Software Innovation NZ make submission to the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa Discussion Document

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Software Innovation NZ’s members came together to make a submission to the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa Discussion Document. Central to the submission were the need for strong domestic software development capability to support our digital aspirations, for increasing research funding support, and an expanded training regime, with particular focus on Women, Māori, and Pasifika. The detailed submission is as follows:

SINZ represents almost all of the software engineering researchers in New Zealand. Many are international leaders in their fields of research, and all are involved in educating software developers of the future.

New Zealand’s performance in the innovation and entrepreneurship of software products and services is world-class (e.g. Xero, Weta Digital, Datacom Group Limited, Vista Group). However, there is significant potential for improvement. We are pleased to see this captured in the theme “Mahi Ake – Growth”. However, we believe the potential for growth in software products and services is significantly greater than the discussion document suggests. We argue there should be a clear theme of growing not just digital skills, but the entire software development industry.

The main goal of software engineering research is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of software development. While New Zealand’s performance may be world-class, world-class still leaves room for improvement. The success of software development is a somewhat hit or miss affair (consider the number of failures associated with software systems just in New Zealand, such as INCIS and Novopay). This is because existing software development practices and techniques cannot yet ensure reliable delivery of products and services compared with more established areas of engineering (e.g. Mechanical, Electrical, Civil). In part, this is because many software developers in New Zealand do not routinely use existing best practices, and senior managers lack expertise in large scale software development. But also, it is because even existing “world-class” best practices are unreliable.

More specifically:

  • Software unpins all aspects of digital technology, and indeed all aspects of modern life. There is always a need for new, reliable software applications to be quickly developed, often in response to a fast-changing environment (e.g. imagine if the NZ COVID Tracer app could have been developed in half the time, or Geofencing software supporting MIQ and self-isolation had been rapidly available). New Zealand must have a strong domestic software development capability to support any digital aspirations, otherwise we will be at the mercy of outside entities who do not have New Zealand’s best interests at heart. In fact, many of New Zealand’s critical sectors will benefit from a strong domestic software development capability, not just ICT, but sectors such as Financial, Agricultural, and Health.
  • New Zealand needs to increase its ability to:
    • Develop new and more reliable software development practices and techniques through software engineering research funded at international levels. By developing these locally, New Zealand will receive benefits much earlier than waiting for the results of research conducted overseas.
    • Improve the support for technology transfer so that existing developers have better opportunities to adopt current best practice. Digital Technology, and especially that associated with software development, changes rapidly. It is crucial that support be provided for professional development for all levels of expertise and seniority. In particular, those moving into organisational leadership positions need to maintain their knowledge base so that they can provide effective leadership.
    • Raise not just the digital skills of New Zealanders, but raise the skill level for software development. While providing conversion programmes for ICT qualifications is important, New Zealand software development needs the kind of expertise provided by Masters and PhD graduates. It is important to change the perception of software development from being just “coders”, to being professional engineers with all the responsibilities that implies. This includes taking into account the ethical considerations of the software we develop and the data it manages.
    • Improve the diversity of the software development teams in New Zealand. Mahi Tahi – Inclusion rightly insists that all New Zealanders should have access, basic skills, and trust in Digital Technology. This will not be achieved by relying on existing software development cultures. These cultures have to change, and having diverse teams is how this change will happen. This is also true of teams involved in software engineering research.
  • New Zealand needs to significantly grow its software development workforce. We should not rely on importing the necessary specialised expertise to develop the software for our Digital Technology Infrastructure, nor should we focus on development of only “digital skills”.
    • We need developers who can develop in a short time the most sophisticated high-quality software systems in the world. New Zealand needs to have a whole-of-life software development training support, beginning in primary school. The Digital Technologies Curriculum is a good start, but the biggest lack is in support for upskilling teachers, and so there needs to be increased funding to support them.
    • New Zealand has a large untapped pool of potential software developers. There is significant under-representation in the software development and software engineering research from Women, Māori, and Pasifika. This under-representation can only be addressed by providing knowledgeable teachers, researching barriers and inclusive models that work, and directed funding to encourage members of those groups into software development.

We are happy to provide more details, such as our thoughts on possible actions, for our submission if required.

Associate Professor Ewan Tempero, University of Auckland

Dr Daniel Alencar da Costa, University of Otago

Professor Robert Amor, University of Auckland

Dr Craig Anslow, Victoria University of Wellington

Professor Robert Biddle, University of Auckland

Dr Kelly Blincoe, University of Auckland

Dr Judy Bowen, University of Waikato

Jim Buchan, Auckland University of Technology

Associate Professor Tony Clear, Auckland University of Technology

Associate Professor Jens Dietrich, Victoria University of Wellington

Associate Professor Matthias Galster, University of Canterbury

Dr Fabian Gilson, University of Canterbury

Dr Simon Hoermann, University of Canterbury

Dr Michael Homer, Victoria University of Wellington

Dr Diana Kirk, University of Auckland

Dr Sherlock Licorish, University of Otago

Associate Professor Markus Luczak-Roesch, Victoria University of Wellington

Professor Stephen G. MacDonell, University of Otago, Auckland University of Technology

Dr Miguel Morales, University of Canterbury

Dr Yasir Muhammad, University of Otago

Professor James Noble, Victoria University of Wellington

Dr Panos Patros, University of Waikato

Associate Professor David Pearce, Victoria University of Wellington

Associate Professor Alex Potanin, Victoria University of Wellington

Dr Christian W Probst, Unitec NZ Ltd

Professor Steve Reeves, University of Waikato

Associate Professor Tony Savarimuthu, University of Otago

Dr Paramvir Singh, University of Auckland

Dr Amjed Tahir, Massey University

Dr Valerio Terragni, University of Auckland

Dr Jessica Turner, University of Waikato