Digital is not just Digital

One of the many wonderful facets of the digital age is that information is so readily shared. As a society, this accelerates our rate of a learning as we stand on one anothers shoulders. So last week when the Sunshine Coast committee of Regional Development Australia released a draft of its Digital Action Plan I was interested to see what new perspectives it might offer. In particular I was interested in how this compares with the thinking of Auckland and New Zealand’s economic development agencies around the role of digital in shaping our own economic policies and programs.

Starting into the reading of the plan we discover that the key priorities of it include;

  1. Investing in digital infrastructure
  2. Ensuring the community has the skills and capacity to embrace the digital revolution, and
  3. Encouraging digital innovation & culture

What stands out for me immediately is that their approach recognises that digital is about more than just the “digital sector” and “high-speed internet”. This, more limited view, is predominantly how it has been treated by our own economic development agencies to date.

"Digital innovation goes beyond the ICT sector and venture capitalists. It permeates through every business type in every location and can significantly affect business competitiveness."

Drilling further into the three key priorities we find;

1. The Infrastructure priority extends beyond high-speed internet to include

  • public WIFI
  • a “highly connected, fully digitally enabled enterprise corridor” (but not sure what this means)
  • “smart city” initiatives including “best practice technological sensors and applications”

2. The Digital capacity and skills priority includes

  • including digital innovation in curriculum development to schools
  • collaborative industry and business solving events and platforms
  • digital capacity building in local businesses
  • creative industry support and capacity building

3. The Digital culture & innovation priority includes

  • using digital to ensure a well-connected ecosystem
  • showcasing Digital champions
  • business excellence awards
  • “digital work hubs” – aka regional co-working spaces
  • appointing a Chief Digital Officer for the region

There’s a lot of good work behind this report, and congratulations to the authors, and to those that commissioned the plan in the first place. When I reflect on this plan in the context of what is going on in New Zealand there are two points that stand out for me.

1. We need to be thinking about how we can expand our thinking of digital beyond an infrastructural & sector orientation to recognise the enabling factors that apply to all facets of business.

"Digital adoption and innovation can provide significant economic and social benefits to regional communities”

“Modelling by PwC shows that an ecosystem based on innovation and digital technologies has the potential to increase… productivity and raise GDP”

Digital has something to offer every economic sector as a means of improving efficiency, intelligence, accessibility and connectedness. All of these combine to provide a step-change in how we do business, and in the expectations our customers place on us to create new levels of value.

2. Our curricular and extra-curricular education systems need to both improve the level of digital literacy training provided, as well as introduce it at an earlier age.

Increasingly it is recognised that digital literacy is as important as reading, writing and maths. Digital has become the most widespread medium through which individuals, groups and society as a whole communicate, both in their personal and professional lives. As such, more and more of the economic and social value that is created in the future will depend on preparing today’s students for a digital future. We need to build on the work that educational entrepreneurs like Frances Valintine are doing with The Mind Lab-by-Unitec’s Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice for Digital & Collaborative Learning.

"If you don’t really understand how the digital world functions you’re really living in a world where you don’t have the creative and innovation skills that are going to be needed in the future economy."

3. Digital is a critical and under-utilised underpinning of a potential increase in our capacity for connectedness and collaboration.

Face-to-face is always going to be the gold standard for connecting with other people. However as a “medium”, face-to-face has two significant limitations. Firstly, its not readily scalable because participants need to coordinate their availability in space and time, which makes connecting and staying connected so much less accessible. And secondly, the medium leaves so much potential unrealised in discovering who might be helpful to connect with. Digital is a potentially awesome platform for complementing both of these shortcomings. Furthermore we know that better connectedness in a region leads to more innovative ecosystems. As Adam Jaffe said in his presentation on “How to make New Zealand a land of innovation” at Auckland University last week

“Research shows that innovation is more successful in large networks of innovators … that maximise the interactions among New Zealand innovators”

You can read more about my thoughts on the subject of digital connectedness in Innovating New Zealand. And you can read about the announcement of the Sunshine Coast Digital Action plan here, and read the plan itself here.