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Going digital with no. 8 wire

Going digital with no. 8 wire

ICT leaders share their thoughts on how New Zealand can become a hi-tech, sustainable society, during a CIO roundtable discussion sponsored by Simpl Group.

In the round Aubrey Christmas, chief information officer, Employers and

Manufacturers Association (Northern)

Tony Clear, associate head, School of Computer and Information Sciences, AUT University

Tony Darby, chief information officer, Excell Corporation

Anthony Hafoka, director of IT advisory practice, KPMG

Martin Knoche, ICT sector manager, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise

Jason MacDonald, director of ICT Services, Kristin School

Edward Overy, GM of group IT business solutions, Air New Zealand

Claudia Vidal, group IS manager, Tru-Test Ltd

Peter Winquist, chief information officer, AsureQuality

Bennett Medary, CEO, Simpl Group

Rob O’Neill, editor, Computerworld

Divina Paredes, editor, CIO New Zealand

The state of the nation

Bennett Medary: There are a few things that we need to enable the digital future, one being the infrastructure. The other [is] education. There’s a third thing and it’s very, very vital. And I think we lack it very much in government and also in a lot of [the] business environment. And that’s the future vision, the future stake.

Too much of what I hear is deficit thinking: We don’t have enough broadband, it’s not fast enough, it’s not cheap enough; we don’t have these skills or those skills. We need to find a way to coerce kids to suddenly invest in skills we don’t have today, forgetting that it takes three to five years for that to happen. And they may not be the skills we need in three to five years time either. Because we don’t have the strategy and the vision, and because we don’t have that level of strong planning, we actually can’t inform the people that want to provide those outcomes with what we really need. So we’re only reacting to yesterday’s crisis.

So my provocation is — how clear are we about a national vision? What kind of lifestyle would we like technology to be able to be one thread of a programme of enablers to create for us? Do we want to be a Switzerland of the Southern Hemisphere? Do we want to be a Southern Hemisphere little garden state that doesn’t get on the rat race? The outsource nation for the world? That vision need not be confined to our national boundaries, in fact it must not be.

Peter Winquist: The problem with the digital future is the present. It’s actually with people who don’t necessarily understand how technology can differentiate New Zealand. We’ve got huge advantages in New Zealand in many, many areas. The area of food traceability is a good example. There are very few countries in the world that have every single farm geospatially mapped, but that’s what we have in New Zealand. That has a huge flow-on effect in terms of food traceability and in terms of biosecurity. And we don’t leverage that advantage adequately. How can we encourage New Zealand business to differentiate what we already have, the unique factors that make New Zealand what it is?

Tony Clear: The interesting thing for New Zealand, and globally, is the whole issue of sustainability. Now if you create, a global niche, carve it out well and you’re doing it well, you don’t want to grow it too big. That may be a space we can live in quite comfortably, and say we’re the sustainable society, we have lives worth living, we do things that are useful.

We carve out niches that other people aren’t sort of jumping into. And given the number of SMEs we’ve got, we need some strategies about how to make those more effective.

Since the ‘80s we’ve had this massive obsession with neo-liberal economics, and the market will generate everything, which means that everything goes offshore. And we become strangers in our own land. Now I don’t think that’s a healthy future. So we need some strategic investment by government in infrastructure, in enabling facilities that will help us move to those places we want to be. Because in a small place like New Zealand, we are really in a ‘co-opetition’ model. We can basically do the things that give us the scale and the agility and the portfolio, but individually keep our point of difference.

Edward Overy: If you have a look at previous sectors in New Zealand, and probably around the world that have been successful [it is] agriculture. So we used to have a Wool Board that said ‘Right, we’ve got an ample supply of wool and we’ve got to sell this stuff’. We had oodles of resources and to make that industry successful, it had to have a cohesive strategy and it had to be organised…[so] how do we make this industry [ICT] grow? It’s not just a leadership thing and having a vision. We can have all the vision we like, but if the resource isn’t there, then you might be just on a hiding to nothing.

On the target of 100 $100 million ICT companies by 2012

Bennett Medary: Those are a bunch of numbers that are completely arbitrary. And what they were about was not lifestyle, not people, not what we do, where we do it, how we do it, not your view of what is our niche. What is our differentiator, who are we going to sell what, how do we find our place in the world? It was simply let us have 100 companies, 100 million in a billion dollar industry.

