Digital Transformation Conversations: Hans van Grieken - Part 2

Technology Research and Insights Leader

In the second part of our ‘Digital Transformation Conversations’ with Hans van Grieken, Deloitte Digital New Zealand lead Grant Frear talks to the technology leader about his first impressions of the country, and the steps that New Zealand businesses have to take to meet a global stage.

Given what you've seen in New Zealand in the last week, how prepared do you think our businesses are to innovate rapidly, successively and at scale?

Good question, Grant. I’ll start with my anecdote of my stay in Australia in 2006. On arrival, I went to the local book shop and I said ‘which book should I read to understand these Aussies?'. They came up with two books and one was The Tyranny of Distance. This concept of isolated development has of course applied to you all too here in New Zealand. However, Kiwis have a tremendous capability to look outside. That's why all your youngsters fly around the world on their 'OE’s'! That is amazingly powerful - looking outside, observing what works.

But part of the ‘Tyranny of Distance’ thinking in the past has meant that you could afford to sit back and wait for other countries to innovate. Then, when it works, you would copy it, improve it and when it didn't work, you could leave it. Now, is that a sensible strategy in today’s fast-paced digitally disruptive environment? I think not. Having visited a number of companies in New Zealand, it appears that some still apply this ‘fast follower’ strategy in their digital enablement. The question is whether this is enough with fast-moving technology such as AI, No Ops and Serverless, and the move to the public cloud.

On top of that, you live in a country that by its size and its position in the world, isn’t affected by some of the forces that push companies in other continents to move faster. For example, you only have two telcos, two airlines and around three to four banks. So the competitive landscape is steady and given the size of the market, new entrants are not expected soon. This can be a strong force for complacency in digital transformation.

Yes, there's something quite unique about New Zealand in that we are yet to have large industry incumbents fail due to an inability to transform their business model, so I do wonder whether our businesses see the digital threat as a real danger. That's very different compared to the US markets, of course, where disruptive businesses can savage their competitors, making a digital transformation business model essential for survival.

Yes. I read the New Zealand firm’s recent report, Shaping our Slice of Heaven, and it says that encouraging digital savvy exporters, digitisations and online platforms will continue to make it easy for New Zealand to interact with a global economy. Firms that understand how to use data effectively and have a competitive advantage in innovation will outsmart their traditional and international competitors. That's how I see it and it’s definitely something companies here should be looking at.

Now you've spent a little bit of time here, what would you challenge our government and our businesses to strive for in regards to tech?

There’s a Wired article that I like called 'Why the Tech Elite loves New Zealand' and it says '30 years ago, New Zealand’s biggest hurdle was the Tyranny of Distance’, but now there’s increased efforts to recruit Silicon Valley elites and tech workers.

I can see why, as having experienced the country both physically as well as in its culture, you have a well-educated, multi-cultural society which is more open to the outside world. There's every reason to start your own version of Silicon Valley but as illustrated in the article, that would need some investment in the country and the regions.

Another challenge though that I’ve sensed more implicitly when I talk to people here is that they also take a lot of time explaining to me which region they are from and why they don't like the other region. That's a big topic here!

So, what you’re saying is our internal parochialism could also be holding us back?

Yes, so stop doing that. You have tremendous assets - export them and display them on the global stage. After all, in our connected world, the ‘Tyranny of Distance’ is not there anymore. It’s time for New Zealand to completely leave it behind.

Catch up on part one of our Digital Transformation Conversation with Hans van Grieken here.