New NZ Tech Association CEO Graeme Muller's mission to challenge dairy's dominant position in export, lobby for national ICT strategy

The dust has barely settled on his desk but new CEO of the New Zealand Technology Industry Association (NZ Tech) Graeme Muller has already set down some solid goals for the organisation, one of which is pushing for New Zealand to have an overarching ICT (information and communications technology) strategy.

One of NZ Tech’s strategic focuses will be on getting good representation, from the industry as well as across government organisations, to develop a national strategy which would underpin the development of the technology sector.

“We strongly believe the government needs an ICT strategy,” he says, adding that most developed economies have one, including a chief technology officer.

Having an overarching ICT strategy would help enhance the efficiency of meeting the needs of the industry as it becomes an important growth engine for the economy, he says.

A national strategy is needed to deliver a consistent and coherent approach when building frameworks for policies and programmes to facilitate growth of the sector. An important part of this is having a relevant education programme to support skills development for the sector.

Graeme Muller: "We hope to continue growing the sector..."

Another area which NZ Tech will be working on is mapping the profile of the technology sector properly, not only in terms of size but building more of a ‘persona’ around the industry and the companies represented, Muller says.

The association caters to the needs of about 120 companies that are members. Multinationals make up 11% of NZ Tech’s members, 16% are large NZ-owned businesses, 22% are small- to medium-sized companies ($1 million-$5 million revenue) while 18% are startups (less than $1 million in turnover). The rest are a combination of affiliated organisations, individuals and government-linked organisations.

Reaching out

“One of our missions is, we want to be seen as having a broad reach of the sector, to be the voice for the sector. To do that, we need to make sure we’re representative of the sector,” Muller says.

He notes the association has done a good job representing Auckland and Wellington technology industries, but more needs to be done in reaching out to the regions’ technology industries.

“We need to spend time building engagement, to support the technology sector in Christchurch,” he says, adding there are also strategic and viable industries in Tauranga, Hamilton, and Hawkes Bay areas that need focus.

Prior to his appointment, Muller was the managing partner of Ecosystem Advisory, a New Zealand-focused tech industry market analyst firm. He also spent more than a decade in leadership roles with global tech sector research and advisory firm IDC, including being the managing director of Northern Europe, managing director for the Pacific region and country manager for New Zealand.

ICT exports have doubled over the past six years. Its export value of more than $6 billion (for 2014) makes the sector the country's third largest export earner behind dairy and tourism. “We hope to continue growing the sector –to give the dairy industry a run for its money,” Muller says.

On the domestic front, ICT contributes nearly $20 billion to New Zealand's economy and employs more than 62,000 people. The technology sector accounts for 73,000 jobs and contributes 5% of GDP.

One of the pillars of NZ Tech is focusing on developing the skills and talent needed to support the sector’s growth.

The industry is forecast to need people to fill 10,000 new roles over the next three years. Muller says: “There is a significant need to fill those roles. Technology is just going to be so much more invasive in the job sector. The industry needs to have strategies in place to get more people into the sector. We need to have changes in education to address that. That goes back to the need for an ICT strategy,” he says.

Collective approach

He notes that the different programmes done by various parties need to be collated to present a coherent picture of what is taking place and how to move forward. “We need to be looking at how to do this together.”

Muller is keen to put his IDC background to use. He would like to build a more structured approach to collecting information that looks at what technology industries are doing. This includes, for example, building ability into the information collected to forecast future needs in a vigorous and sustainable way.

NZ Tech’s stated objectives are: helping the industry improve skills and talent development; developing the sector as an engine for economic growth, and engaging with the public sector to help shape policy development.

These pillars are still relevant, Muller says, adding the sector has done amazing work and has the support of many passionate people.

Still in his early days in the job, he has already reached out to about 20 of the 120 members.

“There is really a strong sense of altruism in the sense of what people are trying to do together, in the areas of improving the sector as a whole, improving education, and improving communication. There is the heart and head in this – the heart element is very strong.”