The New Zealand government is investing $84.7 million in innovative research projects including those focusing on health, climate change, astronomy and the impact of big data on social equality said Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.
This year’s Marsden Fund will support 134 new projects including explorations of the connection between heart failure and diabetes, the financial risks of climate change and the complex interplay between Maori settlers and ecosystems through the history of mahinga kai (traditional foods).
The minister said that they have designed the funding so it can address real-world problems, while also giving researchers the freedom to innovate and come up with new ways to solve problems. problems. Health issues like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease are wide-ranging problems and require innovative thinking. Healthtech is the biggest secondary technology sector in New Zealand, generating NZ$1.8 billion of revenue and a five-year compound annual growth rate of 10% in 2018. With deep scientific and commercial expertise, New Zealand’s healthtech sector is strong and will continue to contribute world-leading technologies to address the health needs of citizens across the globe.
Research needs to look at these issues from different angles to ensure that the best is being done for the future of the country. She felt that successful applicants were doing significant work in their areas of science that would benefit New Zealand’s long-term future.
Marsden Fund research benefits society as a whole by contributing to the development of researchers with knowledge, skills and ideas. The Fund supports research excellence in science, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities. The Marsden Fund was established by the government in 1994 to fund excellent fundamental research. It is a contestable fund administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council. The research is not subject to the government’s socio-economic priorities but is investigator-initiated.
New Zealand has an established and clear data strategy and roadmap for the nation. The strategy and roadmap are intended to provide a shared direction and plan that organisations within and outside government can collectively work towards and align their efforts to generate maximum impact. It acknowledges that there is a need for greater alignment and coordination of effort across the system. The government understands that global data growth enables innovative data uses that are transforming the world and that In New Zealand is uniquely positioned to maximise the value of data
The government agrees that it has a unique role to play in laying the groundwork for the future data system. The roadmap envisages a future where data is regarded as an essential part of New Zealand’s infrastructure and where data use is underpinned by public trust and confidence. As such, greater data use needs to be balanced with the protection of privacy rights and ethical use.
The strategy is designed to unlock the value of data for the benefit of New Zealanders. It will start by directing activity in focus areas to deliver the most impact:
- Focus area 1: Invest in making the right data available at the right time
- Focus area 2. Grow data capability and support good practice
- Focus area 3. Build partnerships within and outside government
- Focus area 4. Implement open and transparent practices
In other data-related developments, the Open Government Information and Data Programme ended in July 2020. However, this did not signal the end of the government’s commitment to open data. Instead, it marked the transition from a time-boxed programme into on-going government-wide coordination of efforts, led by the Government Chief Data Steward.
The programme is a cross-government programme designed to accelerate the release and reuse of open government data to maximise the value of that data.
At the closing of the Open Government Data Programme, Stats NZ commissioned an independent reviewer to produce an Independent review of the Open Data Programme. The report focused on two key things:
- an assessment of the programme’s operation and performance against its expected outcomes
- recommendations based on lessons learnt that may inform the work of future cross-government data programmes.
The closure report is an output from direct comments and feedback from the interviews and analysis from the independent reviewer.
NZTech began its survey of thousands of New Zealanders on 29 September to produce a nationwide digital skills survey. Before COVID, around half of all new tech roles were fulfilled via immigration. With closed borders, it was obvious that what was once a skills shortage could quickly become a catastrophe if not managed well.
With this in mind, the agency wanted to establish a new baseline of the digital skills in the market and identify the areas of emerging critical shortage.
Chief executive Graeme Muller said, “We are surveying the tech sector, large corporate IT teams and the IT departments in government agencies over the next month.
NZTech has completed their digital skills survey and the write up is expected shortly. The survey had a good number of responses, including most of the largest employers in the country. In addition, the team analysed 93,000 LinkedIn profiles and data provided by the Ministry of Education, the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), Immigration New Zealand and Summer of Tech.
Pending the final document, the agency released some several early insights:
- There are many jobs available – for example, there are currently 505 software developer/engineer roles currently in the market (from only 147 respondents) and they are forecasting an additional 1,050 new jobs in the next two years.
