Government needs a Chief Tech Officer - Drury

By Bill Bennett

Rod Drury, founder and chief executive of internet-based accounting software company Xero. Photo / NZH
Rod Drury, founder and chief executive of internet-based accounting software company Xero. Photo / NZH

Xero founder Rod Drury wants a Government Chief Technology Officer appointed to advise cabinet - on the same lines as Sir Peter Gluckman's role advising the Prime Minister on science.

"Technology is moving really fast. Most of the advice given to government comes from vested interests; we need someone who is independent and able to pick out the big subjects, then propose action," he says.

To illustrate the value of a government CTO, Drury points at payments technology. Payments are moving from cards to smartphones. He says without the right policy setting we could find companies like Samsung, Apple or a mobile carrier clip the ticket on every purchase made in New Zealand. That could add 2.5 per cent to the price of everything - a huge inflation hit with all that implies for the economy.

Outside technology issues and not tinkering with the free market, Drury isn't worried by general government policy settings. "Most policy doesn't make that much difference to us."

However, he remains a champion of the idea to build a submarine cable from the US to Australia via New Zealand. Drury looks for government to take the lead on this after trying and failing to build a commercial cable with Pacific Fibre. He says an international cable is a vital infrastructure, like a road, that should be publically funded rather than supported by commercial equity funds. "There's a way the Government could get a trans-Pacific cable without it costing too much money. It would benefit everyone and transform business. It would enable multipoint video conferencing. This would boost productivity and make us part of the global community," he said. Drury's cable plan would see the Crown own the asset and international connections sold at a $5 monthly wholesale rate: With a million connections that would raise $60 million a year "enough to cover the cable debt".

A government CTO would play a role in helping cabinet develop a cable policy. Drury thinks there's also room to act on the GCSB, electronic surveillance and security in general. This meshes with his ideas on trade. He sees an opportunity for a connected New Zealand to brand itself as the world's honest electronic broker. A place where: "You aren't spied on by government until you break the law". This approach would attract talented workers from the US and elsewhere.

Drury sees an opportunity for us as the only country that has both a free trade agreement with China and a good relationship with the US. "They both want to trade, there's a role for us to go between them."

At Xero, Drury's main concern is coping with rapid growth. This means hiring lots of people and making sure sales continue. "We're moving from being Australasian to becoming a global brand, we need to win in the US which is a bigger, more competitive market."

The next year will see Xero continue with development of its core product. Then, Drury says, the real fun begins as the company finds ways to unlock the network effect of its software - there are already small companies spawning off Xero's software and more than 200 partners signed up to develop products using the company's APIs - the external links into Xero.

With 500 staff around the world, Drury said the main thing keeping him awake at night is a business that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He fears the company growing to the point where it loses the start-up culture and becomes a large corporate.

Rod Drury Xero

Rod Drury's one change to improve New Zealand would be to create a Government Chief Technology Officer.

Drury's top three business priorities for the next 12 months:

• Attract skilled talent

• Execute in US market

• Double revenue.

His best achievement in the past 12 months: Doubling revenue.

The single biggest factor that would assist his business to remain internationally competitive from NZ? International telecommunications links.

- NZ Herald

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