IT Brief New Zealand - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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Mon, 1st Mar 2010
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Imagine if John Key called a press conference tomorrow and said something like "Hey everyone, great news. Things aren't as bad as we thought. Treasury forgot to carry a 1, and we've found an extra $1.7 billion dollars a year from now on! And given it's election year, we've decided to give it to businesses. Yup! $2000 per staff member, but only if the company spends a little time helping their staff use their IT stuff better." What do you think would happen?

Well, I have an inkling. Organisations would jump for joy and get on with doing what they needed to do to get their bit. Traditionally under-resourced small businesses with five staff would welcome the extra $10,000 a year and use it to buy more stuff. Those with 100 staff would take their $200,000 cheque and add it to their coffers, and, all in all, everyone would be pretty happy.

And really, you'd have to be a mug not to claim your piece of the pie, wouldn't you?

Yet funnily enough, there is a $1.7 billion dollar pot of gold just waiting to be claimed every year, but hardly any organisations seem to know it's even there, let alone go after their bit. I'm talking about productivity, of course: the product of investment in human capital; or, more specifically, investing in productivity through focusing on digital skills. Negative connotations of the term aside, the concept of ‘human capital' underpins the whole idea of investment in productivity, and it's called an investment rather than an expense for good reason.

According to a report commissioned by NZCS, it costs New Zealand businesses that don't invest in the ongoing education of their staff's core digital skills $2000 more per person than the training would have done. And that's in direct savings alone; a total of $1.7 billion dollars seeping out of our economy, every single year. I know I said Iwas only going to put forward one question, but really, I've got to ask: How the heck did that happen?

Einstein once said, "Education is the progressive realisation of our ignorance". I'd put it to you that the reason this huge gap exists, and the reason so many predominantly small and medium-sized organisations (and a fair few larger ones) don't do anything about digital literacy, is that we all seem to think we're really good at this computer stuff. And sadly, the evidence suggests we're not.

Education is the progressive realisation of our ignorance, or, to put it another way, we think that just because we can figure out our way around a computer we're doing it in the best, fastest and most efficient or productive manner possible. But we're not. And it's not until we focus on plugging the gaps through implementing a digital literacy standard within our organisations, and ensuring our staff meet that standard, that we realise just what we didn't know.

And let's face it, a hole this big means only one thing: New Zealand isn't particularly good at seeing the big picture when it comes to human capital. As a country we like to talk the talk about lifting productivity, yet when it comes to walking the walk we're just a little gun-shy, as the OECD keeps telling us.

Anyway, I don't know about you but I'm pretty keen on cashing in. Perhaps it's time we actually got serious about this stuff and started really investing in that thing called human capital. For me, digital skills seem the logical place to start.

In 500BC Confucius said: "If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people." Indeed, perhaps it's time we thought about doing all three.