Interview with Jan Bieringa

“The future for NZ is around ideas as opposed to primarily a commodity base”

How would you define e-content in New Zealand?

In Aotearoa/New Zealand, e-content can be described as combination of application and other software and content (words, sounds, still and moving images) in order to provide information accessible via digital media or networks. The breadth of capability, as defined by the WSA categories, encompasses everything we are and do, expressed in digital form and delivered electronically in order to impart knowledge and value to the end user.

Its practical application is in the extension of information to and the enriching of experiences for those who have been unable to participate fully (or at all) in the political, cultural, scientific and economic life of Aotearoa/New Zealand. In doing so, it improves quality of life and opportunity for all of us

“The cultural sector has focused solidly on producing content unique to Aotearoa/New Zealand for the last decade”

What’s the status of e-content in New Zealand?

In the last two years the growth in e-content in Aotearoa/New Zealand has been substantial. However this writer believes we have been slow, as a country, to recognize the significance of developing content unique to Aotearoa/New Zealand, and reflective of our own life, achievements and aspirations. Uniquely New Zealand content is not only critical to the future of Aotearoa/New Zealand, it is critical to defining our role and our future in a global economy. There are many entrepreneurs in Aotearoa/New Zealand who are producing world leading examples of e-content, but for a variety of reasons are not realizing commercial success.

The cultural sector has focused solidly on producing content unique to Aotearoa/New Zealand for the last decade. The lessons learnt in one sector do not always translate to other sectors, but as Peter Jackson has demonstrated in his film making, it is possible to bring the world to Aotearoa/New Zealand and develop our own unique approach to commercial and cultural practice.

Our Government has just introduced and is currently putting into practice the first Digital Strategy for Aotearoa/New Zealand: Creating Our Digital Future ( The strategy is intended to enable a digital future for all New Zealanders, using the power of information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance all aspects of our lives. It is a strategy for ensuring New Zealand is a world leader in using information and technology to realize our economic, environmental, social and cultural goals. ‘The Digital Strategy isn’t just about technology… it’s about people and their ability to connect to the things that matter to them’ (Hon. David David Cunliffe, Minister of Communications, Minister of Information Technology). Content features prominently in this strategy and there is genuine optimism for advances in understanding and development through its nationwide implementation.

Even though the ‘lion’s share’ of funding to date has gone into technology and infrastructure development, the investment climate is changing. E-content in Aotearoa/New Zealand is already of high quality and available to most sectors of society, thanks to our high level of ICT spending and high levels of internet use. With increased profile of e-content through the Digital Strategy and appropriate levels of public and private investment, development and use of e-content is likely to increase.

Which area of e-content (e-health, e-biz, e-culture, e-government, e-entertainment, e-learning, e-science, and e-inclusion) is best developed in New Zealand?

It would be hard to say that one area is better developed than another. The individual WSA entries from Aotearoa/New Zealand are very evenly spread in both capability and development. The other sectors are fairly consistent in New Zealand, with many of the developments being bilingual/multilingual, representing the linguistic and cultural diversity of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

We are doing very clever things in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Banking is very advanced – NZ has for the last decade been operating in a largely cashless society and is one of the world leaders in adopting Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) systems.

Land Information New Zealand ( has better and more sophisticated information on land allocation and use than almost anywhere else in the world, giving us the opportunity to better understand and manage Aotearoa/New Zealand for the future and spawning its own Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) technology industry.

The decision by the Labour-led Government in 2003 to single out three sectors- biotechnology, creative and information and communications technology (ICT) – for special attention as part of its Growth and Innovation Framework (GIF) reflected the current and potential economic strength of these sectors and the positive impact they are likely to have on all other sectors. The long term strategy for creation of e-Content in the above sectors and the integration of the creative industries with other sectors will pay handsome dividends.

Which sector (business, private sector, government or civil society) in New Zealand is advance in developing e-content?

The Labour-led Government is responsible for e-content development across a number of the categories as outlined by WSA, including culture, health and science, which in other countries might be performed by the private sector.

Civil Society has played an important role in driving the creation of an e-democracy environment.

The range of work coming out of the private sector is focused primarily on information provision, facilitation of communications and tracking and mentoring applications. Industry in Aotearoa/New Zealand is profoundly creative but lags behind in commercializing e-content ideas for international markets. We lack cross sector thinking/working models, we skimp on creative R&D, and we lack the investment necessary to drive sophisticated large-scale development. . As suggested in question 5 there are many entrepreneurs in Aotearoa/New Zealand who are producing world leading examples of e-content but are not realizing commercial success.

How would you describe the gradual progress of development of e-content in New Zealand?

The increase in ICT tertiary graduates from both universities and polytechnics has impacted dramatically and positively on the awareness and understanding of e-content, and the capability available in the e-content industry.

“Thanks to pervasive technology use, Aotearoa/New Zealand can take a much more proactive place in the world economy”

The dot-com crash created a very conservative investment and purchasing climate and severely curtailed the e-content industry. However the high uptake of ICT in Aotearoa/New Zealand is helping to create a participatory and informed public which in turn is driving a more robust industry.

