Technology & Digital
Special feature: Preparing for your digital future

Keeping abreast with the technology your business needs to remain competitive is no mean feat, and a recent report says the prosperity of New Zealand is inextricably linked to how we embrace our future as a digital nation.

New Zealand’s technology sector is in growth mode. It’s now New Zealand’s third-largest exporter with its 28,700 firms employing nearly 99,000 people and contributing some $16.2 billion to GDP, according to The Investors Guide to the New Zealand Technology Sector, prepared by Technology Investment Network on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The highest growth sectors, according to the report, are FinTech which grew at 23.1 percent and digital media which grew at 15.9 percent

And according to NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller the prosperity of New Zealand is inextricably linked to how Kiwis embrace the future as a digital nation.

In May this year New Zealand’s leading tech organisations released a manifesto of New Zealand’s Digital Future. This collaborative report by 20 major Kiwi tech organisations was led by NZTech, IT Professionals and InternetNZ and among a dozen manifesto goals is a call for New Zealand to establish a dedicated Ministry for the Future, focusing on positioning New Zealand and all government agencies and society to take best advantage of a technologically enabled future.

"For New Zealand to remain competitive in the near future, it needs to plan and prepare for this unprecedented technology change today,” Muller said at the time.

"With the convergence of technologies such as fast internet speeds, mobility, big data and cloud computing we are beginning to see a wave of technology change impacting almost every part of society and the economy.

"We know that nine percent of the world had a smart phone in 2011; now more than 25 percent are connected to the internet via mobile. In 2008 the average industrial robot cost $500,000. They now cost as little as $20,000.

"In 1980, solar power cost $30 per kilowatt in the US, now it is as low as 4c per kW. In 2011, the sensors in an autonomous car cost $350,000; they now cost less than $1,000. These are just some examples of how tech is changing the world so rapidly. Tech is crucial to New Zealand’s future," Muller says.

So what are some of the developments that will drive technology decisions for New Zealand’s business sector?

For Sean Thomas, the CEO at Tima Consulting, the game changer he is seeing is a move to internet native applications, as opposed to building conventional software with cloud hosted servers. He says modern applications on the web are using the “machinery” of the web as an application’s backbone. 

The big players such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM are providing these tools, as well as many others.

One new application he is developing runs on Google’s backend “through its silicon and infrastructure”.

He says Google and the other giant IT players offer incredible storage, processing and access options and with the work he is currently doing in essence he is renting a “window” which he can “poke my data through” at a very cost-effective price but using Google’s “incredibly grunty backend”.

Thomas explains that there isn’t even a conventional server involved, instead the data is stored in the same manner as the rest of Google’s backend, which he notes is capable of searching the whole of the US Congressional Library in one fifth of a second.

And the big change he is seeing is that his company is writing a lot less code as they harness the available IT infrastructure. “This is part of the machine that runs the web and we are leasing part of it.”

It also means that success is not a problem, if there is demand for a large number of concurrent users the system can automatically scale to meet that demand.

While the application he is currently working on is not directly related to Tima Consulting, he says the company will migrate Tima customers who want this onto the same technology, in time.

Tima, which Thomas founded 13 years ago, works with businesses to improve individual, team and organisational performance through the effective application of human-social factors. Its approach, the company says, “delivers cognitively engaged and intrinsically motivated employees, as well as work practices that lead to a performance and learning environment”.

But the move to these new technologies has made his development work much easier, has sped up delivery times and allowed him to focus more his customers.

Tima will begin the rebuild its esCollate software later this year and initially bring in an interim app. But because esCollate is a mature product, existing customers can choose to stay with the software they currently use, if they prefer.

The software provides real-time data capture and feedback for manufacturing, establishing a platform for streamlining processes and engaging factory employees.

At one Australian manufacturing site one of its glass bottling lines was a being hampered by the very tricky product needing to go into the glass containers and the productivity of this line had been languishing for about three years, says Thomas.

Because of the tricky substance the line capacity meant that while it could run at 300 jars a minute or 9,000 jars every 30 minutes, the line was falling far short of that.

The solution Tima came up with was to run a short interval schedule on the line, every 30 minutes. Thomas says that over the years the manufacturer had collected an enormous amount of data and the operators were bamboozled with the amount of data they needed to monitor.

“So we did a trial and covered all their existing screens and put in one very simple screen, showing just the 30 minute short interval schedule.”

The company insisted Tima decide on the hurdle operators had to reach to make the changes worthwhile. So they opted for a long-term improvement of up to 2,800 jars per half hour when 9000 theoretically was possible and the line was currently running at about 2,200 per half an hour.

The company was surprised Tima was so ambitious. The operators were also annoyed feeling they were being set up to fail and gave a variety of reasons why that target couldn’t be met on that line.

And while many technical solutions had been proposed over the years to fix the line and its tricky substance, Thomas says that is not what they were interested in solving. “All we wanted to address were the human motivations.”

They acknowledged this was a hard line to drive and just wanted the operators to concentrate on having one good half hour or perhaps two in a shift. If they had a rotten morning with the line, they still had the afternoon, thus shifting the win/fail scenario so operators could feel they had a good shift because they had two half-hour periods that went well.

Tima also talked to the supervisors and suggested they only talk about the results in a positive fashion and focus on the positives of each day.

Tima then left them for two weeks and when they returned were told by one shift operator, who was usually a pleasant chap, to go away. After a period he explained that last night had been a disaster – the other shift had put through 8,970 jars in one half hour period.

“Can you imagine those [expletive] if they are the first ones to get a perfect score, they would be unbearable,” Thomas was told.

He says productivity had improved massively in the two weeks because previously the line operators had accepted they would always have poor results as it was outside their control. But just getting one positive half an hour and the positive feedback had changed the game.

This result, says Thomas, was not sustainable because the effort they were putting in would mean operator burnout over time. But over the long term, the average improvement in productivity on the line was 70 percent.

“The only thing we were changing was the feedback people got, taking away the huge amounts of data they had to look at, and just providing one very clear graphical feedback.” He sees this a being a very specific outcome through the operators getting the right feedback or “productivity feedback” which drives the emotions and enthusiasm of the staff.

“People do what they do based on how they feel about it,” he sums up, noting that by engaging the operators they start to feel the outcomes are under their control.

Tima had also told the operators they were in the plant to improve productivity but “that is not really your problem, we are only here for you to have a better day at work”. 

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