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Iwi innovation

Iwi innovation

Ngai Tahu aims to become the largest economic player in the South Island. MIS reports how the IS team is helping the high-profile iwi meet this goal, while supporting the social and cultural needs of the organisation.

With varied commercial interests in seafood, tourism and property, as well as looking after its 34,000 members, Ngai Tahu presents a unique success story. While other iwi are in the media spotlight for the way they manage - or mismanage - their funds, the South Island's biggest iwi has become a showcase for Maori economic development.

From its similar "full and final" settlement of $170 million in 1998, to June 2004, Ngai Tahu has built up its assets to $441 million, earning annual revenues of $170 million, with a surplus of $26.6 million and shareholder equity growing yearly by 10 per cent. Its annual revenue has been increasing on average by 24.3 per cent over the past five years.

Ngai Tahu's commercial interests include Shotover Jet, Whalewatch Kaikoura, Franz Josef Glacier Guides, seafood retailers Pacific Catch and a variety of property investments.

Growth and restructuring

Based in central Christchurch, Ngai Tahu has just completed a business restructure by merging its development corporation (social/cultural and environmental division) with the administrative office of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, while leaving its commercial division, Ngai Tahu Holdings, as a separate entity.

Due for completion this year, the restructure also brings together the business and technical aspects of IS. Previously, the business side of IS was kept under Holdings, headed by IS general manager David Leighton, while the technical side of IT, headed by IT manager Matthew McGurk, reported to the non-commercial part of organisation.

Now, Leighton heads a combined IT unit, with McGurk as his deputy, giving the organisation "one view" of where IS should go in supporting the organisation.

They both manage an IT staff of four which handles the information needs of the more than 550 staff in offices across the country.

"Previously, IS sat in different parts of the building. It was factionalised, with a different emphasis for different parts of the business.

Now, we will be in the same part and there will be more liaison between different parts of IS to support the business," says Leighton.

Leighton reports to the iwi's chief operating officer Chris Milne, and sits on the executive team, but not the board. He controls an annual operating budget of $1.5 million. "We have a business plan to support the business, developed by the senior management team, mainly by the CEO Robert Pratt. I did the (five-year) IT business plan this year, which is more detailed for the first year and this will be reviewed annually," Leighton says.

One issue under review is Ngai Tahu's JD Edwards financials system and whether the iwi should keep it following the purchase of JD Edwards's by PeopleSoft and then of PeopleSoft by Oracle. Having a 'core' system to support varied and growing businesses is another main issue.

"We are ensuring there are some shared services like communication and risk management. We're here to support the business and its plans for growth. Matthew is still very much in charge from a technical aspect, but that technical aspect is now more on supporting the business," says Leighton.

His background is in finance but he has worked in IT for six to seven years. "My role is more strategic and project-based in terms of change management and implementation. That complements Matthew's skills," he explains.

No legacy issues

As a relatively new organisation, Ngai Tahu was able to start afresh, with no legacy systems to support.

"Although we're not constrained by compatibility issues, we do have issues in terms of the continual growth of the organisation.

Acquisitions over the years highlighted a global policy on equipment replacement. We inherited a multitude of different versions of Windows and Office.

One of the priorities of the coming year is to introduce standardisation to enhance the security of the network. The replacement cycle of the servers is every three years, ensuring that critical equipment is under warranty," says McGurk.

Ngai Tahu has mostly HP desktops and servers, Toshiba laptops, and Windows 2000 software at its centres in Christ-church, Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland and Bluff.

A Citrix network was installed in 2000, initially to connect the Bluff seafood-processing site to the organisation's JD Edwards financials suite. Now, that has expanded to 85 Citrix users across ten sites from Auckland to Bluff.

When Ngai Tahu Seafood acquired Cook Straight Seafoods (now Pacific Catch) and its 25 users, McGurk and his small team were able to connect them onto its wide area network in less than a day.

Vital videoconferencing

McGurk says one of the iwi's most innovative uses of technology is videoconferencing (VC). He says the technology is essential for an organisation with a nationwide spread.