- There is declining local interest in technology courses. Participation and achievement in digital technologies NCEA standards at secondary school have been declining at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3% over the past five years.
- There are fewer skilled graduates entering the market – domestic students graduating with tertiary computer science or information technology qualifications has been declining at a CAGR of 9% over the past five years, whereas international students are growing at 1%, resulting in a 6% annual decrease in graduates.
- New Zeland become reliant on international imports – over the past five years, 27,057 visas were granted for people entering ICT occupations and 48,000 international students studied computer science or information technology in NZ tertiary institutions.
NZTech’s purpose is to connect, promote and advance tech ecosystems and to help the New Zealand economy grow to create a prosperous digital nation. They connect tech ecosystems, organisations, people and policymakers with each other and to the world.
The agency promotes the importance of technology to the New Zealand public and New Zealand technology to the world. They help advance the foundations for a successful digital nation including digital education, connectivity, cybersecurity, digital access and trade.
Most recently, NZTech (2 Nov) launched a website for the Digital Technology Industry Transformation Plan (ITP). Working with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and other industry and government partners, NZTech will use the site to make it easy to find out what is happening and how to get involved.
The digital technologies ITP will articulate a long term vision for the sector and an action plan to help move the sector towards that vision. The draft vision for the digital technologies sector is:
“The world looks to Aotearoa New Zealand as a leader in ethical, innovative, inclusive and sustainable digital technologies. These technologies enable our economy to prosper, help our businesses to grow stronger and compete internationally, and contribute to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.”
The NZ government launched its Industry Strategy in June 2019, outlining its approach to growing strong and innovative industries in the country. In response to the impacts of COVID-19, the Industry Strategy was updated in June 2020.
At the core of the Industry Strategy is the development of Industry Transformation Plans for selected sectors of the economy, where there are opportunities to lift productivity and growth or where a significant transition is required.
New Zeland has seen a recent surge of increasingly sophisticated malware attacks that are affecting everyday New Zealanders as well as large organisations. A malware campaign which is being spread through attachments or links in emails is currently affecting New Zealanders. The attacks have the potential to cause widespread disruption and loss of revenue and data.
CERT NZ has received intelligence from one of its international partners that approximately 800 New Zealanders have been affected by this malware.
If the recipient opens the attachments or links in the email, the malware gains access to their email account and can send emails out to the contact list to keep spreading the malware. Once an entry has been gained into the target computer, the malware steals login details, sends fake invoices to businesses customers, etc. It can even block access to files and demands money to grant access again.
CERT NZ, the government agency which supports organisations and individuals affected by cybersecurity incidents, says the virus, known as Emotet, installs malicious software (malware) onto a computer without the owner knowing. The attack is typically financially motivated and can result in significant financial loss or data loss through ransomware infections.
Ransomware like those affecting the healthcare sector in the United States. Federal agencies have warned that the US healthcare system is facing an “increased and imminent” threat of cybercrime, and that cybercriminals are unleashing a wave of extortion attempts designed to lock up hospital information systems, which could hurt patient care just as nationwide cases of Covid-19 are spiking.
“Computer malware is a common theme that people have to protect against. However, this particular one is quickly and continually evolving globally,” says CERT NZ’s Deputy Director, Declan Ingram.
The tricky thing is these malicious emails often do not come from spam email addresses, which is usually a sign that an email is suspicious, said Ingram.
Recovery from this type of virus is not straightforward. If affected, CERT NZ recommends disconnecting the affected computer from any network immediately and contacting the IT support team.
If systems have been infected by Emotet malware, CERT NZ recommends the following mitigation tasks :
- Isolate the infected computer as soon as possible
- Inspect and clean all computers connected to your network
- Notify everyone in contact lists and advise them not to open any emails that appear to come from you
- Run an anti-virus scan across the device
- Change all your passwords and logins on a non-infected device
- Implement two-factor authentication where possible
In cases of personal device being affected, CERT NZ recommends reporting the matter to them via their online reporting tool. An incident responder will make contact directly, to talk through the various options available.
