Greens' technology spokesman Gareth Hughes has offered a novel suggestion to resolve the CTO hiring mess - pre-empting Labour's rescoping process.

The government chief technology officer role is too large for an individual and could be contracted to InternetNZ, Hughes said.

"This would be similar to how businesses utilise external advice from the likes of PwC or Deloitte or government departments are monitored by the Office of the Controller and Auditor General," he said.

The CTO recruitment process fell apart on September 12 when successful applicant Derek Handley was told he no longer had the role, which was being rethought (see timeline below).

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Megan Woods, who took over the digital services portfolio after Clare Curran's sacking, said she is on track to rescope the role and report to the Cabinet by the end of November.

The non-profit InternetNZ administers the .nz domain and advocates on issues such as net neutrality, copyright and closing the "digital divide".

Its chief executive Jordan Carter is a former Labour candidate but widely regarded as politically neutral in his current role.

His deputy Andrew Cushen said InternetNZ will be happy to help Woods as she rethinks the role. As to whether InternetNZ wants the job, "I can't say because we have absolutely no idea what it is. There's a lot of work to be done on the rescoping," he said.

InternetNZ deputy chief executive Andrew Cushen says his organisation can't yet say if it would like the CTO role because
InternetNZ deputy chief executive Andrew Cushen says his organisation can't yet say if it would like the CTO role because "we have absolutely no idea what it is."

Hughes' idea has the support of Victoria MacLennan, co-chair of buy-local IT industry lobby group NZ Rise.

MacLennan said she applied for the CTO role and made it to the first round of interviews.

She quickly learned from the application process that the job was too large for a single person, she said.

MacLennan was told the successful applicant would have access to two staffers, one seconded from MBIE, the other from Internal Affairs.

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NZ Rise co-chair Victoria MacLennan says she realised while applying for CTO that the role was under-resourced.
NZ Rise co-chair Victoria MacLennan says she realised while applying for CTO that the role was under-resourced.

She described that as under-resourcing compared to national government CEO roles in other countries, and even state-level governments in Australia.

Later, after she was appointed to Curran's digital advisory panel, she told the minister she should consider the role going to a group. She said Curran told her a suitable individual could be found.

MacLennan saw the CTO role spanning three major areas: A futurist role assessing trends such as artificial intelligence and robotics; promoting digital inclusion and digital literacy for all New Zealanders, and pushing the country toward a more digital economy or "getting off the grass", as Sir Paul Callaghan put it.

She said InternetNZ, which has 35 staff and 12 councillors elected by its 350 members, has the resources to advise on policy in all three areas and do so in neutral fashion.

Hughes said: "With rapid change on the horizon, we need someone who can understand the complexity of something like AI, social media or blockchain and clearly communicate the opportunities and implications to the public."

He added: "It's a big ask of someone to be across to all new technological developments in diverse fields and at the same time be across all of the government's digital work."

He said it will deliver value for taxpayers' money if a third-party like InternetNZ was contracted to advise the government and monitor areas such as IT procurement and digital services.

As for Woods, she is still playing her cards close to her chest.

"I'm rescoping the CTO role to see how it fits in with other work being done on digital transformation," she told the Herald this morning.

"I'm receiving advice on what the revised CTO could look like and won't comment on individual suggestions at this point."

CTO search timeline

December 19, 2017: The Government first advertises the $500,000-a-year chief technology officer role.

February 12, 2018: Then-Digital Services Minister Clare Curran shocks the tech industry when she announces that none of the 60 applicants was successful.

February 22: Curran meets with entrepreneur and Sky TV director Derek Handley. The pair discuss the CTO role. The meeting is not disclosed.

May 13: The CTO role is readvertised internationally, following consultation with Curran's digital advisory panel, formed in April. A key change is that it is now a 12-month contract, with a possible extension.

June 3: Handley submits an application. Around 80 people apply in all.

August 8: Handley informed he is the successful applicant.

August 24: The February 22 meeting with Handley comes to light. Curran is sacked from Cabinet and loses her Digital Services portfolio, but keeps ACC and Broadcasting as a Minister outside Cabinet.

September 7: Curran resigns her remaining portfolios following the revelation she used a personal Gmail account for Government business.

September 12: Handley learns the CTO position is being "rethought" and he no longer has the role. He is given $107,000 compensation, which he donates to the Spark Foundation.

September 14: Woods goes public, saying the Government has stopped the CTO recruitment process while it "reconsiders" the role.

September 25: Handley reveals to the Herald that no one in the government told him why he was dropped from the role.