NZIM : Digital Strategy – Why Managers Should Care

Managers may be snowed under dealing with the tough realities of slowing economy but they need to spend time engaging with the Government’s recently released Draft Digital Strategy 2008 (www.digitalstrategy.govt.nz/digital-strategy-2).
Why? Because the “Digital Age” is rapidly becoming central to management processes and strategic thinking.
Just month ago national debate erupted over Opposition Leader John Key’s announced plans to spend $1.5 billion on providing most New Zealanders with fibre-optic connections by 2014, if he and his party should lead the country after this year’s General Election. And Labour minister David Cunliffe’s determination to deliver better and cheaper local broadband services has been instrumental in the operational separation of Telecom into two entities to deliver more competition and, consequently, cheaper broadband.
There’s more to the 2008 Digital Strategy than just another rationalisation for funding inter-generational infrastructure development.
It sets stretch vision for New Zealand as we search for our new global niche. It challenges us to ponder what the equivalent of the “refrigerated ships” that transformed our land-based industries in the 19th century might be? Digital, not distance, contains the opportunities for our future.
The digital vision for New Zealand, according to the strategy, states: “New Zealand will be world leader in using information and technology to realise its economic, social, environment and cultural goals, to the benefit of all New Zealanders.”
This implies moving our thinking towards an economic base that is characterised by, in the words of the New Zealand Institute, greater degree of “weightlessness”.
It simultaneously discusses new “weightless” businesses like TradeMe, Xero and Right Hemisphere, and the case for adding digital component to all the nation’s “weightful” produce.
Managers not working in the information communications technology (ICT)/digital industries may not even be aware of some interesting and seminal changes in information processing behaviour now taking place. Consider just two:
Recent research from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future (www.digitalcenter.org) states that the typical internet user spends roughly four hours per day “actively using” the internet and the majority of that time is spent heavily multitasking, often running streaming multimedia applications in the background while focusing on less bandwidth-intensive applications in the foreground.
The millennial generation (often referred to as Gen Y) is demonstrating capacity to adopt innovative digital applications in widespread fashion in record time – 12 to 18 months or less (eg YouTube, Facebook). These are the future workforce and next-generation managers who will take New Zealand forward. Today’s managers must take the time to understand and plan for this new way of working.
Consider this scenario by US-based niche research firm Nemertes (www.nemertes.com): “MIT researchers have already developed devices that allow users to set up variety of ‘always on’ video connections between friends and family members. These can be displayed on wall-mounted high-definition displays, or carried as low-definition keychain-sized trinkets (with wireless access to the internet). Either way, they enable users to set up sustained interactive connections between remote parties.”
Science fiction? Why would anyone do this today or before 2018? Consider for moment the context of some real changes we are living through:
• Constantly increasing oil prices will directly impact the cost of all forms of travel and make us think before getting into car or aircraft.
• New Zealand is one of the world’s “ageing” societies. Our baby boomers are increasingly concerned with caring for both their elderly parents and for their college-age children. Both these groups, for which they are responsible, often live remotely.
• Globalisation means many young people travel and work globally, presentingproblems for parents wanting to keep connected.
Digital Strategy 2008 is also about ICT, pointing out that greater use of it has the potential to help businesses and New Zealand generally to reduce CO2 emissions in line with Kyoto commitments. Japanese expert Yuji Inou believes by applying ICT to everyday life and business Japan can reach 90 percent of its Kyoto target.
But we need mindset change to take full advantage of the Digital Age. As leaders and managers we need to engage with this phenomenon and understand that failure to do so threatens our standard of living.
The 2008 Strategy focuses on three key enablers:
• Connection: High-speed broadband provides the means to be digital and this is at the heart of the great New Zealand fibre-optic debate.
• Confidence: Gives us the skills and secure digital environment, deals with the issue that ought to be an integral part of the professional development agenda for managers.
• Content: The driver for connection and confidence by providing compelling reason to be digital, applies not only to businesses dealing in intangible products such as software but everything we produce and trade.
NZIM accepts the challenge and notes that one of the strategy’s stated priorities is the “equipping of managers with the skills needed to engage with and use ICT to increase productivity and innovation”.
Renowned Canadian economist, Richard G Lipsey, has identified the internet as one of the general purpose technologies (GPT) that has transformed the economy and society and ranks its importance alongside the discovery of steam, electricity, the internal combustion engine and mass production.
The strategy examines the impact and opportunity of not just the internet, but the underlying “digital” phenomenon to our future as nation – across the social, economic, cultural and environmental aspects of our lives – individually and severally.
The 2008 Strategy includes and expands on the New Zealand Digital Content Strategy launched in 2007. This sets out framework to address the key elements of understanding our “content” – past, present and future. It asserts that productivity is all about achieving creative, knowledge-based, high-income economy.
This is at the heart of many issues that we managers deal with on daily basis – we must show leadership and engage and shape this agenda for the nation from business and management perspective.
NZIM invites all of you to engage with the Draft Digital Strategy 2008, take it forward and make it real for business in New Zealand. We are looking at holding series of forums later in the year to debate particular management focus elements of the strategy so watch out for these. In the mean time, you can consider doing bit of “Wiki” at wiki.digitalstrategy.govt.nz/MainPage.ashx (it’s quite bit of fun as well).

Compiled by David Chapman FNZIM, chief executive, NZIM, in association with Prashanta Mukherjee, former independent member of the Digital Strategy Advisory Group.

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