Datacom’s female leaders take centre stage at Microsoft Ignite 2016

– By James Stainton

Datacom are proud to have a record number of 11 speakers at this year’s Microsoft Ignite in New Zealand. Our market leading experts will be discussing a wide range of topics, from the Internet of Things to Microsoft Azure Site Recovery.

Datacom continues to go from strength to strength with Microsoft in New Zealand. I’m proud of the calibre of speakers we are putting forward, and welcome anyone attending to join us at our sessions.

Reiterating the importance of growing female voices in IT, Datacom is also pleased to announce we are the official ‘Women in Technology’ sponsor for Ignite, and have three female speakers on stage.

Business Manager Kaye Harding will be hosting the official Women in Technology lunch panel discussion, which will focus on the importance of diversity. Mixed teams make better decisions, better products, and produce a better bottom line, and she will be discussing how to encourage more women to join, stay, and achieve highly in the tech industry. Her guests for this panel will be: Sonia Cuff, co-founder of The Missing Chair, Damian Sharkey, Workstream Director at Westpac, and Nuwanthie Samarakone, Founder and CEO of ICE Professionals.

Datacom’s Emily Wang, a solution architect, a cybersecurity enthusiast and a gadget lover will also host a session discussing the hidden dangers of going mobile ‘The hidden dangers of going mobile and how to mitigate them with Intune, with solutions advisor Owen De Mooy.

Software developer Girisha Arora will also be on stage with our Microsoft I&AM Identity Architect Rory Braybrook, for ‘A lap around Azure AD B2C for developers (Business to Consumer)’ which will cover to discuss Azure Active Directory – Business to Consumer and ‘Identity Management as-a-Service.’

The other eight key Datacom speakers include:

Joshua Fenemore – Practice Lead & Software Consultant – Xamarin vs Native vs Hybrid vs Web – Haven’t we had this argument already?
Daniel Bowbyes – Innovation Lead – Implementing Azure Site Recovery for on premises to Azure DR and Designing Azure Compute and Storage to optimise for cost and performance
Mark Brimble – Principal Integration Architect – What’s New in BizTalk Server 2016?
Rory Braybrook – Datacom’s Microsoft I&AM Identity Architect – Integrating OpenID Connect / OAuth2 with Azure AD and ADFS
Arun James (Business Transformation Consultant) and Joe James (Sharepoint Consultant) – Stop Developing and Start Flowing
Mahindra Morar – Principal Integration Consultant – IOT, Machine Learning and Power BI deliver advanced analytics for Auckland Airport

To read about each session in more detail, including locations and session times (and a grid timetable) – click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

Process Automation is poised to disrupt your workplace: how prepared are you?

By Kerry Topp

“Over the next 10 years, the work of 110 million to 140 million knowledge workers around the globe may be handled by cognitive robotic process automation systems.” Cliff Justice, KPMG


This quote is attributed to KPMG’s Cliff Justice, who was citing research from McKinsey Global Institute earlier in September this year at the World BPO/ITO Forum’s Global Sourcing & Cloud Summit held in New York. Justice was commenting on the significant impact that Robotic Process Automation or RPA will have on our society and economy in the coming years.

It’s a chilling statement I know, but I personally believe it needs to be said and repeated over and over again – we need to wake up, sit up and take action, New Zealand!

Most people globally are asleep, blissfully unaware of the potential impact RPA will have on the economy and society we know today. New Zealand, we have an opportunity to capitalise and leap ahead of our global competition, IF we are awake and bold enough to take action, now.

“Staying economically-relevant in the digital age requires sleeping with one eye open.” Ade McCormak, Futurist

This might sound alarmist, but I personally believe from a New Zealand Inc perspective that it is incumbent on the people and organisations who are awake and ‘get it’ to lead the way in order to stave off the potential social unrest predicted by economists as a result of robotic process automation.

To do anything but provoke and stimulate open debate and awareness that there is, in our very imminent future, a significant ‘seismic shift’ in New Zealand’s global productivity and economic health if we don’t rapidly move to doing things differently, can’t be stressed enough.

So why do I believe we should be both worried by the threat, but also, excited by the opportunity of RPA?

What is RPA?

Firstly, let’s explore what RPA actually is, and why it offers significant opportunity – but also threat – for New Zealand, and why we must be vigilant, awake and prepared as a nation.

RPA is the use of software with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required a human to perform. According to Blue Prism, leading developers of RPA software, “Robotic automation refers to a style of automation where a machine, or computer, mimics a human’s action in completing rules based tasks.”

Essentially RPA is the novel application of analytics, machine learning and rules-based software to capture and interpret existing data input streams for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other enterprise applications.

According to many it is not a question of “if” RPA will impact us anymore but a question of “when.”



What distinguishes RPA from traditional IT automation is RPA software’s ability to be aware and adapt to changing circumstances, exceptions and new situations. Once RPA software has been trained to capture and interpret the actions of specific processes in existing software applications, it can then manipulate data, trigger responses, initiate new actions and communicate with other systems autonomously.

Companies of all sizes can potentially benefit from RPA which has the ability to expedite back-office and middle-office tasks without the need for human intervention. This has the potential to positively impact a wide range of industries – including; finance, insurance, manufacturing, media, telecommunications and transportation as examples, but also a variety of functions performed by people within companies today – functions including; sales, marketing, contact centres, supply chain, procurement, accounting, deliveries, transport, customer relationship and human resources, to name a few.