That was the strategy. So what did they do? They got together people who had successfully sold or floated businesses. Find guys who maybe have a chance. Give them some encouragement, give them some money, get them over the hurdle so they can become successful… And then they’re bought by someone outside of New Zealand.

We have spawned a few businesses, which are now owned off-shore. So it had nothing to do with economic growth.

There’s nothing wrong with that [but] that certainly isn’t an avenue to a sustainable future based on a technology driven e-economy… it doesn’t take us anywhere towards a vision of an economic future.

Tony Darby: Someone once relayed a story to me like this. There was an Olympic gymnast who gave his whole hour-long presentation while working out on a wooden horse. His presentation was all about what differentiates top athletes from good ones. The key point was that being great is about 6 per cent, that’s all. Six per cent differentiates great people and great organisations from ordinary ones. Everyone gets 94 per cent for turning up — that’s just for being there. You get 2 per cent for creativity, you get 2 per cent for extension and you get 2 per cent for risk taking. I guess the challenge for us is about how we are going to be creative, push the systems and take risks to accommodate the people who know no boundaries. How are we going to get that 6 per cent? That’s a personal challenge we all face.

The net generation

Anthony Hafoka: From a skills-set perspective, one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is the whole Generation X and Y, and the differences that people have, and how those different generations actually expect things to be. And really, there’s no easy answer. It’s going to be a considerable challenge for those of us.

Claudia Vidal: It’s a lack of awareness. For them [IT] is a black box and it’s a functionality, but who cares what’s at the back? And [with] Bebo or MySpace, they have no awareness whatsoever of risk or privacy or anything. They’re a complete and open book. And that’s what I’m really concerned about… There has to be a balance, there’s no discussion about it. When you’re an adult you know that there are restrictions.

We have this imbalance between the generations that are at work now and the ones that are coming: One concentrating much more on the content and the other concentrating more on the delivery medium. So we need to achieve some kind of use for the kids. It’s good for them to have internet access, but what are you going to achieve with that? Are you still thinking about the content? Or are you looking at a glorified cut and paste with your assignment?

Bennett Medary: They view IT as consumer electronics — mobile phones, iPods, PCs, set top boxes, who cares — they’re gadgets. And the mystique and the marvel of being part of the black art that makes these boxes do things is kind of gone.

They’re kind of taken for granted and they just see them as tools. They literally just expect them to be there doing the stuff that they want to get on with. It’s just stuff to use for entertainment, for engagement, for living life. So they treat it exactly the same as we used to marvel about our microwave… And so they’re not excited about being one of the agents that makes that stuff. So [IT] has gone back to like core engineering.

Jason MacDonald: They know how to multi-task and use many different types of technology but we still have — both as organisations and in schooling — a responsibility to ensure that people have digital literacy skills, but also information literacy skills. And that’s something that we need to address with the older generation in the organisation. That as you implement instant messaging or video-enhancing based tools, that everybody understands how to create knowledge and how to use these tools to create knowledge. Because that’s part of what drives the value for what we’re doing. So it’s not just that they know how to use instant messaging, it’s that you know how to use the information and these tools in a productive way. And sometimes the younger generation doesn’t necessarily get that from a business perspective.

A liberal, cautious approach

Aubrey Christmas: Their generation is more of a consumer generation of technology than a producer of technology. New Zealand has to come to grips with how businesses can increase productivity, and using tools that the younger generations are comfortable with, to do that.

Their network knows no boundary because they use that tool. I’ll give an example. I had a web problem that has taken nine months for a senior person to try to solve. I gave it to a young guy and he solved it in one day, because he just reached out to this network and said, ‘I have this problem, what can I do about it’? And you have a lot of people looking across, rather than the organisation looking at it… And that’s what I’m trying to do with my young team.

Tony Darby: It doesn’t really matter what tools people are using. You can try and deny them if you like, but they’ll find a way to do it. It’s just there’s so much information that’s available and so much access that’s available, that it doesn’t matter what you do. People will find a way to do what they want to do. So it’s better to actually work with them to actually provide those tools, in order to bring about an outcome which is acceptable to everyone.