“If anyone is concerned that either they or their business may be affected and is unsure what to do, reach out to us here at CERT NZ and we can assist you on what to do next,” says Mr Ingram.
CERT NZ has issued an alert on its website with information on what to do if you have been affected and how you can best protect yourself from a virus like this.
Earlier in June this year, Cert NZ cautioned people of businesses compromised through remote access systems – software that allows staff to access the business’ network remotely. Attackers were using this software to gain access to business networks, extract sensitive data, and encrypt files and then demand payment for the data.
A cloud-first strategy directs organisations to deliver applications and services from a cloud computing platform first before considering any on-premise alternatives.
While several considerations – like the threat of a data breach or data loss – could cause concern from using the cloud in sensitive industries, such as finance, the growing consensus is that a cloud-first approach has considerable advantages and in many cases is more secure for organisations than trying to protect their own infrastructure.
The New Zealand government Cloud-First requires its agencies to use public cloud services and to accelerate their adoption of public cloud services, in a balanced way, so they can drive digital transformation. This includes:
- enhancing customer experiences
- streamlining operations
- creating new delivery models
With massive investments made into digital infrastructure by major global software companies, hyperscale cloud providers are keen to make their services available in New Zealand. These developments could prove to be a ‘game-changer’ for the nation’s digital transformation journey. Hyperscale cloud and sophisticated infrastructure would have a significant impact on digital maturity and accelerate the use of cloud in government.
To support and guide these developments, the Digital Public Service (DPS) branch at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is working collaboratively with partner functional leads to chalk out a detailed strategy to update policy and system settings for cloud technology. This will include new guidance for the use of cloud by government agencies.
Developing an all-of-government Cloud Centre of Excellence
The New Zealand government cloud programme supports public service agencies to accelerate the use and benefits of cloud in line with government’s policy.
Under the Cloud-First policy, government organisations are required to use public cloud services as the go-to strategy. They are required to adopt these services individually for the various services and offerings on hand after assessing all possible issues. The Cloud First policy requires government organisations to:
- adopt public cloud services in preference to traditional IT systems
- make adoption decisions on a case-by-case basis following a risk assessment
- only store data classified as RESTRICTED or below in a cloud service, whether it is hosted onshore or offshore
The focus for the 2 years will be to establish an all-of-government Cloud Centre of Excellence, that would support agencies to successfully execute well-designed and governed cloud migrations. Currently, the Digital Public Service branch is working actively with agencies to assist them with their cloud adoption planning and to facilitate collaboration on common cloud-related challenges.
Cloud programme partnerships
The programme will also specifically explore engaging with cloud providers to refresh and continually improve New Zealand’s access to cloud services. Where necessary, public service policies will be adjusted suitably and will a range of agreed ‘Lighthouse’ innovation partnerships will be progressed.
These partnerships, early in their lifecycle, are in the areas of education, environment, business and land. The overseeing agencies will determine how best to couple hyperscale cloud with advanced technologies to deliver solutions that would have significant national impact.
To build further capability and capacity for these initiatives the DPS branch will be recruiting key positions for the programme.
The DPS also encourages digital innovation through its Digital Government Partnership Innovation Fund (DGP). The fund is a $5 million contestable fund that invests in digital and data innovation. It provides an opportunity for government organisations to collaborate and invest in early-stage, cross-agency pilots and prototypes. It’s administered by the Digital Public Service (DPS) branch at the Department of Internal Affairs.
Any proposed initiative under the fund should also demonstrate innovation (the fund is not for business-as-usual), cross-agency collaboration, benefits to the public service or sector that will support transformation and must align with relevant standards, such as the NZ Government Digital Service Design Standard.
The Digital Public Service (DPS) branch at the Department of Internal Affairs is also engaging with a selection of government organisations this month to get feedback on the current and future states of digital standards maintenance and development.
This work will result in an implementation plan and roadmap for standards which will be released to all public sector organisations for consultation in early December 2020.