The three classes of RPA technology each have the potential to be transformative for our work, our workplace and thereby, our companies competing on the international stage. Let’s explore RPA, In more detail;

  • Class 1 – or basic process automation – includes sophisticated macros, screen scraping and business workflow technologies that are not traditionally integrated into the IT systems;
  • Class 2 – or enhanced process automation – are technologies that use Natural Language Processing (NLP) and can, for instance, understand unstructured data and apply that understanding to the process automation; and finally
  • Class 3 – or cognitive platforms – is the most transformative class as it provides autonomic/cognitive platforms that have the ability to parse context and understand meaning. As that technology merges with robotic task automation, you have a whole different class of digital Labour. You can see why this is so transformational and why people need to be aware of what is hear now and what is also just around the corner.

What are the benefits of Robotic Process Automation?

If your company has many different, complicated systems that need to interact together seamlessly, then RPA represents an opportunity for you to be more efficient, drive cost out and differentiate your business – not just locally, but also globally. RPA is rapidly being applied across a range of industries to improve speed, quality and consistency.

In general, the best projects for robot automation are bulk repetitive rules based procedures. Process automation can expedite back-office tasks in finance, procurement, accounting, customer service supply chain management and human resources, including purchase order issuing, creation of online access credentials, data entry, or business processes that require access to multiple existing systems.

RPA can:

  • Automate data and rules intensive activities like HR, procurement, invoicing, billing;
  • Enable workflow and process automation for efficiency;
  • Learn from natural language interactions in order to solve customer problems and respond easily to a wide range of queries;
  • Orchestrate other application software applications through existing APIs or user interface;
  • Replace clerical Labour with software.

In the very near future we’ll see ‘Human Only’ workloads, like call centres as an example, facing significant upheaval as voice recognition software, intelligent assistants and natural language processing, retrieve information and structure basic content in ways that provide answers to self-service customers rapidly and effectively, all without human intervention.

“The real issue facing us in the job market today is not the lack of employment, but a critical skills shortage. There should be conversations about how we can help the global workforce through this digital transition period and arm it with the skills required to lead the way and seize opportunities within these new trends in employment.” Daniel Burrus, Futurist

In addition to this, other ‘Human only’ processes will reduce as machine learning and data-driven decision-making evolve. Activities like fraud and risk monitoring will also change. As will automated processes in remote management, audit, security, and other risk and compliance-related areas. With RPA these processes can consistently be monitored, flagged and exception-handled faster and more efficiently, than with human interaction.

The imminent next frontier

This is truly the next frontier of business process automation and enterprise cognitive computing.

But don’t take my word for it, according to the Everest Group, a consulting and research firm, RPA can yield incremental cost reduction in healthcare payer business process outsourcing (BPO) ranging from a low of 15 percent for offshore operations to a high of 47 percent for onshore operations.

“Cognitive robotics advancements will have a major impact on the Labour market, shifting the knowledge worker framework from one of Labour arbitrage, which reduces costs for relevant functions by anywhere from 15% to 30%, to one of Labour automation, which reduces costs by 40% to 75%,” Cliff Justice, KPMG

Hopefully, this video by Automation Anywhere, another leading developer of RPA software, conveys what that future of RPA – an imminent future – looks like.


“Cognitive technology like IBM Watson, Google Deep Mind and Microsoft Cortana and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology have been largely separate. After all, they’re meant to perform different jobs for different situations. But what happens when you combine the two, bringing together the cutting-edge capabilities of cognitive and the practical, powerful abilities of RPA?” Jordan McMahon, Senior Manager, Automation Anywhere

People need to be awake to the threats but also the opportunities that this class of technology represents. Process automation via automated software robots — e.g. Apple Siri, IBM Watson, Google DeepMind, Microsoft Cortana — are now mainstream. What most people are not aware of the rapidly advancing area of enterprise robots to create a “virtual FTE workforce” and transform business processes by enabling automation of manual, rules based, back-office administrative and escalation processes.

As Cliff Justice of KPMG says, “You have technology that can understand your customers [and] run queries against rules engines. [If the response] falls within parameters, [the technology] can inform the robot to carry out a transaction and actually do things that in the past required decisions.”


RPA offers enhanced scalability, greater accuracy, improved compliance and reduced cycle times to respond and act — as these improve, RPA adoption can only take off and expand within and across industries. This can only impact large employers like call centre and Labour intensive white collar jobs (e.g., compliance monitoring) in a big way over the next decade. So if you use Labour on a large-scale for general knowledge process work – where people are performing high-volume, highly transactional process functions – then there are significant benefits with implementing robotic process automation software. If you are a person employed by these type of organisations, performing these functions, then I suggest looking at retraining, quickly.

“Can – or should – businesses do anything to stave off the social unrest predicted by economists as a result of robotic process automation?” Sue Troy, TechTarget


A recent study, entitled The One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, stated;

“Contrary to the more fantastic predictions for AI in the popular press, the Study Panel found no cause for concern that AI is an imminent threat to humankind. No machines with self-sustaining long-term goals and intent have been developed, nor are they likely to be developed in the near future. Instead, increasingly useful applications of AI, with potentially profound positive impacts on our society and economy are likely to emerge between now and 2030, the period this report considers. At the same time, many of these developments will spur disruptions in how human labor is augmented or replaced by AI, creating new challenges for the economy and society more broadly. Application design and policy decisions made in the near term are likely to have long-lasting influences on the nature and directions of such developments, making it important for AI researchers, developers, social scientists, and policymakers to balance the imperative to innovate with mechanisms to ensure that AI’s economic and social benefits are broadly shared across society.”

