It's a changing world - is Northland ready?

Posted on February 26, 2018

The Hawaiki cable has landed - so what does this mean for Northland?

By Dr David Wilson
Chief Executive Officer, Northland Inc

This article was written for, and first appeared, in the Northern Advocate, February 21 2018.

If you’re one of those people shouting at your TV in Northland because the movie won’t download or you’re still on dial-up, or in a mobile blackspot, or you can’t send/receive important files in your business, things are about to change. The cable has landed! 

The new Hawaiki international submarine cable which was brought to shore at Mangawhai Heads last week will provide New Zealand with more competition in the communications market and increased data security, speed, bandwidth and connectivity. It can do the same for Northland if we’re smart.

We live in an increasingly connected world, physically and virtually. Travel has never been cheaper, moving goods have never been cheaper, and the movement of information (data) has never been cheaper or faster … except maybe in Northland.

The amount of data moving around the world via your computer, TV or smartphone, has grown exponentially in the last 10 years and that growth is set to continue. We already talk less in terms of kilobytes and megabytes and more in gigabytes and terabytes.  We remain connected in our lounges with interruption-free online streaming services such as Netflix which stores all its business in ‘the cloud’. 

There is no doubt that the new digital world is cool, and maybe a bit scary. Robots are automating production as never before - and replacing jobs? Artificial intelligence has powerful networked computers analysing complex human problems and providing solutions – does this mean humans will devolve their thinking?  In augmented reality dreams come true and experiences come to life - or perception becomes reality? Hyper connectedness through social media keeps us abreast of world issues - or where we project a particular version of ourselves, become more isolated and socially inept? Disruptive technologies and disintermediation (think of Bitcoin, online shopping, Airbnb, Uber) challenge traditional business models and threaten large scale disruption in employment?

All of these opportunities and challenges are with us and ahead of us and there is no turning back the clock, so one thing’s for sure; inaction is not an option. We have to make new technologies and global connectedness work for us.

Northland’s digital revolution is our chance to increase knowledge, information and wealth for the better. Think of remote working in the most beautiful parts of Northland, think of tele-health and drones delivering medicine to remote patients, think of sensors telling us when nitrogen leaching is occurring or when plants need water, nutrients or sunlight, think of diversified work portfolios rather than the 9-5. Think opportunity.

However, we have work to do, this is much bigger than faster movie downloads.

First, we need the infrastructure in place. The goal needs to be ubiquitous coverage and access. A Digital Enablement Group made up of the four Northland councils and Northland Inc have this goal in mind and work is underway on innovative ways to reach the more isolated and less commercially viable parts of Northland.  Northpower Fibre is well underway with their rollout of UFB2, data centre proposals are in the wind, and government is listening to Northland.

We also need programmes to support new technology in our current businesses and the creation of new businesses. Collaborative workspaces, incubators, technology hubs, supporting creativity, innovation and digital education and the next generation of tech savvy youth coming through, are all important components.  

Yes, the world is rapidly changing, yes new digital technologies will challenge traditional business models and careers. On the other hand, we have an opportunity to create a fairer society with an economy that is sustainable and diversified. Our choice.