The past year has seen a big increase in cases of corporate fraud, according to a well-placed industry source working in the field.

Most of it never hits the headlines as it is dealt with outside the courts where big companies would attract the kind of publicity they really don't need.

One of the big drivers of the increase is technology. More specifically, it's driven by the growing digital divide between senior managers and the people they are employing to make their businesses run in an online world.

The power imbalance between those of us who only know how to operate the front end of a computer and those who know how to get behind the operating system, poke and access - or hack - sensitive information is creating new opportunities for those with an axe to grind or an eye for a quick return.


Cyber-crime is not new. But what is changing fast is the extent to which business is reliant on the internet to function. Our attitudes to the concepts of privacy and confidentiality are struggling to keep up with the technological revolution.

We've seen this trend shake up election campaigning in the past few months. It is affecting the lives of those with celebrity status as private and personal photos are hacked and made available to the world.

In business we're reaching a critical point where we can't avoid confronting these issues.

Confidentiality is crucial for companies that competitively tender for work. With the right information a competitor can consistently undercut and/or outbid with unbeatable precision.

And, perhaps surprisingly, most New Zealand businesses are not yet terribly tech savvy. This issue is set to become ever more pressing in the next few years.

A new survey by accounting software firm MYOB has found that 47 per cent of SMEs still don't have any online presence at all.

Only 16 per cent are running their own site and have a presence on social media - such as Facebook and Twitter - while 22 per cent are running a website only and a further 9 per cent have only a social media presence.

That doesn't mean they aren't using computers - 92 per cent use email - but it does indicate the tech revolution is far from complete.

And as it develops we will see more growth in the kind of security problems it can create.

This country already has an IT skills shortage. The smartest and brightest developers and systems analysts are often working for themselves running start-ups or as contractors.

Those with the kind of lateral creative skills to really transform a business are not always huge fans of the traditional corporate structure.

They also have options to work in many other places in the world.

We need switched-on, tech-savvy companies to keep the young guns here and we need the young guns to create more tech-savvy companies. It's a chicken and egg scenario.

Within many of our big organisations there is also a generational divide.

How many senior executives, in the private or public sphere, really understand what goes on behind the user interface of their computer?

Perhaps they shouldn't need to. But while they may not be accountants or lawyers, most senior managers will have a good broad understanding of these areas in the field relevant to them.

This gulf in technological knowledge is a business problem and ultimately a wider social problem. It threatens to create a new layer of class inequality - if we let it.

So how do we address this? There's always a case for up-skilling but night classes filled with slightly baffled middle-aged executives probably aren't the answer.

If computing is going to be integrated into every aspect of our lives, then what we are going to need is computing skills fully integrated into our education system.

We need a wider pool of workers coming through into the workforce with computing skills. Not just those with plans for a career in traditional IT but those who have them in addition to core skills in other professional fields - such as accounting, marketing and communications.

New Zealand needs to pick up its game on encouraging computer literacy from an early age. There are already some great examples of this happening in schools.

Avondale College runs a programme that is so successful they've had to seek intellectual property advice for students who have developed commercially viable apps.

We need to get this happening in more schools. Teaching coding to kids from the age of 5 should be a goal.

In fact in Britain a new curriculum introduced last month has done exactly that.

Suddenly, what could have been a radical and progressive step by New Zealand educators becomes a case of playing catch-up.

This Government is fired up on education - although it appears set for an ideological showdown with primary school teachers.

Here's hoping technology is kept off that battlefield. It may even be an area of the curriculum with potential for some shared vision across the political divides.

If we're serious about economic development we need to get started.