New tools, new challenges in digital future

IT professionals gathered to brainstorm the future in a CIO roundtable

Preparing for a new digital world is top-of-mind for the mavens in Wellington as they build up to the Government’s Digital Future Summit 2.0.

But what do IT professionals think about our digital futures?

A select group of IT executives, from a wide variety of sectors, gathered in Auckland this month to share their insights with CIO magazine, focusing on the technologies and skills needed to compete in a network economy.

Anthony Hafoka, director of the IT advisory practice at KPMG, kicked off the Simpl-sponsored event by focusing on generational differences.

“It’s going to be a considerable challenge for those of us that are on, I guess, the more senior end of things to actually manage the Generation X and Generation Y people,” he said.

One serious challenge was young people wanting to travel. In response KPMG has been using its global network to devise secondments around the world and keep talent within the company while they take their OEs.

Simpl Group chief executive Bennett Medary pointed out the take-up of technology by New Zealand consumers is world-class, but our productivity figures as a nation are almost bottom of the OECD and “very, very poor”.

“When we talk about how do we get kids to get into university and train to work in the IT field, one of the things I sense … is that they view IT as consumer electronics … mobile phones, iPods, PCs, set top boxes, who cares — they’re gadgets,” he said.

“And the mystique and the marvel of being part of the black art that makes these boxes do things is kind of gone. They’re kind of taken for granted, and they just see them as tools.”

Further, Generations X and Y expect acces to the same tools they use at home in the workplace and that creates all kinds of challenges.

“There has to be a balance,” said Claudia Vidal, group IS manager of Tru Test. “When you’re an adult you know that there are restrictions. So that’s the process of maturation. Same as when you hire people out of university; they think working life is like university life. It’s not.”

Medary pointed out that using Skype at Simpl used to be forbidden. Now the company would have difficulty working without it.

“So we now challenge IT to find a way of enabling the business to take advantage of these things, because we have to, to manage the risks,” he said.

Jason MacDonald, on the frontline of generational change as director of ICT services at Kristin School, agreed.

“It’s that we’re seeing a change in the way, even a structural change in the way our ICT organisation interacts with the business. It used to be about what you need and implementing it.

“It’s now about building relationships, getting out there and understanding how people use the technology, what they want to do, coming back and to use the American term, sandboxing, or skunk-working it, and actually getting the technology into their organisation as it comes in.”

He said it’s now about assisting the business in implementing new tools.

Aubrey Christmas, CIO of the Employers & Manufacturers Association, said the younger generation are using new tools to do things better. They network, he said, but their network “knows no boundary”.

“I have a web problem that’s taken nine months for a senior person to try to solve it. I gave it to a young guy and he solved it in one day because he just reached out to this network and said ‘I have this problem, what can I do about it?’”

Christmas said the younger generation was pursuing the application of technology rather than just the technology itself. Despite compliance and security issues, he said, its vital to find ways to use new technologies in the workplace to boost productivity.

“And so, to be productive in the office or at home, we have to find new ways of doing that,” he said. “And I think New Zealand has to come to grips with how businesses can increase productivity, and [with] using tools that the younger generations are comfortable with to do that. Not throwing caution to the wind, but I think we also have to measure the percentage of the technology being used in an organisation.”

A full report on the Simpl “Preparing for the Digital Future” roundtable can be read in the November edition of CIO magazine or online here.

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