The study then went on to say, “If society approaches these technologies primarily with fear and suspicion, missteps that slow AI’s development or drive it underground will result, impeding important work on ensuring the safety and reliability of AI technologies. On the other hand, if society approaches AI with a more open mind, the technologies emerging from the field could profoundly transform society for the better in the coming decades.”

At the moment, many individuals and organizations are guilty of putting their heads in the sand. Pretending this digital transformation isn’t happening and hoping it will go away are not going to help anyone. Many aspects of how we live, work and play are almost unrecognizable now when compared with how they were only 15 years ago, so we must expect the employment landscape to move with the changes in lifestyle and outlook. Daniel Burrus, Futurist

In my view it’s incumbent on the people and organisations who ‘get it’, those awake to the opportunity and the threat that RPA represents, to lead the way in order to stave off the potential social unrest predicted by economists as a result of robotic process automation.

To do anything but provoke and stimulate open debate and awareness that there is in our very imminent future a significant ‘shift backward’ in New Zealand’s global productivity and economic health if we don’t rapidly move to doing things differently, can’t be stressed enough.

The work that folks like Frances Valintine, Tech Futures Lab and the Wynyard Innovation Neighbourhood (WiN) are doing to raise awareness of this impending global exponential shift – driven by artificial intelligence, automation and quantum computing – must be amplified and supported in my view.

So, please NZ – particularly board members and company executives – it’s imperative you listen to a message that will only grow in its volume and intensity in the coming years. Act now, actively explore RPA’s potential in your business, and ensure your people and companies are in the best possible position, locally & globally, to excel. New Zealand’s future wealth and place as companies and one country in tomorrow’s world, depends on it!





New Zealand: creating new value and gaining competitive advantage with IoT solutions

connectedcityBy Kerry Topp

Globally the Internet of Things (IoT) is getting a lot of attention for its potential to transform major industry sectors such as agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and technology. It’s also projected to be a market worth US$7 trillion or more by 2020.



During Datacomp, we had teams hacking chairs, assembling doors and pulling apart beehives. The results, well, they were spectacular. But most importantly, we learnt that IoT, amongst other things, can;



The expertise that New Zealand has in technology and agriculture (NZ’s Tech Sector is the third largest export sector behind dairy and tourism) suggests that New Zealand can become a leader in niche areas like farming and other core competency areas like horticulture, aquaculture etc.





As the CompITA results indicated, “While the expected benefits are roughly split between existing operations and new products or revenue streams, a majority of businesses (61%) report having their IoT initiative as “enabling and extending” technology as opposed to regarding it as a separate and distinct activity (37%).”




Creating Bold New Opportunities with Augmented and Virtual Reality

vrBy Kerry Topp

Augmented (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are hot, in fact, they are damn hot right now.

And it is for good reason.

Firstly, according to the international research company, IDC, total revenue for VR and AR is projected to increase from US$5.2 billion in 2016 to over US$162 billion in 2020.

Secondly, if you mentioned the words augmented reality to anyone outside of the tech industry more than three months ago, they would probably have stared at you blankly. Then came Pokémon Go. Remarkably, that app has been downloaded by 100+ million users and thanks to it’s viral success, the possibilities of AR are now clear for everyone to see.

What is VR and AR?

VR is a 3D computer-generated simulation of real life, which the user is deeply and digitally immersed in.

AR, on the other hand, is sometimes termed Mixed Reality (MR) and it overlays digital information or holograms on to the physical world around us. With AR, users are able to interact with virtual contents in the real world, and are able to distinguish between the two.

Beyond fun and engaging games like Pokémon Go, reality experiences are currently used in a range of industries, including entertainment, medicine, education, construction, architecture and government.

In my view, reality experiences have now reached the point where humans can interact with it in completely natural ways, from visualisation to gesture and speech recognition, which allows us to be much more efficient and do things we could never have done before.

Over the course of our 51 years of operation, our people have seen many technologies come and go – some successfully and some not so. Because of this, we are very careful about jumping on ‘bandwagons’ – perceived or otherwise. Our approach here is simple; to assess the technology with direct customer input and feedback.


Microsoft HoloLens

Datacom has led the way locally, by bringing the first Microsoft HoloLens development unit into New Zealand earlier this year. We then quickly followed that up with the establishment of the first HoloLens practice in the country.

HoloLens is a headset that projects high-definition 3D holograms into the wearer’s field of vision, in order to create a mixed reality of both the “real” and “virtual” worlds around the user.

Microsoft has been working on this ground-breaking technology for years and has recently made it available in North American markets only.

Since landing the first HoloLens development kit in New Zealand we have seen strong demand from customers wanting to know more about augmented, virtual and mixed reality. We are seeing widespread and surprising uses for this new technology across our customer base and predict it will become even more mainstream in the coming years based on IDC’s projections. Datacom already has some of our own customers actively prototyping and encouragingly, we have more in the pipeline.

Demonstrable AR Use Cases

Our first real-world project in New Zealand is with Auckland Museum and the University of Auckland’s Information Systems and Operations Management Department (see image below).



