California dreaming

California dreaming

What is stopping NZ technology companies from enjoying the same success as US giants such as Google? A visit to Silicon Valley was an eye-opener for one local ICT manager.

As I was sitting in the Google cafeteria having a good old fashioned face-to- face chat with one of its developers, I thought, what is stopping a New Zealand ICT company from enjoying the same success as Google? Recently, I had the privilege of taking a look inside some of the leading US technology companies including Google, EBay and PayPal.

For me, visiting these companies and analysing them with a non technical hat on was eye-opening.

We all know CIOs and ICT managers should be evaluating their business from a strategic viewpoint, however it is always a challenge not to get caught up with micromanaging day-to-day problems.

After mulling over the experiences and conversations I had with these US companies, the key point that I brought back was that the ICT industry in New Zealand and abroad faces the same challenges as every other industry: how to stay innovative, relevant and profitable.

The ICT industry within New Zealand is innovative and does remarkably well with fewer resources.

However, compared to the American ICT industry New Zealand generally lacks the ability to scale. American technology companies know how to scale and they do it incredibly well.

In saying this, I personally think that New Zealand and the American ICT industry have something to glean off each other. That is; America can learn that innovation comes out of necessity and small groups of people with the right intuition. In turn, New Zealand can learn how to grow good small companies into those $1 billion dollar great companies, operating on a large scale.

This started to get me thinking. If success in ICT is not geographically dependent, the question that I would like to ‘throw out there’ is: Why can’t a New Zealand ICT company dominate on the world stage? Yes, American ICT companies know how to scale, partly due to ease of access to a large market. However with non-limiting cloud based technologies it’s not the technology that is preventing any New Zealand ICT business to scale, it’s the ability of the New Zealand ICT industry to gain access to a large market.

While over in the US, people thought I was an Australian. When I corrected them, they said things like “Oh, New Zealand! Where the hobbits are!” It reminded me that we have a fantastic example of an innovative New Zealand company that has successfully tapped into the American market: Weta Workshops.

Weta is also a great example of how a New Zealand-based company has learned to scale. Weta swelled to 4,400 paid workers at its peak, on the Lord Of The Rings movies and peaked to approximately 2,500 workers while working on the Avatar movie. Weta now has more computing power than NASA. These astounding facts are included in the tour of their facilities which I experienced firsthand earlier this year taking a group of youths to visit the Weta Cave.

The key take away from my experience is, we can have a great ICT industry, and tapping into the North American market by taking the cue from local innovators like Weta, would be one way of achieving this.

Amanda White is ICT manager at Marlborough Lines and won the Young ICT Talent award in the Computerworld Excellence Awards in 2007. She is currently finishing her MBA at Massey University, and the visit to Silicon Valley was a requirement for her course on strategic management. White’s thesis will focus on the implications of SMEs moving to cloud based technologies.

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