For the New Zealand Trade Development Board, otherwise known as TradeNZ, the term "knowledge age" is much more than vendor hype. Knowledge is critical to the board's mission to help companies boost New Zealand's foreign exchange earnings.
Wherever in the world there's a potential deal that New Zealand companies can service, TradeNZ wants to be able to provide that information in real time to its client base. And the clients are increasingly wanting tailored information for their particular requirements.
"We did a lot of market research last year on our client's requirements," says Tradenz corporate services general manager Arama Kukutai. "These are IT-literate people who know what they want."
Tradenz is currently engaged in three projects which will cost up to $3 million to modernise its systems so it can better serve those client needs.
It has an RFI out for a financials/HR suite, which it hopes to begin implementing around the end of June, and is evaluating RFPs for a corporate client management database. The two shortlisted databases are Sales Logix, from the US, and a local product, Visual Elk. One of these specialist contact management databases will replace the internally developed Obelix database which Kukutai says has been due for replacement for the past year.
The third project is document management. Last year Tradenz installed Saros, from ISL/Wang, but it hasn't done the job. "It's not up to expectations, principally in relation to Web-based clients and some functionality," he says. "A document management system is critical to us being a leading-edge consultancy."
Currently, Tradenz is evaluating RFPs from four vendors.
"Our DMS must be accessible globally across the Web," Kukutai says. "We're delivering corporate policies and procedures across our intranet and that is working well."
The strategic goal of the Knowledge 2000 project is to create a corporate memory.
Tradenz, which receives around $50 million annuall in government funding, is now business-driven rather than politically driven. It has also begun to generate revenue through its consultancy services. This is increasing, says Kukutai, with 10% growth targeted this year.
Last year Tradenz rolled out IBM PCs with Win 95 and Office 97 to its 50 offices worldwide. Using Exchange, there is one contact back to New Zealand through IBM, connecting everyone to the internet and Trandenz's intranet. Right Fax software has been rolled out to all desktops in New Zealand, and this will be extended internationally.
Because the platforms are standard, Tradenz is able to run a technical international helpdesk internally. However, Kukutai says he expects this to be outsourced within six months.
There's more technology to come - what are called tier 3 projects. These will include time recording, records management, supply chain, and call centres for lower level inquiries. There are plans to link telephony and computing in the call centres.
"We're making real progress in bringing our market network overseas closer to our client base through IT," Kukutai says.
"IT is allowing us to promote our core competency of being a knowledge-based orgnaisation."
What's notable about Tradenz's IT strategy is that it is very much user driven. Kukutai, who has a background in consulting, banking and project management, has worked previously in the field for Tradenz
"In the past, they've switched in new technology and I've had to ask, 'Where did this come from?'
"I'm determined that won't happen again."
Last October, new positions of three client relationship managers were established. Responisiblities include heading up the major IT projects, and ensuring communications to both onshore and offshore staff.
"More tha half our staff are not New Zealand nationals and for many English is a second language," Kukutai says.
As well as the customer relationship managers involvement with the major IT projects, key users who benefit from the projects - for example, the financial controller with the new financials - are named as project sponsors, ensuring user buy-in.
The Web is core to everything. So it's a little ironic that Tradenz's competition comes from the Web, where businesses can increasingly do market research.
"That means we have to fine tune everything and provide more value-add," Kukutai says.