NSW appoints digital economy taskforce


new The NSW Government has taken another step in meeting its commitment to put development of the state’s technology sector at the front of its priority list, announcing today the formation of a taskforce that would help form a ten-year action plan to develop the state’s digital economy.

The state has previously announced the taskforce will be chaired by IBM Australia director of research and development Gelnn Wightwick. However, in a statement released yesterday, the state’s Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner announced a further eight members of the taskforce.

Some — such as Telstra executive Deena Shiff, Ausgrid executive general manager Peter Birk, CSIRO information services group executive Alex Zelinsky and Foxtel chief information officer Robyn Elliott, come from large organisations and work in technology-focused roles. However, others come from startup groups or early stage companies working in the technology sector. Examples of such participants include Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie, Omnilab’s Tom Kennedy, The Project Factory’s Jennifer Wilson and OneVentures managing director Michelle Deaker.

“The Digital Economy Industry Action Plan will provide a strategic long-term vision for our digital economy, including regional perspectives, to identify and harness future growth opportunities while addressing identified challenges,” said Stoner — also the state’s minister for trade and investment.

“The Digital Economy Industry Action Plan will focus on subsectors expected to support long-term productivity and innovation growth, and export opportunities including digital content and applications, information services and analytics, and smart networks and intelligent technologies.”

The taskforce will seek wider industry and public input into the development of its plan through a number of avenues — such as forums, consultations, a formal request for submissions and through its web site and social media.

Associated with this week’s announcement, Stoner also announced the Government would allocate $3 million over two years towards an Interactive Media Fund to support creative digital content — including electronic games and transmedia projects. The move follows on from a May announcement regarding funding for 20 creative digital content projects.

“We’re also increasing the amount of enterprise funding available under the Interactive Media Fund from $100,000 to $250,000 to better help expanding companies bring in specialist skills to work across complex projects,” said Stoner.

The Deputy Premier made the announcement at the NSW Pearcey Entrepreneur of the Year awards, which went to Simon Poole and Steve Frisken from Finisar Australia — a manufacturer of switches for optical communications networks. “These individuals are contributing to a dynamic and strong digital economy which will be essential for driving our state’s economic growth into the future,” said Stoner. “The NSW Government is committed to growing our digital economy.”

I love what the NSW Government is doing right now to support the development of the technology sector in its state, and I support its moves to do so.

However, I do feel that most of those appointed to this taskforce probably aren’t really experts in the field. The large organisations represented on the panel — IBM, Telstra, Foxtel and the CSIRO — are not regarded as being at the forefront of innovation, at the moment — and they don’t have a huge amount of expertise dealing with startups. Before you say the CSIRO does, remember the organisation specialises in long-term R+D, not the rapid innovation that Australia’s ‘digital economy’ is going through.

And yes, Telstra and IBM, I know you do innovate, but you’re the dominant forces in your industry. You innovate in a horribly large and big corporate way. You get results, through throwing money at projects ;)

Of the smaller companies represented on the panel, a number of people have pointed out to me recently that Freelancer.com primarily makes its money from skimming off the top of the cheap overseas labor force, while the other companies don’t have a large name for innovation in Australia. I’m sure OneVentures’ Deaker knows what she’s on about, but I’m not so sure about the rest.

My gut tells me that most of the really innovative forces in Australia — say, the boys from Pollenizer and the Atlassian team, or on the financial side, Domenic Carosa — probably have better things to do right now then get involved in a government committee in what has historically been one of the most stodgy states in Australia. It’s from this bunch of people that I’m seeing the most innovation emerge in Australia right now … but I’m sure they’re busy with their own projects ;)

Image credit: Dane Munro, royalty free