Our small population, coupled with our geographic isolation, has forced many e-content developers to rethink their future and focus on developing unique software and digital content that has both global as well as local application. The e-content industry in Aotearoa/New Zealand has developed a strongly collaborative approach as a response to issues of scale and scope, and is now working off shore in a range of shared initiatives.

Thanks to pervasive technology use, Aotearoa/New Zealand can take a much more proactive place in the world economy. Technology can be used to transfer knowledge gained in the primary industries and applied to other developments to add value to NZ entrepreneurial products and services for global use.

What major initiatives have influenced the development of e-content in New Zealand?

In Aotearoa/New Zealand we are early adopters and users of technology. However, lack of visibility of good e-content has held back the understanding of commercial and other possibilities for users. This has caused ‘slippage’ in the building of a nationwide delivery infrastructure.

A small population has meant that, rather than develop our own software, we have bought ‘off the shelf’ applications. We have tended to ignore local development opportunities, as it has been impractical to spend the money to develop a product for users in Aotearoa/New Zealand only.

The release of the Digital Strategy and the commitment by Government to its implementation, is going some way to correcting the first trend. The second trend is being addressed through closer attention to international market requirements and development to meet local and global needs.

NZ has been slow to ensure all users have access to fast internet (broadband) and that it is available to everyone at a reasonable cost. International internet linkages remain slow and expensive.

Competitive business requirements, opportunities for research collaboration and the need for connection to international markets require fast, affordable internet access nationally and internationally. Current steps towards implementation of an Advanced Network will assist on the research front. Competitive business and marketing requirements remain unsatisfied. A growing partnership between government, academia and business is assisting in this process

What are the major bottlenecks in the path of e-content development in New Zealand?

The focus to date has been on technology and infrastructure development, and e-content has had to take a back seat. E-content development in Aotearoa/New Zealand is now racing ahead and our e-content developers are producing very innovative and interesting e-content. Funding is becoming available to develop and deliver valuable information about ourselves, for ourselves, as well as for international consumption. Tourism New Zealand’s website, the NZ Online Encyclopedia, and the Land Information New Zealand, are only three examples.

In most countries, especially developing, e-content development is significantly dependent on ICT infrastructure and ICT facilities. But, in some, ICT has become pervasive and e-content development is primarily subjected to the initiatives of an individual/organization/government, etc. What is the situation in New Zealand?

Aotearoa/New Zealand is well advanced with a heavy penetration of ICT across the country. It is already part of our daily life but will be more comprehensive and further improved with full government participation

The implementation of the Digital Strategy will for the first time provide a comprehensive plan to work together cooperatively for a shared digital future. The strategy has focused on the development of three strands – Connectivity, Confidence and in order for Aotearoa/New Zealand to become a truly digital nation. The value to be secured from the future digital environment will be harnessed only if proper cross sector thinking is facilitated.

How would you describe the ICT scenario in New Zealand in terms of infrastructure, penetration, and policies?

High penetration, high uptake of skills, but still a limited exposure to good e- content. A comprehensive understanding of future possibilities is yet to be developed.

What’s the future of e-content in New Zealand?

We are already a long way down the path. The introduction and implementation of the Digital Strategy will provide national awareness and the comprehensive building blocks needed to kick-start our new thinking. The future for Aotearoa/New Zealand is around ideas as opposed to primarily a commodity base. Most people now seem to believe that e-content is fundamental to building a sustainable economic future. This will only be realized when industry, academia & government come together and take a long term strategic view of the NZ future in a global economy.

“Most people now seem to believe that e-content is fundamental to building a sustainable economic future”

Which is the most preferred medium for e-content production in New Zealand?

A combination of internet/web and mobile/wireless provides an ideal combination of richness and reach for our geographically sparse but sophisticated audience in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and translates well to an international environment.

How do you recognize and appreciate e-content producers and best practices in New Zealand?

Evaluation of projects for submission to the global WSA competition was undertaken through a targeted approach utilizing the knowledge of eight specialists. This process, as opposed to an open competition, identified many projects which may not have come forward otherwise. There are many competitions for interactive, digital and web content in Aotearoa/New Zealand but none which are gathering the sorts of applications that are wholly relevant to the WSA philosophy. The cross-disciplinary approach of the WSA network captures an interesting breadth of capability and helps to broaden people’s perception of ‘digital content’. It is likely that this process for gathering NZ e-content will be considered for reuse in 2007. Approximately ten projects in each of the categories were evaluated.

Few Special Categories that could be added to WSA

  1. Research projects that begin in an originating country and then grow to encompass or work with other countries for global good. The e-science example is a project that demonstrates this principle well – see
  2. Research in Aotearoa/New Zealand. With its geographical isolation, global position and proximity to the Antartica, Aotearoa/New Zealand is working on research projects that are unique to this country. It would be good to see the WSA network extend their categories to country specific projects of global importance.
  3. Special projects that do not produce e-content but rather focus on exemplary models of working with ICT, a school-based technology assistance project in Wellington called Tech Angels ( and an excellent programme around Internet safety ( are only two examples of many in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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