Disabled people continue to be disadvantaged by their limited ability to engage with digital and online services, according to a new report: Digital inclusion user insights – Disabled people. The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) estimates that around 20% of all New Zealanders are digitally excluded. This essentially means that this community does not have the skills or access needed to participate in the online world.
The purpose of this research was to understand the perceptions and feelings about digital inclusion from people with disabilities as they go about their daily lives. The goal was to understand the key pain points for individuals, what they liked about the current system and what improvements could be made to ensure a more equitable digital environment for all.
For disabled people, one of the most vulnerable communities, this research highlights how the experience of engaging with digital services could be leaving disabled people behind, increasing the number of people who cannot easily and confidently use the internet and online services.
Adam Stapleton, Programme Delivery Manager, Digital Public Service branch at DIA said, “The report highlights issues that have impacted disabled people’s ability to easily and confidently use the internet and digital services. COVID-19 has exacerbated some of these issues and yet also produced an environment where new insights to improve digital inclusion can be embraced and used. This is a real opportunity to create traction.”
The research report gives disabled people a voice and outlines their lived experience in terms of being digitally enabled. It outlines 5 key findings which could help improve the design of websites and online services, making an impact on how disabled people experience the digital.
The report includes insights from disabled people and 5 recommendations for Government on how to increase digital inclusion.
- a need to enforce or incentivise application of the Web Accessibility Standard
- a call to increase the co-design of accessible, digital services
- strong demand for digital skills training from within the disability community
- demand from the disabled community for affordable access to digital tools and technology
- a call to explore employment and post-employment support for the disabled community.
The findings highlight that vulnerable communities like those of the disabled people community will continue to be disadvantaged by their ability to engage or not engage with digital services. The report shows that government agencies can design and provide services differently to be more inclusive for disabled people.
Making digital inclusion a priority
In 2019, the New Zealand government laid out the Digital Inclusion Blueprint and Action Plan, a vision and roadmap working to ensure that all New Zealanders can participate in, contribute to and benefit from the digital world. The Blueprint sets out 4 roles for government in building a digitally included New Zealand: lead, connect, support and deliver.
That vision continues to come to life in the 2020 Digital Inclusion Action Plan which outlines the range of government activities underway and planned to make a more digitally inclusive New Zealand. For example, focusing on closing digital skills gaps for whānau (extended families and communities), iwi (Maori community or people) and small businesses to support them in being able to better engage digitally. Another key part of the work is the user experience research work — a series of 7 user experience reports to understand the perceptions and feelings about digital inclusion.
The goal is to understand the key pain points for individuals of vulnerable communities. What they liked about the current online environment, what they do not, and what improvements could be made to make it a more equitable digital environment.
These reports are more than words on a page. These reports will be used to inform, advise and help people in government and the community who design and provide services so that they can be more inclusive for disabled people.
“Closing the digital divide is something we all need to work together on. Reading the report, consider how to use the findings applied to ongoing or new digital strategies is going to be key to creating the traction needed for disabled people to get the benefits of the internet, connectivity and connection,” confirmed Adam Stapleton, Programme Delivery Manager, Digital Public Service branch at DIA.
The Government Communications Security Bureau’s (GCSB) National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) helps government agencies and organisations of national significance protect and defend their information systems against cyber-borne threats that are typically beyond the capability of commercially available products and services.
The NCSC works closely with CERT NZ (Computer Emergency Response Team) to provide guidance and help on cyber threats. CERT NZ helps business, organisations and individuals wanting prevention and mitigation advice on online security issues that do not require the NCSC’s specialist skills and knowledge to respond to. It has primary responsibility for cyber threat reporting and a coordination role in threat response.
With elections over, the NZ government can resume business which is good news for tech. NZ Cert, the government entity that tracks cyber breaches, feels that the economic growth policy takes a leaf out of the Singapore playbook, with a focus on industry transformation.
