5 min read

How Spark plans to accelerate Aotearoa

How Spark plans to accelerate Aotearoa, Reannz links to Hāwea cable, Harmful online content gets thumbs down in InternetNZ survey, working from home setback
Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says digital technology can address productivity challenges.
Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says digital technology can address productivity challenges.

Spark spends $15m on accelerate Aotearoa project

Spark has tipped $15 million into an innovation fund designed to help companies use digital technologies to improve productivity and increase output

The move is part of a project the company has worked on with the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research. This includes the study Accelerating Aotearoa businesses one technology generation forward which looks at how digital technology can fix the nation's long-standing productivity challenges.

Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says the economic headwinds New Zealand faces makes addressing these productivity challenges more pressing: “Aotearoa is getting bigger, older and more diverse. Inflation is forcing a greater focus on efficiency and cost control. We are facing more frequent and extreme weather events.

"The good news is that the pace of technological advancement globally is accelerating at an even faster rate, and advanced digital technologies are now reaching a level of maturity where they have the potential to solve business challenges where it wasn’t possible in the past,”

Productivity the goal

Spark and NZIER say a 20 per cent increase in advanced digital technologies could increase industry output by $26 billion over the next decade and boost GDP by almost 2.1 per cent each year.

Hudson says the project will examine how technology can help New Zealand organisations become more productive and sustainable.

Spark isn't waiting around. It says $12 million of its $15 million innovation fund has already been allocated. The goal is to improve the nation's spend on research and development which is woeful by international standards.

Naturally artificial intelligence, the technology du jour, will play a role. Spark is launching a dedicated AI for Business mini-MBA this year which will include 150 places for business leaders.

Where are you on the advanced digital spectrum?

A key to unlocking technology's potential is measuring and benchmarking progress. To help this Spark worked with NZIER to develop a ‌ a spectrum of digital maturity.

This helps businesses and organisations identify which digital technologies have the best potential to accelerate transformation and drive their productivity.

There are a series of Digital Maturity Frameworks to help organisations review their current use of AI, data analytics, IoT and cloud computing.

Comment: This is great initiative and should move the dial on productivity. Heaven knows that dial has been hard to move in the past.

Spark's focus here is on larger companies. That's wise in the sense that it addresses the low hanging fruit. Larger firms have the resources to make use of Spark's help. The budget will have its greatest impact used this way.

Yet, there remains a huge productivity gap in the lower tiers of New Zealand's economy. If anything it is worse. Our small and mid-size businesses desperately need help. It's a different problem with a different scale which realistically needs to be addressed by the government. Spark's big-end-of-town initiative is a reminder that this needs urgent attention.

Reannz has connected its network to the Hāwea cable. The cable runs down the West Coast of the South Island adding resilience to the broader national network by providing an alternative route. Earthquakes over the last decade in Christchurch and Kaikoura underline the risk of relying on a single eastern route.

Chorus built the Hāwea cable as part of a Crown Infrastructure Partners funded project.

Otago University head of infrastructure Wallace Chase says his institution depends on having global connectivity and having an alternative route to the rest of the world is a great addition adding resiliency and redundancy.

Harmful online content gets thumbs down in InternetNZ survey

There are no surprises in the recent InternetNZ survey that found three in four adults (73 per cent) are 'very' or 'extremely' concerned about young children coming across nasty online material. Women are more concerned than men (80 per cent), but it still rates as the top issue and has been so for the last five years.

InternetNZ found one in five respondents experienced online harm or harassment. The numbers are higher for young people and Māori. They are higher again (29 per cent) for people with a long-term disability or impairment.

There's a growing disillusion with the internet. While 80 per cent of the general population think the positives outweigh the negatives, that number is slowly falling.

Broadband building at Contact Energy

Bundling power with broadband is working for Contact Energy. The company's first half report says Contact added 20,000 connections during the period "driven primarily by broadband".

It says it expanded its telecommunications offerings by adding Contact Mobile, an MVNO business running on the One NZ network.

Contact's broadband revenue came in at $39 million for the half year. This is up almost 22 per cent on the same period a year earlier where revenue was $32 million. Contact is New Zealand's fifth largest broadband retailer with around 90,000 broadband customers.

In other news...

The Register's Simon Sharwood writes about big numbers: "Chinese mega-carrier China Unicom has claimed it's signed up the billionth subscriber for its "Big Connectivity" service, making it the second Middle Kingdom carrier to operate at that scale."

‌ Hourua New Zealand's public safety network is joining The Critical Communications Association says Reseller News's Rob O'Neill. Hourua is a Spark - One New Zealand joint venture.

The European Commission says TikTok isn't doing enough to protect kids. It argues the online video service makes it easy for kids to pretend to be adults, letting them avoid content filters. This week it launched a formal investigation into how TikTok may be breaching the Digital Services Act.

Vodafone, that's the UK-based company not the New Zealand carrier that formerly used the brand, is launching a hyperreality hub at this year's Mobile World Congress.

One last story - working from home

Chris Keall's Why the WFH revolution stalled and is now losing ground feature in the Weekend Herald looks at employer moves to get workers back into offices.

It's a balanced story, but the headline is a touch misleading. Yes, fewer people work from home now than at the height of the pandemic lockdowns, but the trend is longer than the last five years. And WFH does not have to mean everyone working from home every day of every week.

My first stint of regular working from home was in the mid-1990s and I was far from alone. At the time it wasn't practical to do this more than one day a week. Apart from anything else the technology was challenging. To get my laptop to sync with the office Lotus Notes server using a 512kb modem meant leaving it on overnight.

Things are different today with fibre, Zoom and the cloud. However you cut the numbers, however many bosses insist on a return to traditional offices, the WFH genie is not getting back into its bottle. We may see less of it, but for many workers it is now an established option.

The Download Weekly is supported by Chorus New Zealand.