Wellington Scoop

New, young, and digital

by Ian Apperley
Wellington has a new, young, tech-savvy Mayor. After two terms of a rather lacklustre approach to the technology industry, it’s good to see a renewed focus on what is an incredibly important part of the city’s economy.

“My vision is to make Wellington the digital capital of New Zealand and cement our reputation locally, but also across the world,” said Justin Lester at NZ Rise’s ITx Wellington Mayoral forum.

A noble vision indeed, so how will that be carried out?

“I’ll introduce a Chief Innovation Officer to the Wellington City Council Executive Leadership Team and the role will focus on smart city growth and technology-based platforms for local government and infrastructure.”

What does it all mean? Why is the tech industry so important for Wellington? What is Justin promising?

The technology industry in New Zealand contributes $16.2B to the GDP. That means that it outstrips Dairy or Tourism and in the next few short years it is projected to be our largest export industry.

In Wellington, the industry contributes $2.2B to GDP and employs nearly 12,000 people. It makes sense for the city to support that industry.

Justin has promised “to introduce a 20% local procurement criteria for Wellington City Council tenders for digital and technology services.” After two terms of the Council pumping the tech industry while buying international technology products, this makes a welcome change.

Whether you agree or not with the method, the message is good: “we’re going to put out money where our mouth is and buy from local companies.” It’s a strong signal to other councils as well and we know that the local tech industry is far superior to offshore monolithic companies that do not pay their fair share of tax here.

Justin has reintroduced a portfolio for the tech industry that the previous Council dumped. David Lee will take over and be accountable. It’s a smart move that again sends a signal to the industry that the Council is back and supporting them.

The Mayor is a proponent of Open Data, which shows that he understands how it can unlock a number of solutions including resolving transport issues.

This is critical for a number of reasons. Continuing to buy bespoke systems is a costly and ill-advised approach. That has been the status quo by the Council over the last term coupled with a “we know best attitude” that belongs in the 1950s. After all, it is our data, not the Council’s, and it needs to be freed.

Various hackathon events over the term showed that the tech industry is not only willing to create solutions but also has the power to do so. It is much better the data is released into the hands of the residents and industry who are far more skilled at creating innovative solutions than a small Council IT team ever will be.

Open data also increases transparency and community engagement, two areas that by the Council’s own admission have been poor. If these are not resolved, then the Council will fade into irrelevance as the rest of us move on and they are left with archaic methods and no audience. The low voter turnout shows that there is a significant issue.

Technology has huge spinoff benefits for the issues the city faces.

The impact on the environment of tech companies compared to traditional manufacturing and infrastructure is very, very low.

In terms of transport, Smart City solutions and the fact that we see more and more government agencies endorsing work from home should reduce transport issues. Imagine if every worker in the city could work from their home once per week?

Establishing a technology business is easy compared to traditional business. It can literally be done overnight, does not require complex Council consents, and can be plugged into a vibrant community of tech professionals.

Long term, if the Council can leverage it, then engagement can be vastly improved through the use of local technology. Things like Loomio allow the community to engage directly with the Council on issues while they are sitting at night watching Netflix. Hunchbuzz, another local startup, is heavily invested in engagement software and systems.

The greatest challenge that Justin will face is shifting the thinking of the Council administration to one of a new world. If he can’t do that then all the intent in the world will fail. The administration, in my opinion, has failed to grasp the power that technology provides and has shown time and again that it suffers from old thinking.

That thinking has isolated the local industry from the Council. Still, the opportunity is there and I hope that Justin and David can make a decent fist of supporting the industry this term.


  1. City Lad, 2. November 2016, 12:45

    Ian Apperley suggests technology staff could work from home. Trolley buses are high tech and reliable so there’s no need to stay at home.

  2. Ian Apperley, 2. November 2016, 15:20

    I assume that last comment was in jest… 🙂