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Are kiwi companies innovating fast enough?

I attended the CxO Disrupt, an invite-only event tailored to the people who lead Kiwi businesses - an important group of people who will lead us and our country forward in times of change. For this reason I had high expectations, and thankfully wasn’t disappointed.

First up was Simona Turin, the General Manager of Digital and Capabilities at Air NZ who opened the event. She shared the digital journey that our iconic, local airline has started and had a few excellent takeaways:

  • It’s more than just “digital”, hence the “capabilities” part of Simona’s title. Air NZ have placed a major focus on culture development (or their “Digital DNA”), and ensuring what they do will really benefit the customer and their people.
  • Having an agile mindset is important across all elements of the business, not just in IT. Finance need to come on board with the new commercial rules and the business needs to develop Product Managers to lead change. They are still working hard to change the mindset from “everything is perfect” to being confident to experiment and learn.
  • Air NZ are willing to invest and learn from others, be it OKR (Objectives and Key Results) from Google, or how Product Managers operate from Xero, Paymark and other local businesses.
  • Part of the cultural change is creating their Digital DNA. This includes regular training initiatives including ideation and a supporting Dragon’s Den process to look at the top ideas generated.

Simona suggested the biggest challenge for Air NZ is to consider the most holistic traveller experience, covering the first and last mile of their journey not just the time on the flight. This sort of holistic approach to their customer experience has driven the introduction of the Airband service, an award winning innovation for unaccompanied minors.

One of Simona’s parting comments was to create balance between “constant change” and a “constant learning” environment to energise and empower people. Air NZ have also focused their digital transformation on their people, with a range of digital workplace productivity tools, because they need to provide compelling people experiences if their people are to provide compelling customer experiences.

We then flipped to a somewhat more technical presentation from Richard Busby, a Principle Solution Architect with Amazon Web Services. Thankfully Richard presented in a manner that was helpful to the mostly non-technical audience! Simona had talked about the need for a platform to innovate, with most speakers of the day using either AWS or Microsoft Azure for this.   

We polled attendees prior to the event and they confirmed that legacy infrastructure is the biggest barrier to easy and rapid disruption (aka change) in many local companies. The wise advice of the day was to look at how you could re-platform and / or isolate legacy platforms through API layers to enable more rapid innovation programs.

Some pertinent advice from Richard was the need to rapidly implement monitoring in your business, going on to say that you should even monitor things that don’t move - because if they start to move you will have the data to understand why. He finished with a Joi Ito quote that I would summarise as “to increase innovation, businesses must lower the cost of failure.”

Similar to Air NZ’s developing culture of “experiment and learn”, as leaders we must develop people who are willing to fail and know we will pick them up, help them learn and move forward. On the flip side, if our people feel their jobs are at risk when they fail, an innovation culture will be crushed!

We also heard an interesting explanation of Blockchain from Chris Murray, the Head of Enterprise Data at Heartland Bank. Not a subject I can do justice to, but it did open my eyes to the wide range of applications this “digital ledger” has as both a public and private transaction platform. One interesting application could be for car loans, potentially providing the lender with an ability to track defaults in real time and send a signal to the vehicle to immobilise it until payments are made!

The balance of the day incorporated a couple of different panel sessions with some good insights:

  • Technology is the enabler, but it’s your change culture and people capability that will drive success
  • For local companies: pick your battles, innovate where it makes sense… let the industry innovate where it would be too expensive or risky for you to do so (but be ready in the wings for these changes)
  • If you’re moving to an innovative and rapid change culture, bring everyone on the journey and make sure leaders demonstrate the change with actions, not just words
  • Have a technology game plan that recognises the need for new tools and how any legacy platforms can be managed to play “nicely” at speed (or replaced if this is not practical)

The most refreshing part of the day was to see our largest organisations chasing big dreams at pace. Is your company doing what it needs to do to hit the front page of the Herald for the right reasons? We all want New Zealand to be great, and provide an excellent environment for the next generation to thrive and innovate without leaving Aotearoa.

Posted by: Steve Scarbrough, General Manager Business Applications | 14 March 2017

Tags: innovation, Digital Transformation, Business, Disruption

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