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Tuesday, 31 May 2011 17:21

Conroy's Digital Strategy will face many hurdles


The National Digital Economy Strategy released today is a good start, but it faces many hurdles, in addition to the Federal Opposition's long running battle against the NBN.

At this point in time the Federal Opposition has yet to attack the Government's National Digital Economy Strategy (NDES). It would do well to restrain itself. NDES stacks up pretty well against the Coalition's own abysmal track record on similar initiatives.

The Coalition came out with its National Broadband Strategy in 2004, but a further year passed until it released an action plan that was supposed to set out steps needed to achieve the goals of the strategy. It contained a number of key performance indicators, but there were no specifics against any of these.

The National Broadband Strategy sank without trace and three years later the Coalition came out with the National Broadband Blueprint, without making any reference whatsoever to its predecessor. The Coalition was, however, careful to avoid making the same mistake twice: the Blueprint emerged in December 2006 as a 100 page glossy publication that was long on elaboration of the status quo and extremely short on vision, specific goals and identifiable actions statements.

In contrast NDES does contain some clear goals, eight in fact, covering
- online participation by Australian households;
- online engagement by Australian businesses and not-for-profit organisations;
- smart management of our environment and infrastructure;
- improved health and aged care;
- expanded online education;
- increased teleworking;
- improved online government service delivery and engagement;
- greater digital engagement in regional Australia.

And these are quite specific. For example, in eHealth the goal is that, by 2020 "90 percent of high priority consumers such as older Australians, mothers and babies and those with a chronic disease, or their carers, can access individual electronic health records'¦[and] by July 2015, 495,000 telehealth consultations will have been delivered providing remote access to specialists for patients in rural, remote and outer metropolitan areas, and by 2020, 25 percent of all specialists will be participating in delivering telehealth consultations to remote patients."

Achievement of the specific goals will, the strategy says, see Australia achieve the overarching goal of NDES: to be a leading global digital economy. But there is another measure by which this will be judged:

"Australia will have successfully made the transition to a leading digital economy when the efficient use of digital technologies has become so interwoven with citizens' business, professional and personal lives, that they move seamlessly between the digital and physical world as appropriate."


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I must confess to having trouble with this concept. It sounds like something out of The Matrix. Barring the development of teleporting, one will never be able to move seamlessly from being there via telepresence to being there in the flesh, but it sounds like a worthy idea nevertheless.

Each of the specific goals in the strategy is accompanied by an explanation of why the goal is important; an assessment of where we are now; and details of what initial steps the Government has taken towards achieving the goal.

That's good on two counts: the Government is doing something, but it's making no pretence that these initiatives alone will achieve the goals: they are 'initial steps'.

So, the product's good, but now it has to be sold. And that will be the hard part. The executive summary of the strategy opens by listing the eight goals and then immediately states: "The comprehensive transition of Australia's economy and society to a digital economy is appropriately a market-led phenomenon. Maximising the benefit of the digital economy requires action by all levels of governments, industry and the community as a whole.

"The government invites industry, state and territory governments and local councils to join with it to contribute to the vision of Australia becoming a leading digital economy by 2020."

As AIIA CEO Ian Birks said following Conroy's announcement of the strategy this morning at CeBit: "This is not about our industry. It can deliver on all those goals today'¦It is the other sectors that need to get on board with the digital economy. But for many others we see a very low level of awareness of this digital economy phenomenon. Yet it is a global phenomenon and it is going to eat their lunch.

"This is about the boardrooms of other industries where they should be saying 'We as a bank should have a vision of what our digital economy offerings will be in 2020'. But I don't see that at the moment from many other industry organisations. We want to work with industry associations in other sectors to build the digital economy. "They are the ones who need to be getting up and responding."

Birks added that Conroy would also have to 'sell' the strategy to other government departments whose portfolios cover these other industry sectors. That will be no easy task. And of course the NBN, the "key enabling infrastructure" of the strategy will need to proceed more or less as planned.

Above all the Government needs to stay in power long enough to get the NBN past the point of no return and to get sufficient buy-in the strategy from a very wide cross section of industry and government bodies - federal state and local so that it has sufficient momentum to survive a change of Government. That will be no small challenge.

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