Optimation celebrates 20 years in business

Optimation founder Neil Butler reflects on New Zealand's approach to IT at birthday celebrations

IT services should be about enabling business productivity. But New Zealand businesses often approach IT as a procurement exercise where buying inputs at the lowest unit cost, under a contract with the harshest sanctions, is seen as a win, says Optimation founder and executive chairman Neil Butler.

“This is understandable in an economic environment that is tough and where all budgets are under pressure, yet that’s why we need to aim higher,” he told a gathering in Wellington this month to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary.

“We need to spend more time identifying what benefits are possible and finding ways to collaborate to make these real. This is the space where the big wins are, yet we go back to the small wins and narrow thinking too often.

“I think that’s something for our industry to work on as a whole so that we can help capture the possibilities technology has to offer New Zealand organisations.”

He notes that everyone is under cost pressure. “You can’t be too critical. Often it’s the first reaction but we’re seeing much more of that behaviour in recent times.

Butler’s view is that organisations need to get their architecture right to begin with. “They can then step back and have a much better opportunity to get the big wins.”

Since its establishment in 1992 Optimation has employed or contracted around 1400 staff. “These have been at salaries in line with our industry, which are around twice the national average income for people over 15,” says Butler.

“These are good jobs, the kind we would like to have more of in New Zealand. Many of these staff have gone on to create businesses, sometimes competitors.”

Neil Butler (left) with Ministry of Primary Industries manager of service delivery Bryce Johnson

Optimation currently employs around 200 people.

“A second critical success factor is that we need an education system producing skilled young people who are excited about careers in science and technology,” Butler says. “We need to provide these young people with pathways to help them into these careers.

“We don’t do this well enough in New Zealand. For some reason, despite the wealth of opportunity that IT careers have to offer, it isn’t a particularly popular choice for our young people.”

Butler says the sector is not supported by the political vision and sustained government sponsorship demonstrated by many other countries.

Commenting on All of Government, he says “some issues have become more commoditised than some that lie ahead - business applications supporting specific needs.”

Earlier this year, Optimation joined forces with Australasian cloud start-up Barbador to leverage Google’s cloud platform and products.

Butler says the company has developed a steady stream of work for Australian clients as it looks to grow. “We’re very pleased at the speed with which we are ramping up.” He says Optimation has five clients in Australia and is “talking to” around 25.

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