During the first lockdown, cabinet refocused their industry policy on specific sectors that were well-positioned for and would benefit from a high-intensity and high-investment strategy – digital tech, advanced manufacturing and sections of food and fibre. These sectors were considered sectors that had the potential to become highly productive and internationally competitive.
The Digital Technology Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) has been gotten off to a solid start. The ITPs provide a framework to proactively and collaboratively drive change with the government that would encourage and drive the growth of the tech sector.
Collaborative workstreams are exploring education pathways to accelerate the development of local skills. Changes in procurement approaches to stimulate the local tech sector have been put in place and the government is looking to get a better understanding of tech export successes. Work on the advanced manufacturing ITP has also started and this should be beneficial to the high-tech manufacturing and biotechnology parts of the tech sector. The government has also significantly worked on the development of a national AI strategy and data-driven innovation.
All of this in an effort to develop a robust narrative for a strong tech story for New Zealand.
As has been happening across the globe, COVID has dramatically increased New Zealand’s reliance on digital devices and the internet. Yet, NZTech Chief Executive Graeme Muller said CERT NZ research indicated that New Zealanders are not adjusting their behaviours around cybersecurity fast enough.
The research found 87% of the country’s respondents acknowledge security of their personal information online is important but 40% say safeguarding their information is inconvenient. About a third do not regularly check the privacy settings on their social media accounts and the same number do not use two-factor authentication when logging into an online account. Even with increasing news reports about security issues such as ransomware, identity theft and hacks, people still do not think it will happen to them or their business, Muller says.
He quoted a recent global analysis of hacks and data breaches that estimated it would cost three million dollars on average for a company to recover from a successful hack. For the average New Zealand company, this could be disastrous, so business owners need to take cybersecurity seriously.
Similarly, consequences from breach of personal data, identity theft, ransomware, fraud and direct monetary loss could be significant. According to CERT NZ’s quarterly data, thousands of Kiwis are subject to cyber blackmail and fraud every year due to their complacency around simple security measures.
CERT NZ ran its Cyber Smart Week 2020 campaign from October 19 – 23, 2020. The main goal of the initiative is to increase the cyber resilience of New Zealanders making them, and the nation, less vulnerable to cyber attacks.
The Commerce Commission has published its first set of final decisions on the input methodologies that will apply to fibre fixed-line access services.
“Our input methodologies are designed to incentivise fibre providers to innovate, invest, and improve their efficiency so that consumers receive high quality and affordable broadband services,” said Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson.
The decision covers core areas including cost allocation, capital expenditure, returns to investors and quality – with a further decision to follow on the Commission’s approach to the financial loss asset on 3 November 2020.
As with other regulated sectors, the input methodologies are designed to give fibre providers upfront certainty on the regulatory rules, processes and requirements that will be applied to their businesses, while also counterbalancing their incentives to maximise profits at the expense of consumers.
The Commission will now move into the second and final stage of the process for fibre regulation where it will use the input methodologies framework to set detailed regulatory requirements for each of the regulated fibre networks.
For Chorus, regulation will take the form of a revenue cap that ultimately constrains the price consumers pay for broadband. The regulation will also set the minimum quality standards Chorus must deliver, including customer service, service availability and network performance.
Chorus and the other local fibre companies will also be required to publicly disclose information about their performance, including profits, quality of service and expenditure. This will enable stakeholders, including consumers, to gauge how effectively the regulatory regime is promoting the long-term benefit of end-users.
The Government’s Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) initiative was launched in 2009 and now aims to achieve fibre-to-the-premises to 87% of the population (including 1% private fibre) by 2022.
Rural areas of New Zealand are covered by the separate Rural Broadband Initiative which improves broadband coverage to premises in rural New Zealand where it would not be commercially cost-effective to build UFB networks.
The Government’s Crown Infrastructure Partners contracted with four companies through to 2020 to build these fibre networks: Chorus and three local fibre companies (LFCs) – Northpower Fibre, Ultrafast Fibre and Enable Networks.
In November 2018, Parliament amended the Telecommunications Act to require the Commission to develop and implement a new regulatory regime for these fibre providers. The regime will be implemented from the beginning of 2022.
