Don Christie stepped down as Co-chair of NZRise, an organisation he co-founded 9 years ago, last week. In his final Co-Chair AGM address Don told us the story of NZRise’s origins and some of the fantastic work he and others have led over the years. Here is a transcript of Don’s talk.
How it all started
Right back at the beginning the first conversations were with Orion Health, OSS, Silver Stripe, Three Months and Equinox. Some of these conversations began when the New Zealand Digital Technology sector was looking at software patents and how software patents for a small country like New Zealand didn’t really work for the sector – not just for open source software developers but for the entire group. The next organisations interested in discussing these challenges were what is now ITP, Internet NZ, Katipo, Technology Wise, and Signify.
As a group we were all exchanging emails about patents, and took our collective thoughts through to the select committee responsible for the patents bill going through parliament. It was clear to us the politicians had understood and accepted our submissions, even rewriting the bill to reflect New Zealand’s IT sectors’ position. Then, to our surprise, we discovered a draft came out that completely turned that around 180 degrees! we were quite confused by this. We did some “OIA-ing” and found that the body set up to represent the New Zealand technology sector (NZICT) had been lobbying furiously on behalf of IBM and Microsoft.
“Back then, the NZ ICT sector was being lobbied by IBM and Microsoft”.
So, we formed this little group of companies and counter lobbied. We had some successes, and then at the end of the patents process I sent an email to a few of these fellow companies and said “Hey look, do you mind if I keep your email address so that the next time there is an issue like this, that’s pertinent just to New Zealand business in the IT sector, we can self-organise”.
A realisation that there did need to be a stronger voice for New Zealand business in the digital sector started to form, especially if we really wanted to realise our goals which where to ensure the global competitively of New Zealand IT industry. It was about then when we changed the language to say New Zealand’s “digital technology” sector rather than IT or ICT to represent the changing nature of our businesses.
Why Government Procurement is a hot topic for NZRise
I think it’s quite important to just remember why we formed. I once described us as being like the Federated Farmers of the digital sector; have a strong voice, a voice that promotes our industry.
Other conversations going on at that time included the government looking for how to save money – lots of money – the advice that they were getting from their officials was to use panels of suppliers as the way to save money. Their plan was to have 3 or 4 suppliers for every single sector in the market. Anyone with a slight knowledge of economics would see that was nuts, you’re creating a closed market, you’re destroying innovation, you’re doing all sorts of bad things – but the government felt this was a way they could save money.
We went and talked to Western Australians, Queenslanders, Victorians and people in the UK who had tried this and realised not only it had not saved them money it had actually cost them a lot of money. They were all beginning to abandon those procurement mechanisms just as our Government was being advised to start using them.
Government procurement become a hot topic for us. One of the comments I had from the Australian industry was that the panel model, both at Federal Government and State Government levels, had actually knocked out the middle tier suppliers in Australia. We could see that this was going to become a real problem for NZ as well, so I make no apologies for the fact that NZRise has spent a lot of the last 9 years talking about procurement.
Free Trade Agreements
The other thing our small group was talking about at the time was skills. We focused on inspiring young New Zealanders and improving our export orientation – this can all be found in documents from 2010, and is all stuff we have continued to work on.
The one topic that may surprise people that we have been heavily involved in is Free Trade Agreements. We were early to engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Really looking at how a lot of global companies and particularly US media companies and content providing companies like Hollywood really wanted to impose their business models on the global IT sector (via the IT chapter of the agreement). Essentially they wanted to do this through influencing high quality trade agreements.
The proposal would have put rules on New Zealand businesses that were very restricting and didn’t suit innovation. We spent quite a bit of time early on going to Vietnam talking to negotiators. We were able to do a presentation that involved New Zealanders, Singaporeans and people from the USA directly to the negotiators who were negotiating the IT chapter. Our influence meant we got changes in there, that was an interesting period for us.
A safe place for discussion – “we should be damn proud”
Over the years I think one of our successes has been that we were able to moderate the implementation of Government procurement panels; we didn’t get to where we wanted to go with it, but if I look at what happened to the legal profession, the recruitment sector and others, we got off lightly. We had more open panels, we had panels that people could be included in and we had much bigger panels – NZRise did have a really positive effect there; there has been a lot of good work done like that.
The only other thing that I really need to emphasise is that we were set up to be the Alcoholics Anonymous for business owners. To be able to provide a place where we could come together and talk honestly and openly about our problems or about stuff that was worrying us, and as General Managers, Senior Managers or actual business owners themselves, being able to talk in a very open way without fear of it being used by your competitors. Getting advice from each other has been one of the best benefits of NZRise.
I’d also just note that we are guerrilla organisation and we only do what our members can do time wise and the NZRise board over the last 9 years have been amazing with the work that’s been done. The Co-Chairs Brian Calhoun from Silver Stripe to start with, Paul Ramsey from Equinox and recently Victoria MacLennan – who just takes it to another level. Just what we’ve been able to achieve has been amazing, so thank you everyone.
I’ll finish off by noting this; from the New Zealand procurement.gov.nz website – as we know they have just republished the procurement rules and under broader outcomes. The number one point is “access for New Zealand business, increasing access to government procurement contracts for New Zealand business with a particular focus on those less able to access opportunities and those working in propriety sectors such as ICT”. That’s us! That’s what NZRise did and nobody else did that for us – we did that for ourselves and we should be damn proud of that, the next thing is making sure those buggers in government implement it properly.
So, thank you and particularly thank you to Victoria for all the work you’ve been doing.