"IT is a dirty word around here."
Martin Foster, general manager of information management at the New Zealand Trade Development Board, is half serious when he says this. And you can see where he's coming from.
Since joining Tradenz last year, he's been fully engaged in implementing a different view of the world and New Zealand's trading relationships with it, driven by the board's new chief executive, Fran Wilde.
"We had been pushing from an IT perspective up," Foster says. "Now, we've looked at the drivers and flows, business processes that needed to be put in place, and the cultural aspects. Then came management information — the strategic goal was to create a corporate memory.
"Technology was the last part of the jigsaw."
Tradenz is 80% through rolling out new platforms to enable its 50 offices worldwide to be online and in real time.
"We've had to empower our staff to have quality of information," Foster says.
There are other changes afoot. Offices around the world are being realigned. For example, Tradenz in the US has been historically oriented to the West Coast and Washington; now it's moving people into cities such as Chicago, in a remote office situation.
"The key thing is to be responsive," Foster says. "In the old days we were aligned with Foreign Affairs and had to be there with them forever.
"We're now business driven rather than politically driven."
Tradenz receives around $50 million annually in government funding but also generates revenue through its consultancy services.
Fran Wilde is of the view that New Zealand is too small to have multiple trade missions. Hence, the launch of The New Zealand Way campaign, a joint venture with Tourism New Zealand. Tradenz services the computer operational side of the venture.
It's a New Zealand Incorporated philosophy which, from time to time, may include other trade missions such as from the meat and wool industries, all under The New Zealand Way brand.
To achieve a responsive real-time operation, Foster has chosen to go with IBM for the network. There can be problems getting connections in countries such as India but IBM guarantees a service line through its points of presence.
"Our old GE [General Electrics] network was store and forward — never real time," he says.
"Using Exchange worldwide, we now have one contact, through IBM back to us. It's a virtual network. Everybody links back to New Zealand and we connect them to the Internet and our intranet.
"That means everyone's desktop has an Internet connection, and we have very good security because of our firewalls in New Zealand. No one can download junk."
The IBM contract is also important because of the worldwide nature of Tradenz. "There are very few companies that can provide support and warranties at all sites."
Foster has outsourced the helpdesk to Computerland, which also did training worldwide. "We've spent an enormous amount on training."
He estimates that applied training will increase productivity by 20%, and that when the new systems are fully rolled out, in a month, effectiveness will increase by up to 40%. "Tradenz's biggest driver is to become more efficient. To do that, we will use technology to deliver."
Future value-added services include a market-link subscriber service for exporters, quite simply an intelligence service providing information not in the public domain, things as basic as gossip at a cocktail party. It's being piloted now and will eventually be rolled out around the world.
"We've just done a big study with Colmar Brunton on what our users require," Foster says. "That was one of the things — they wanted hot leads and opportunities.
"You can't do that with someone like Ernst & Young. Why would they want to give that sort of information to New Zealand?"
Another likely service is for those exporters experiencing language problems where voicemail and faxes in a foreign language can be readily translated in the local idiom.
Foster is also evaluating voice over data.
"Everything we do has to be Web-based," he says. "The intranet is our key strategic decision."