Bennett Medary: Looking at it from another point of view, a few years ago, not very long ago at all, our IT department really forbade simple-to-use Skype, for obvious reasons. Within the last 18 months, we cannot be effective as a business without Skype. We’re going out and we have staff all over the place. And if we didn’t use Skype it would be a severe competitive sort of issue. So we now challenge IT to find a way of enabling the business to take advantage of these things, because we have to, but manage the risks. So rather than say no, how can we say yes? It’s a slightly different question and a lot more powerful. And we have to. We just can’t keep denying the business and the people and the productivity gains that technology offers, just because of the risks. It’s a little bit like government saying we can’t have integrated government because of privacy.

Rob O’Neill: When staff is in such a shortage, you’re really weighing up risks. There’s the risk of giving people the tools and there’s the risk of not giving them the tools; i.e. the fact that you won’t be able to attract the people that you need to keep your organisation functioning well. So at some point something has got to give.

Let innovation rule

Martin Knoche: One of the big investments the government did last year was in the three-dimensional visualisation space with investment in a company called Right Hemisphere [included in this year’s New Zealand 25]. It is a strategic area identified by not only government, but a wider group of industry experts and people with money, because Right Hemisphere was invested in by one of the biggest venture capital companies in the US.

So apparently there’s some market validation for capabilities in New Zealand in that space, and around that they’re currently building an organisation called Nextspace, where quite a few companies are being helped with the connections and the infrastructure, which Right Hemisphere has spearheaded.

So the idea is really to create a wave where other New Zealand companies with capabilities in that space get an opportunity, get exposed to international opportunities… There are pockets of initiatives where things are being started.

There apparently is a need to amalgamate some of those pockets of ideas into something bigger, which can inspire really the future of the people.

Edward Overy: IT is a huge enabler for what we’re trying to achieve as a business. A quarter of our revenue comes through our booking engine. Most of Air New Zealand’s marketing activity and profile domestically in New Zealand is around grab-a-seat. And that’s innovation and development that was done in-house.

Tapping the new Kiwis

Anthony Hafoka: We need to sort out the now, and then the future will happen. And part of the sorting of the now is actually taking advantage of the way the world views us. A lot of people around the table, myself included, view New Zealand as a great place to bring up kids. We’ve got that piece there, we’re attracting people, what can we do to make it easier for the right people to come in and move through and actually then start to add value to the economy?

Managing the flight of the Kiwis

Aubrey Christmas: New Zealand is a great place to retire and so forth, but we also lose those bright ones that are going overseas. Not to be gloom and doom, but I think that some of the bigger corporations are recognising that and they are hiring them out of the universities and then sending them overseas right off the bat, and after two years bringing them back. That’s a good sign as well, that businesses are making that stand.

Anthony Hafoka: At KPMG we have people that come in, move through particularly in the accounting side of things, and then get their chartered accounting qualifications and then disappear off overseas.

One of the strategies that we’ve employed [is] when people are about probably two years in, they are identified and given an opportunity to go overseas and spend six months working in Japan, in the UK. It’s a short-term secondment.

We also have a long-term secondment programme where people might go away for two years; we have people coming into the country as well on that sort of basis. Some of them will decide to stay.

Insights from the digital natives

Bennett Medary: The insights from my son were fascinating. First of all, in terms of the future, what did he personally sort of major on? Green, sustainability, diversity, were major. He said get on and do the things that we know we can do today that are going to make a huge difference to the lifestyle we know we want.

No one’s going to say we don’t want to be sustainable and we don’t want cheaper power and we don’t want a green environment. That’s why we’re all here, the people who stay here and the people who come here.

He said the problem is, adults are not very good at creating a vision and driving towards it. Adults aren’t good at leading that change. But he was right. He said, you guys are taught to and have to succeed in today’s climate, the systems, the rules of the game, the transactions you’re engaging in. You can’t go and change them, because you’re on the court playing, you can’t design the other game.

And I said well, what are you going to do about leadership and how’s this going to happen? And he said, ‘Well, hopefully some of my generation will become powerful and influential sort of leaders’… To some extent, we underestimate what’s in the heads of these young [people], and the insights they have.

Jason MacDonald: I read that today’s Gen X-ers are the digital natives — version one, their children are version two, and they’re at school right now. And so we now have digital natives who are parents, and things are starting to change. It’s an interesting sort of mix. But there is a risk as well. I really like the culture we have of the number eight wire inventive philosophy. We need to see how that enigma we have, is going to apply to this new digital space. Are these new students going to lose that ability, or are we going to be able to pass that on?

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Tags Kiwi technologyno.8 wiremedarysimpl groupCIO roundtableDigital future

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