Videoconferencing was first installed in 2002 when some of the Ngai Tahu management team moved to Dunedin and VC facilities eased communications between the two centres.<p/>

When Ngai Tahu Holdings Group increased its stake in Queenstown-based Shotover Jet in 2003, videoconferencing saved an Auckland-based board member from having to leave Auckland at 5am to fly to Queenstown for meetings. Similarly, following that year's purchase of Cook Straight Seafoods, installing videoconferencing facilities at its Wellington base also saved on management travelling time.

Ngai Tahu installed an IP-based network in 2002 from Telecom NZ, when IP-based videoconferencing was still in its infancy."The deciding factor was that we could put more data down it. We already had three data links and installed videoconferencing on a parallel network.

We quickly established there was no contention with having both Citrix and videoconferencing operating over the same links. The single network now has over 20 connections," McGurk explains.

"We're now about to commission a new remote office and are planning on having only a couple of phone lines for redundancy. The office will function over the network and mobiles."

Three years ago, Ngai Tahu issued its executives with Ipaq hand-held units.

It also issued Bluetooth-enabled hand-held units with OneBridge software. These units enable executives to clear their email and update their calendars when away from the office.

"There's a lot of travelling, as we have interests around New Zealand. Managers can be in meetings all day and this lets them clear email during a break," says McGurk.

More recently, a software product called Leaders Online was installed for directors to have secure access to board papers from anywhere, over the internet. Directors can make electronic notes on the papers and subsequently access them during board meetings.

Ngai Tahu Seafood recently installed retail PoS systems across the North Island when the business moved into onto its Pacific Catch retail sales. A Microsoft-based business intelligence tool was implemented to sit over the core JDE financial system so the company can analyse product margins by product and by fish species.

"From an IT perspective, we have to make sure software is scalable and can support new business without major disruption. We also have to make sure we can support its operation. PoS must be able to integrate with the core financials with minimal effort.

We want easy data capture, easy data management, so management can deal with running the business not managing software," says Leighton.

Cultural support

Other projects and requirements reflect the growing demand for IS support from the social and cultural arm of the iwi. A prime example is in registering and securing the complex information recorded within the Ngai Tahu Whakapapa (family) database.

The official Ngai Tahu Register confirms a person's Ngai Tahu ancestry back to 1848, when an official census recorded iwi members in a blue book. Currently, there are 34,000 Ngai Tahu members, for whom researched information needs to be recorded. "The database has grown from a Word Document, to Excel, to Microsoft Access database and is now about to go to a SQL-level platform," says McGurk.

Former Ngai Tahu director and whakapapa expert Terry Ryan developed this database. Its reliability was questioned earlier this year after Ryan, who claimed to be Ngai Tahu, was found to be 100 per cent Pakeha.

But Leighton stresses the software his department provided is only "as good as the information fed into it" and it is up to registry staff to operate as they see fit.

The iwi is keen to put this issue behind it. Leighton stresses the growing demands for IS support in managing the scale of its business growth and iwi projects across the organisation. "One of the issues is to ensure we're doing everything we can to make sure we're using the right software for the job."

Both Leighton and McGurk claim further benefits in working for a Maori organisation, whose staff are 30 per cent Pakeha.

Edinburgh-born Leighton came to New Zealand ten years ago and was finance manager for the South Island Dairy Company, which became part of Fonterra. He joined Ngai Tahu in 2000.

He started as an IS consultant because the iwi was then installing its JDE system and Leighton had experience in this application while at the dairy company. His role then evolved into managing the business software systems.

"Ngai Tahu is very progressive, very professional in their commercial activities. It also has family values. The work environment is positive and this eventually has an impact on the bottom line. It is also good to see a tribe going so well, going about things the right way," Leighton adds.

McGurk was born and raised in Canterbury and trained in IT after secondary school. A network administrator at Christ's College in Christchurch, he later worked as a systems engineer for Computerland in Nelson, before joining Ngai Tahu in 2000.

"Ngai Tahu is one of those organisations you always hear about from the treaty settlements and their profile was getting bigger," says McGurk.

He finds working in a diverse and growing business environment both interesting and challenging. "It's better than working for an organisation that makes widgets and the aim is to get the widgets made as cheaply as possible."

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