Where the rubber hits the code: NZs journey to a 'knowledge based economy'

In the tech space there's too much talk. When I listen to visionaries giving speeches I am also playing buzz word bingo in my head and thinking, how are you actually going to make this happen!? 

A friend of mine recently pointed out 'we have too many think-tanks, we need some do-tanks'. She's right. We've been talking about a national initiative to 'increase our knowledge-based economy' for as long as I can remember.

Not even a year into a brave new millennium Michael Cullen gave a speech entitled 'The vision: A high quality, value-added, knowledge-based economy and society' which reads like the strategy speeches of the last election. 

We have been poor savers, we have been poor at developing skills, we have had a low level of private sector research and development, and we have not been good at moving out of commodity production... [The vision] is of a high technology, value-added economy, adaptive and responsive and able to take advantage of a wide range of niche opportunities in the global marketplace.

These familiar problems and the oh so familiar solutions lead me to believe there is a bigger issue. An issue of follow through.

Only a year before Computer World's Y2K reporter predicted the implementational failing of Mr Cullen's grand strategy.

By the time you read this, both National and Labour will have announced their policies designed to bring about this state of "nerd-vana" that will help propel New Zealand into the next millennium. Neither party, however, goes far enough. Like a badly implemented electronic commerce package, they’re all flashy front end with very little change behind the scenes. To stretch the metaphor, they’re receiving purchase orders online, then printing them off, carrying them to the warehouse and sending out the product via carrier pigeon.

However, we have some rare gems. People who are doing that really hard but totally necessary thing - strategy implementation. 

One such gem is Summer of Tech - the matchmakers of NZ IT. They've been running for 10 years. They've placed over 700 IT grads and students into work and their 80% retention rate shows just how good they are at partnering people up! If Tinder could boast such happy matches we'd be in for another boom generation. 

But even the gems feel the frustration of fast talk and no action. When Emily from Summer of Tech attended the NZ Tech Awards in 2015 she met with businesses who frothed at the prospect of 'engaging millennials' and getting their hands on some 'young talent'. Except, after their gush of enthusiasm, not one of them followed through. Not one of them replied to Emily's email to seize the opportunity to meet with the pool of talented grads and students. 

How talented are these students? See for yourself. We filmed them as they attempted to build a working app in 48 hours!

In the world of too much talk, these young designers and developers were so refreshingly solutions focused. They've had the mantra of business drummed into them. Find a relevant problem, understand the market experiencing this problem, design a solution to fit the market. Do user testing. Adapt your solution. 

A FEW OF MY FAVE SOLUTIONS FROM THE SoT 2016 WELLINGTON HACKFEST *Disclaimer: Some of the methods for gathering data are not commercially viable, they were used over the weekend to display the skill of the hackfest participants"

  • An app that shows users if the waterways near them were too polluted to swim in. API integration with Google Maps, NIWA and Ministry for the Environment. Sadly, this is a summer essential. 
  • An interactive desktop map showing the incidence and location of common diseases to help councils and health organisations focus their funding efforts. Targeted public health in places that need it, when they need it!
  • A price comparison app to show students where they could get their groceries the cheapest. 
  • Flatmate compatibility app which integrated with Spotify and TradeMe and aimed to match your music tastes with those of potential flatties.  Cos let's face it, that pile of dishes is less likely to matter if you're both rocking out to Janelle Monae.
  • A vehicle buying comparison interface. Integrating with TradeMe Motors and making the UX of car comparison a whole lot nicer (hint hint).

    There were heaps more, but these were the standouts for me.

It's been nearly 17 years since Michael Cullen gave that speech on NZs knowledge-based economy. And we need another strategic vision like the world needs another blogging platform. 

If there's to be any real change we need policy that has gone through the same rigours of market validation that any business idea is put through. Know the market experiencing the problem and design a solution to fit the market. Above all, do user testing! 

UPDATE: Since publication, other noteworthy DoTanks have been brought to my attention
Vodafone xone connection, cash and Christchurch
Kiwibank and CreativeHQ collaboration, FinTech
R9Accelerator, the change agent for Government