In Australia, Datacom has built a concept app that demonstrates how HoloLens can be used to support the motor vehicle industry. The app could allow retailers to sell cars without the need for a single vehicle sitting in a big expensive yard.

As a result, users can interact with a life-sized holographic car, from sitting in the front seat and walking around it to opening the doors and listening to the engine (see image below).


The AR/VR Garage

On Friday, 2nd September 2016, Datacom became the first corporate partner of The AR/VR Garage – an augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) development facility in Auckland’s Eden Terrace.

The AR/VR Garage is a community-led test bed for one of the globe’s fastest growing technology sectors. The facility provides:

  • Co-working space for start-up companies with a focus on AR/VR;
  • Project space for stand-alone short-term projects;
  • Incubator and accelerator services through our on-site operator Industry Connect, and hub resident Lightning Lab Auckland;
  • A technology showcase featuring the latest prototypes from Auckland’s world-leading AR/VR sector.

Datacom’s involvement in the AR/VR Garage is again a direct response to the significant interest and desire we have seen by our customers to get hand-on with the experience.

In our view, The Garage is an excellent way to develop a safe environment to test potential AR use cases and to use the strength of GridAKL to tap into new groups of early adopters to engage with the AR ecosystem.

The AR/VR Garage’s working alliances were also firmed-up by Friday’s announcement that it will be the Oceania HQ of the US-based VR Society, joining chapters in Beijing and Canada. Last year, the society netted about US$170 million in VR projects for its global members.


The VR/AR Association, a New York-based organisation with satellite sites in London, Amsterdam and Singapore, is also setting up a New Zealand chapter in the AR/VR Garage to help accelerate industry growth in the region, and the International Game Developers Association will also have a presence in the Garage.


What this all means is that the AR/VR Garage – with Datacom’s support – will fuel Auckland’s growing AR/VR community, which includes game developers, screen and film producers, animators, educators and digital storytellers, and help grow New Zealand’s global digital industry footprint, jobs and investment.

New Zealand Inc

Being a home grown New Zealand business that employs 4,700 employees across 32 countries, growth is not something we at Datacom take lightly. Far from it.

We have worked hard to get to number one in the New Zealand market and we are now challenging international businesses offshore in places like Australia, Malaysia, Philippines China and the US, for a place in their markets’ hearts. Our reach and size now means that people expect more from us. They want to see thought-leadership from us. We know this and we are up for the challenge.

As Daniel Burrus, bestselling author, global futurist and innovation expert, recently pointed out in a post entitled Why Augmented Reality Is Much Bigger Than Pokémon Go, “Businesses are about to be faced with both challenges and opportunities to bring their products to life. The Sephora mobile app is already utilizing augmented reality to “apply” digital makeup and lipstick using the user’s smartphone camera.

“Over 100 million users are also using another form of AR every day with Snapchat geofilters. Seamlessly merging the real and the virtual in photographs is proving to be a phenomenal hit for the social network.” Daniel Burrus

This is an exciting time for technological advances and I’m pleased to be a part of a refreshed and rejuvenated Datacom that is positioning for the significant potential of local and global growth in this incredibly exciting and immersive space.

Our goal in committing to reality experiences is simple; to help grow world-recognised capability, know-how, products and businesses to take New Zealand to the world, just as Datacom has done and will continue to do.

In our view it’s incumbent on us all to work together to uncover more New Zealand businesses growing internationally and taking on the world.

We’re looking forward to the (ad)venture.

For more information on Datacom’s AR/VR practice or the AR / VR Garage, please email



Video References:







Changing payroll systems – not just for the brave?

Is changing payroll systems just for the brave?

By Kevin Murphy

How scared should you be? High profile payroll implementation failures in the education and health sectors make changing payroll systems seem like high risk projects. It’s therefore often not until a critical incident occurs or significant pressure builds on the people, processes or technology involved that the need for change overcomes the appetite for risk.

Why change?

We would love to believe that people change to Datacom’s payroll software because it is so much better than what they had. Our software is assuredly better, however it seems that nobody changes their payroll software just because they have found something better. They typically change for any or all of the following reasons:

  • Their existing software or software supplier has let them down in a major way or they believe the risk exists for this to happen.
  • They are being forced to undertake a major upgrade of their payroll software.
  • The person that has been running the payroll for seemingly forever has decided it’s time to retire.
  • They are unable to get important business information from their existing system.
  • They recognise that they are doing an unreasonable amount of manual administration that can be automated or eliminated.

Moving to a modern payroll system that is cloud-based and date effective, that does all calculations in real time, that includes mobile and web applications for staff, that automates manual award interpretation, that can be integrated with other systems, and so on… only seems to happen when one of the above conditions exist.

It is unfortunate that many are missing out on the benefits that a modern payroll system can provide, and it is not until an organisation is forced to research alternatives that these benefits are uncovered.

What to look for

Your payroll should be one of those things that runs silently in the background. If you are thinking about payroll at all, this is likely not to be the case. Silent running should be one of your primary objectives.

The number one thing to look for in your new payroll software is a solution to your current dilemma.

If your existing software or supplier has let you down, look for a track record and references. Look for disaster recovery systems and regular DR testing. Nothing drops staff morale faster than failing to pay them on time and correctly so having confidence that the payroll is going to be available when you need it is critical.

