.
Turns out little old Aotearoa is kicking some serious digital butt. The report identified New Zealand as one of the digital ‘‘elites’’ characterised by high levels of digital development and a fast rate of digital evolution.
The Fletcher school analysed 100 variables across four key drivers – supply, demand, institutions (government) and innovation. This allowed it to group the 60 countries into four groups – standouts, stall outs, break outs and watch outs.
The standouts were the best overall. And among the standouts three countries were painted as the best of the best – Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand.
These three were seen as being unique in having strong policy-led digital strategies at a central government level, and that policy actively being used to shape their digital economies.
Apart from feeling surprised and a bit chuffed, the thing that struck me about the three winners was that New Zealand was the only real ‘‘flower of democracy’’.
Both UAE and Singapore are remarkable nation states with impressive achievements, but neither have administrations known for governance by consent.
Whereas New Zealand, for all its faults, is often described as a textbook democracy.
And while many have criticised the Government’s execution of the Better Public Service programme – especially result areas nine (onestop digital government shop for business) and 10 (easy online government transaction completion) – the DEI result would indicate they’re doing pretty well.
It’s not just one data point. Three weeks ago the Institute for Government in the United Kingdom published its first International Civil Service Effective Index (InCiSE).
InCiSE found New Zealand had the second best public service across 31 countries, behind Canada but in front of digital darlings Australia, Great Britain and Estonia.
Both studies are independent and credible. So it’s appropriate to take a moment and say well done.
But only a moment. Now it’s time to put the foot down. If we lose our focus for a moment, there’s no doubt that a bunch of other countries will shoot past. There’s a truckload still to be done.
First off is to somehow stop government agencies from wanting to boil the ocean when it comes to digital projects.
Senior managers in government often fail to understand that breadth of scope has an inverse relationship to effectiveness, not to mention cost.
A related concept here is getting a more consistent user experience across different agencies.
Next up is bringing application programme interfaces (APIs) front and centre. An API is effectively a pipe connector that provides a window to the underlying code on a website, and the ability for other services to connect to it.
If you want one website or web service to talk to another, then you need to expose an API.
Currently the API landscape across government is confused and the ability to map between them varies hugely – from as little as four hours to as long as four months, in my experience. This makes it hard to innovate and hard to expose data that businesses can use to grow the economy.
Another area that’s going to be pivotal going forward is artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-driven experiences, including chat bots, such as Air New Zealand’s Oscar, and voice interface technology.
Chat bots and voice interface will open up online fulfilment for thousands of disenfranchised Kiwis. But I reckon a lot of agencies (and corporates as well) will get taken to the cleaners by opportunists.
Providing a common understanding of what works with AI and reasonable rates to get it operational would be pretty useful, I think. It could even be a job for the Government Chief Technology Officer’s assurance sub-panel.
Another area that I think needs improvement is the Government Rules of Sourcing and the Internal Affairs-mandated Products and Services list.
These are the rules of engagement for agencies wanting to buy in technology and are actually pretty good.
I’m just not certain that they are that well understood, which brings unnecessary delays and/or costs.
Unlike the sprints at Manfeild, this race will never finish. As Moore’s law continues to apply to technology growth, the pace of change will only increase, requiring a constantly improving digital policy framework.
So we really do need to put the pedal to the metal.
The report identified New Zealand as one of the digital "elites" characterised by high levels of digital development and a fast rate of digital evolution.
Mike ‘‘MOD’’ O’Donnell is an e-commerce manager and professional director. His Twitter handle is @modsta and he needs to put his foot down more often.