Tech industry leaders and commentators were generally downbeat about Budget 2021, which had little to offer their sector.
But most did give a nod to the $44 million allocated to continue and extend Digital Boost - a programme of free online training courses for small business people. The idea is to teach them new skills "to take advantage of new opportunities through e-commerce".
Digital Boost was first introduced with Budget 2020, originally with $10m in funding. That was later doubled to $10m a few months later - with the second tranche of funding, drawn from the Covid-19 Tourism Recovery Package, with programmes introduced to teach tourism operators new digital strategies and skills.
Today, at the official launch for the expanded public-private programme in Auckland, Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash announced the new public-private Digital Boost Alliance, whose founding members are Xero, MYOB, Zeald, Datacom, The Mindlab, Spark, Chorus, 2degrees and The Warehouse Group, the five major trading banks, Crown agencies CERT (the Computer Emergency Response Team) and MBIE, and the multinationals Facebook, Microsoft, HP and Amazon.
"The organisations who join the Alliance make a public commitment to support small businesses, workers or communities with free or discounted goods, services, advice or training in order to improve standards of living and wellbeing," Nash said.
"The continued digitalisation of NZ businesses will help secure the economic recovery in the face of ongoing uncertainty and volatility as Covid-19 evolves around the world. The global pandemic is still our biggest threat but we are well placed to deal with its challenges through initiatives like increased digitalisation."
Datacom country manager Justin Gray told the Herald his company would work "in conjunction with our partners Ngāi Tahu, Tuputoa and in the tertiary sector including Te Pukenga, we commit to delivering 200 new graduates to the sector each year."
The IT services firm's Digital Boost initiatives will include scholarships and work-experience programmes.
"In addition, we will work with our existing 3000 strong New Zealand-based workforce to upskill and support their own development within the digital sector," Gray said.
Nash said the expanded Digital Boost will help up to 30,000 small-to-medium businesses per year.
Industry still waiting on big-bang measures
"Our aspiration is for New Zealand to have the most digitally enabled small business sector in the world. Agencies like NZIER estimate real GDP could increase between $3.5 billion and $6.2b if there was just a 20 per cent increase in the uptake of cloud computing alone," Nash said.
Industry insiders spoken to by the Herald said bigger moves than Digital Boost would be needed to achieve that goal.
Speaking to the Herald after the Budget 2021 announcement, Graeme Muller - the head of tech industry lobby group NZTech - told the Herald that the extended Digital Boost would be good for small businesses looking to boost their productivity.
However, Muller, like many others, had been looking for more big-bang measures to address issues like the cyber-security crisis, the digital divide, and the IT skills shortage.
"The budget was relatively devoid of tech," he said.
The TechNZ CEO was also hoping that more IT policy initiatives would be announced soon, noting that the Government close to publishing its Digital Technology Industry Transformation Plan.
Muller is expecting it to include, "Really important investments such as the development and launch of digital technology apprenticeships, investment in accelerating SaaS [software-as-a-service] exports, a national AI [artificial intelligence] strategy and support for the rapidly growing Māori Tech ecosystem."