If you are being forced to undertake a major upgrade, look for a cloud service that will always be up to date when you connect to it. There really is no need anymore for dedicated infrastructure that you need to maintain, update and renew prior to accepting the latest version of your payroll software. Look for continuous development behind the scenes and a steady stream of new releases. Look for one with the capacity to manage your payroll whatever size you grow to without upgrades.

If you are unable to get the information that you need from your payroll system, look for a comprehensive set of standard reports. You’ll want a custom report writer that does not require specialist report writing skills, and the ability to get data out in .csv format and/or through an API for further manipulation.

If you find your payroll staff are dealing with paper timesheets, paper leave requests, or manual payroll calculations, seek time-saving alternatives in the form of employee mobile and web applications, back pay calculators, and an award interpreter.

But also look for something that is as “future proof” as possible. Look for a cloud application that is supported by a development team of some size who are continually maintaining compliance and adding new features.

How to run the project

Payroll projects can be risky. The newspapers frequently carry stories of disastrous payroll projects and we believe this is the main reason that people are so reluctant to upgrade their software until they really have to. The truth though is that payroll projects do not need to be risky. Datacom currently completes an average of seven significant payroll migration projects every month.

Dealing with an experienced and expert payroll company with a mature project methodology should be your first risk mitigation when planning a payroll project. Secondly, you could consider breaking the project into bite sized chunks. While not always possible, consider making changes in your existing platform first before migrating payroll platforms, so that change happens incrementally.

It is generally a good idea to simplify your payroll as much as possible before migrating (or even choosing) payroll systems. For example, renegotiating remuneration to simplify rate calculations, or cashing up allowances, etc. Adopting common standards for such payments will mean you have a greater choice of systems and will require minimal customisation.

Every payroll project (even the annual upgrade required on legacy client-server systems) should include parallel runs. That is, running both the old and new system in parallel, providing the same data inputs into both and reconciling the outputs. This can be quite a lot of work, but your payroll software supplier should be able to help with this work, and have tools available to simplify the work and reconciliation.

While the payroll supplier will have primary responsibility for the work to be undertaken during the project, there are a number of parts of the project that cannot be done by a supplier. Your payroll supplier should be able to clearly explain what they expect of you as a part of the project. This is likely to include dealing with the legacy system supplier, perhaps providing information from the legacy system in specific formats, participation in various configuration workshops, approving configurations, reviewing findings from parallel run reconciliations, managing communications with staff, and so on.

In general, you should not need to provide a specialist project manager (the supplier should provide one), but you will need to make available the people who have the best understanding of your current payroll system to provide information to the project team. The project team will need to have a clear understanding of how things work today, and how you want them to work.

What next

Modern software these days is generally provided on a Software as a Service (SaaS) basis. That is, you simply connect to it via the Internet and use it, without having to own and manage a lot of IT infrastructure. A benefit of this is that your payroll need no longer be an island on which only a privileged few have access to.

Obviously security and privacy controls need to be strictly maintained, but connectivity in the cloud world means that you can easily connect to your staff via web portals for timesheet input, leave requests, leave approvals, and for payroll data output, like payslips or other notices. The “new world” equivalent of this is mobile apps for smartphones. Smartphones are becoming ubiquitous and connecting employees to your payroll via their smartphone provides convenience that cannot be matched for many non-desk bound employees.

Connectivity in the cloud world also makes it easier to connect applications. For example you might connect your payroll system to specialist HR applications that particularly suit your business, rather than the old world where you had to purchase a single system that did many things but none of them well. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are included in most cloud applications and allow you to exchange or synchronise data between applications.

Once you are using modern software, keep in touch with your supplier, be familiar with their roadmap, provide them with your feedback, and take advantage of new features as they become available.

So, how scared should you be?

As long as you are working with a partner who has a dedicated team of experts, using a proven project methodology, not scared at all. In fact you should be excited, and looking forward to positive feedback from staff who are happily using smartphone apps to input and receive data from your new payroll system.

Kevin Murphy is Director of Datacom Payroll for New Zealand. 

Hackathon how-to: One man’s experience at Datacomp


By Dr. Daniel Thomas

Our industry is full of disruption. There is no such thing as business-as-usual; the norm. Our world is constantly changing and reshaping. It can be scary, but it can also be an incredible journey.

Each year, Datacom holds an intense, 48-hour hackathon called Datacomp. Competitors from across the entire Datacom group descend upon Auckland to compete and use new and different technologies in ways that we normally don’t get to in our day jobs.
For me, Datacomp embodies this uncertain and amazing ride we have embarked on in the technology sector. Each year exposes us to new challenges and compels us to try new and exciting things.

It’s about pushing the boundaries, exploring new ideas, camaraderie and a big heap of fun: it’s Datacomp.


There’s always a nervous excitement as you prepare for the kickoff. Since we had arrived early, we could catch up on correspondence but also get to see the final preparations as the Auckland office became Datacomp HQ.

Decorations going up, competitors checking in and the buzz around the office. There was an electric excitement in the air as the moment approached and MC/organiser Kerry Topp stepped up to the stage.

In 2016 the theme was “It’s Personal”: using cognitive technology to create innovative systems. For myself, it was also personal: this time I was going to do something different and bring an idea from one of our customers. This meant I wasn’t going to join a team; I had to form a team.