The regime first aims to determine input methodologies. These are the rules, requirements and processes underpinning the regulation. The draft decisions were published in November 2019. This paper sets out the final decisions on what the input methodologies will look like.
Because of the importance of input methodologies, the Act provides for affected parties who submitted during this process to ask the High Court to undertake a merits review of the determinations.
The Commission will use the input methodologies to set the maximum revenue that Chorus can earn from their customers and the minimum quality standards it must meet. This is referred to as price-quality regulation. Additionally, all four fibre network providers will be required to publicly disclose information on their performance, such as on their profitability, revenue, and capital expenditure. This is referred to as information disclosure regulation and is intended to shed a light on their performance for stakeholders and consumers.
Alongside this work, the Commission is also creating safeguards to protect consumers as New Zealand transitions away from the copper phone and broadband network. These safeguards include that fibre is available to be installed at no cost to consumers before Chorus can choose to stop supplying copper services in neighbourhoods.
The Commission is also working on a code so vulnerable consumers have an appropriate way of contacting 111 in the event of a power cut. This is because fibre landlines rely on power in the home and may not work during a power outage.
The final copper withdrawal code will be released in December 2020. The 111 contact code will be released in November 2020.
Data.gov.nz wants to use data more efficiently and effectively to make better choices and provide quick, effortless and smart services to New Zealanders across the entire government spectrum. Improving data content standardisation practices among government organisations will mean that the government is better able to meet the growing expectations of New Zealanders.
Data collected across government has not been designed consistently or managed with all-of-government needs in mind. This means when an attempt is made to share data (for multiple reasons and only where permitted and safe to do so) it can be very difficult to do.
Data content standardisation aims to provide a reliable and consistent basis for the New Zealand data system to maximise the value of data, create a more complete view to inform government policy and investment decisions and enable information sharing and reconciling the data faster and more efficiently.
As the functional lead for data, the Government Chief Data Steward (GCDS) is working across government to co-design, develop, and implement short data content standardisation, tapping into specialised expertise. The GCDS has the authority to set mandatory requirements across government.
Once approved, data content requirements are mandatory for New Zealand government organisations that share electronic data containing the data concept in the data content standard. (Government organisations refers to the State sector Public Service departments and departmental organisations as specified in schedules 1 and 1A of the State Sector Act 1988.)
The government data content standardisation design process also provides opportunities to improve connections across government organisations and increase knowledge about common data problems.
One area that they have made significant strides and progress is in digitising maps. Over the past 150 years, many geological maps of all parts of New Zealand have been made – and most of these maps online can be accessed online thanks to work by GNS Science. For the past 10 years, the team there has been consistently digitising its national archive of historic geological maps.
The geological map archive is one of eight Nationally Significant Collections and Databases cared for by GNS Science, including GNS Science, Web maps, and Nationally Significant Collections and Databases.
Digitising and cataloguing the maps makes them discoverable and accessible. Along with the datasets and GIS layers covering a spectrum of New Zealand geoscience, harvestable metadata means GNS Science can connect to and automatically update data.govt.nz. Moreover, this allows precious historic paper maps themselves to be better preserved.
By making the data more discoverable, even more people and organisations will be able to access and use these data. Currently, GNS Science data are used by local and central governments, researchers within New Zealand and internationally, utility, construction, insurance and exploration industry and more.
Have you noticed how your smartphone knows which way you’re facing when you are looking at a map? That’s because a digital compass using geomagnetic data is working together with GPS, accelerometers and a gyroscope. Digital compasses use global geomagnetic data to compute direction and they are now commonly embedded into consumer devices such as mobile phones.
The New Zealand Geomagnetic Database is hosted by GNS Science. The Database documents the short-term and long-term fluctuations in the Earth’s regional magnetic field from observations collected every second from observatories at Eyrewell, north-west of Christchurch, Scott Base in Antarctica and Apia, Samoa. Data from these observatories are sent to INTERMAGNET, an international organisation that archives and disseminates magnetic observatory data for applications such as digital compass calibration.