Knowing how much effort people put into “pre-forming” teams, I was extremely nervous about trying to form a team on the night: I had just two minutes to pitch an idea and at-tract people to my cause.

Each year pitches get better and more creative. You have not seen anything until some-one raps about creating a smart AI to recommend restaurants.

Auckland's Joon Park rapping his Datacomp pitch
Auckland’s Joon Park rapping his Datacomp pitch

Luckily our team, Community Pulse, came together. But as the team captain I discovered that getting a team was the easy part…

Too Many Ideas

The best advice I can give to anyone competing in a hackathon is the advice I heard from VC winner Ben Roberts-Smith: no matter how much time you have, always spend a third planning.

One of the hardest challenges at Datacomp is focus: You only have 48 hours and there are hundreds of things you can try. We set aside Friday night for planning and we had one key aim: choose one great idea.

The challenge is not dismissing the bad ideas, it’s actually getting rid of the good ones – and it is hard. As captain, I had to listen thoughtfully to the team and take their advice and views on board. Everyone in your team has a different perspective that needs to be respected and considered.

There were a few times I had to drop some of my own ideas as we drilled down. A good captain should listen (and learn) from their team, as well as keep discussion focused and time-boxed.

We quickly learned to listen to our business mentor. Each team was allocated a mentor to help articulate concepts from a commercial point of view. Sometimes it can be confront-ing when you’re challenged on your concepts, but this is part of focusing and distilling. If the idea does not stand up under scrutiny, it won’t survive the judging on Sunday.

At about 10pm we finally had our concept in place. We would create an app that would match potential volunteers with organisations in need. We were ready to start framing and forming up how it would work.

So with Friday done, we took an “early mark” to prepare for Saturday.

Saturday – The long march

Saturday is best described as an emotional rollercoaster. As the smallest team in the competition we had to be extra focused.

Datacomp is more than just hacking together code – just like in our day jobs there are multiple parts that go into the solution. We had a young graphic designer making the screen designs, a data analyst running Microsoft Machine Learning over volunteering data, guys from Managed Services, Business Unit Managers and two very hard working developers.

There were however some lighthearted breaks such as the Datacomp Auction. Things I learned about the auction:

  1. Everyone votes for themselves
  2. Never bid against someone who wants to use drones to help special needs kids watch sports from home when too sick attend in person
  3. Listen to your heart and let the dance come from deep within your soul. Yes. Settling ties through dance offs. By geeks. Who cannot, and should never, dance.

Datacomp is a pressure-cooker, especially on Saturday, but there are lighter moments. Like our team’s Shia Leboeuf motivational video and another team’s Amazon Echo error handling – my favourite moment of Datacomp. It was about 1 AM and I took a five-minute walk and discussed the Echo AI technology with one of the developers from team Chicken Soup. Then they showed me this little gem: if you told the Echo you wanted to go on a trip yesterday it would say “Let me just back up the time machine for you… beep beep beep”. To me this was Datacomp in a nutshell. The technology was fun and they were having fun with it.

Sunday – It all comes together

As the presenter, I was sent back to the hotel to sleep. I needed to bring my A-Game to the presentation.

Of course I slept in.

A mad rush back to the team room (OK, with a stop for a quad-shot coffee) and back into the fray.

We had a minimum viable product. We had a lean canvas business plan. We just needed to nail our presentation. Luckily, we had some great support again from our mentor and the more business-focused guys in the team to pull it together.

It was time.

The feeling once midday comes around on Sunday is one of nervous anticipation. You have just a few minutes to convince the judges that your system not only works, but is a good idea.

Having done singing and theatre was a definite help. You need to relax, make the case and above all: keep to your time. Timing is essential; otherwise, you lose the opportunity for the judges to ask you questions and lose points for going over. If there’s one thing a presenter must be fully aware of, it is the time.

And then it was over.

The other teams brought some fantastic concepts to show the judges. It really showed the diversity, teamwork and innovation Datacom can bring to the table. When you see these ideas come to life, you cannot help but think, “Wow! I work for a really great company: look at all the cool things these guys have done!”

What is a win?

Before Datacomp, my objective was to create a good, tangible idea to bring back and develop with our customer. Coming into the competition without a pre-made team and the smallest group on the weekend, we had nothing to lose. After our presentation I felt satisfied: I had worked with a great team, been able to experience the fun that is Datacomp and we had something to show for our effort.

Oceania 17, Enviropulse and Chicken Soup were awarded the top prizes and deservedly so – there was some amazing technology that really delivered on their goals.

Daniel CelebratingDr. Daniel Thomas celebrating at Datacomp 2016. 

But something quite unexpected happened. We were awarded the “Advance to Go” prize. This means that the judges saw the benefit of our idea and want to help grow it and see where it leads. For an idea related to the community sector, this was a humbling moment. As I write this, I have already started working with others to turn our app into a commercial reality.

Final Thoughts

The thing that I really enjoy most about Datacomp is the privilege of meeting so many amazing people. I am proud to work for such a company; we build each other up and expand our horizons.

Dr Daniel Thomas is a Senior Consultant for software solutions at Datacom. 

Finding the right place and time for innovation


At Datacom, we’re continually devising and developing new IT products, services or solutions that will benefit our customers, as well as thinking about ways to use technology for internal innovation. One thing we try to keep top of mind when going through this process is that, sometimes, it’s best to look elsewhere. That is, consider things that have been perfected in other industries for potential application in your own.

Taking time out of corporate life

For example, when we worked with AUT to develop our Smart Timetables solution, we looked to the corporate environment for inspiration and guidance. Here, calendars and related productivity tools are used on mobile devices, and relied on by countless people, every day.

Why were we looking to innovate in this particular area with AUT? Perhaps surprisingly, even nowadays timetabling in tertiary education is often a manual process in many respects, and designed with staff, rather than students, in mind. Students may have to use paper timetables and/or go to websites proactively to access them, if in fact they are available online at all. And even if education providers use specialist timetabling software, it usually isn’t designed to deliver data directly to mobile devices.

Among other problems with this state of affairs, it’s difficult to notify students in advance of changes to their timetables if, for instance, a lecturer calls in sick. All too often, if a class is cancelled or the room has changed, the first students know about it is after they’ve turned up. Obviously, this can lead to confusion, frustration and missed lectures.

Smart Timetables is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that solves these and other problems for students, staff and education providers alike. The Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) is using it to help revolutionise the student experience and reduce the administration burden on staff. It does this by automating the delivery of up-to-date, personalised timetables – enriched with information such as maps, assignment due dates and tutorial reminders – directly into their phone and tablet calendars.

Finding your way

Speaking of maps, helping students to find their way on campus is an area where education providers have taken a leaf out of the airport industry’s book.

Airport wayfinding is an art and science that has been honed over decades. Every year, millions of visitors pass through airports in Auckland, Sydney and other major destinations around the world. Every day, would-be passengers need to find the right car park, entrance, check-in desk and boarding gate. Airport wayfinding therefore needs to be as intuitive and fool-proof as possible to help visitors, who speak an array of languages, to get to their destination, enjoy their experience and, of course, do some shopping.

Over the past few years, its core principles and best practices – including crystal-clear signposting and indoor mapping – have been adopted successfully by tertiary education providers, and achieved positive outcomes on campus. With Smart Timetables, wayfinding has become even easier for students and staff, with their class times and locations always up-to-date on their personal devices.  The calendar and wayfinding functions will continue to converge as we integrate on-campus directions, such as Google’s Indoor Maps functionality, into Smart Timetables in the near future.

Don’t get lost in translation

When you are adapting or building solutions for a different industry or area it’s crucial to know the potential new users as well as possible, and avoid making assumptions. A close understanding of the ways in which all people process and interpret images was key to refining airport, and university, wayfinding. Having adequate knowledge of how students use their personal timetables – in comparison with corporate workers especially – was crucial to the success of Smart Timetables.

An important finding from the early stages of designing the solution was that students are not as used to using calendars to manage their time as those of us in corporate life. Where we tend to rely on them heavily every day, up until Smart Timetables came along students simply didn’t have a good reason to use their calendars on their phones or tablets.

Our research showed that, although students use WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and many other apps on their mobile devices, very few of them make extensive use of their phone or tablet calendars. Indeed, in a focus group we held, 45% of students said they used their laptops as the primary digital device to access their calendar in the university setting. Among other things, this meant that the solution needed to be as easy as possible to start using, from any device, so we built it to require only a login and password to get going.

We also found that students use a vast range of mobile phones and tablets. This meant that going down the app path wasn’t the best option, as it would require ongoing commitment to updating, for instance. And that’s why no download or app is required with Smart Timetables, and it is compatible with all major mobile platforms.

The right place at the right time

Overall, the Smart Timetables example serves as a reminder of how even simple solutions focused on a specific area can have a powerful positive impact on users. It also shows how there are many areas ripe for innovation in all sorts of industries. And with research and ingenuity, and best practice design and development, something that works well in one situation can be made to work well in another.

Responding to Disruption: Stormy weather ahead?

By Kerry Topp


“If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

There’s a paradox here: why would companies that have been successful and created a winning formula need to do anything different? Why should they feel the need to transform or invest in new areas when they can maximise shareholder returns right now?

The reason: If boards and executives don’t have transformation and continuous improvement in their strategies, they are building vulnerability into their organisations.

To quote Ralf Dreischmeier, Global Leader of Technology Advantage Practice at Boston Consulting Group: “Executives need to create their own ‘digital attacker’ businesses. Long-dominant companies are increasingly under attack from a host of digital start-ups that are out to reinvent businesses and industries by addressing consumer needs in completely new ways.”

Dreischmeier states that incumbents should be more disruptive: “Large companies hold a lot of cards—including resources, assets, relationships, and data—that smaller competitors frequently do not have enough of. But they often do not fundamentally rethink their business model.”

This challenge is at the heart of why companies in New Zealand are slow to commit to activities which seek out new markets and opportunities, and help their people change and survive.

But why?

To quote another guru, Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, recently said: “Making Industry 4.0 work requires major shifts in organisational practices and structures.”

These shifts, Schwab said, include new approaches to IT and data management, to regulatory and tax compliance, new organisational structures, and changes in company culture.

Professor Schwab has been at the epicentre of global affairs for over four decades and he’s convinced that we are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we will live, work and relate to one another.

He explored this concept in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution. He characterises this Revolution through a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds. The impact of these technologies will affect all disciplines, economies and industries, and challenge ideas about what it means to be human.

“The world has the potential to connect billions more people to digital networks, dramatically improve the efficiency of organisations and even manage assets in ways that can help regenerate the natural environment, potentially undoing the damage of previous industrial revolutions.”

However, Schwab also expressed grave concerns that organisations might be unable to adapt and governments could fail to employ and regulate new technologies to capture their benefits. Also that shifting power could create new security concerns, and inequality could grow causing societies to fragment.

If we focus for a moment on the Financial Services sector as an example. There is no doubt the sector is going through a seismic shift. Changing customer demands, the growth of financial technology companies like Xero, the pressing need to be innovative and the changing relationship between Boards and executives are all reshaping the industry. At the same time, executives need to balance these demands against the expectations of analysts and the requirements of regulators.

This is certainly something coming through loud and clear from the 490 Financial Services CEOs who took part in a 2016 Global CEO Survey recently. The survey, entitled “Turning risk into opportunity – The changing face of Financial Services”, highlighted that CEOs were worried about speed of technological developments, with 81 percent of respondents either extremely or somewhat concerned about keeping up with the pace of change. The next biggest worry was that a limited talent pool could inhibit their growth, which 70 percent of respondents were concerned about.

So what’s the answer?

First, education – specifically, the education of Boards and executives. These incumbents need to be aware of the magnitude of the potential threat but also the opportunity that technology disruption will likely create for their business.

Tech Futures Lab is doing exactly this. As Sacha Judd, Managing Director of Hoku Group recently put it, “The Tech Futures Lab workshop … is critical information that should inform all our decision-making, as the exponential growth of new technologies challenges all of the assumptions that we’ve previously held about what the world will look like, and how our industries and society will adapt.”

Secondly, strong leadership at a time of uncertainty and change is incredibly important.

As Adobe Chief Executive Shantanu Narayen recently put it: “A great Board is one that spends disproportionate amounts of time with management, taking active steps to understand the opportunities and challenges facing the business,” he says. “With the world increasingly moving to digital and businesses implementing digital strategies, Boards also need to boost their digital capabilities to be better strategic advisers to the business.”

But it’s not just technology that Boards need to grapple with, it’s “entrepreneurial venturing” or, put another way, deferring returns today by investing in potential growth areas which can achieve returns in years to come. Boards and execs need to set the expectation that they will be more entrepreneurially-minded and less risk-averse when it comes to investing, and they’ll need to feel comfortable making some decisions based on instinct rather than hard numbers.

Why? Because this is a new world – some of the things that are happening now are unprecedented and you have to be in the game to stand a chance of winning.

New Zealand boards and executives are, on the whole, not especially diverse. They tend to be dominated by very smart accountants and lawyers because of the types of material things discussed – risk, finance, etc.  However, there is a real and present danger of “group-think” with that make up. Companies should consider the addition of a disruptor – an experienced entrepreneurial and tech-savvy protagonist – to their team.

Because as Ralf Dreischmeier said: “Leaders in the digital age are different from leaders in the past. They prototype an agile strategy and learn from their experiences. They attack their own businesses before disrupters do. At the same time, they digitise their core business and get the most value from both their existing and external data, all the while mastering the digital ecosystems they operate in.”

Is this how current Board members and executives have been thinking? In my experience, this is only happening in a handful of local organisations.

Now is the time for vision, strategy, an entrepreneurial streak, strong communication, expectation setting and above all, strong leadership.

Disrupt or be disrupted is the motto of today – but I would add that company leadership needs to enable their people to be safe to “venture smart and venture more”.

Good luck on your venturing – our future economy needs you.

How bots and personal assistants can improve customer experiences

By Kerry Topp

Datacomp blog 1 - robot lightbulb

From Iron Man’s Jarvis to Droids like R2D2 and BB8, we’ve always had a vision of personal assistance from artificially intelligent machines that we can talk to – and they understand what we say, how we are feeling, and the context around us.

We are closer to this reality than you might think. Last month at its annual global developer conference in San Francisco, Facebook announced the company was opening up its artificial intelligence-powered platform, M.

M is a bold answer to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. It’s a virtual assistant powered by artificial or cognitive intelligence; however, what makes M different from other offerings is that on top of using artificial intelligence to complete its tasks, M is also powered by a team of Facebook employees, or M Trainers, who make sure personally that every request is met. Over time, through the responses of these real people, the virtual assistant will learn to answer more complex questions and reduce the need for the M Trainers.

The global technology landscape is relentlessly charging forward at an exciting, if not break-neck pace. Those that explore and embrace new technologies gain a decisive competitive advantage in today’s world.

But companies aren’t yet taking full advantage of what virtual personal assistants and bots can offer. Yes, personal assistants allow us to do more with less – they can also help businesses provide better customer experiences. Businesses may be considering mobile strategy, digital transformation and how to stay ahead of the curve, but what they’re not considering is the potential impact of cognitive intelligence technology.

This is much more advanced than the voice recognition technology you encounter when you call your average call centre – we’re talking about artificial intelligence that understands, learns and remembers. Cognitive or artificial intelligence technology includes image/emotion recognition, speech recognition, and natural language processing.

Take, for example, how this technology could change the old-fashioned drive-thru. When you pull into a drive-thru, your license plate is scanned and an app pushes suggestions to your phone, based on what you previously ordered – whether you placed the order at that particular location or another one around the country. You can order on your mobile device while you wait in line, or you can place your order through the speaker.

But there’s no real person behind the speaker – it’s a personal assistant listening to your order – which you can place in any language, speaking in a way that’s natural to you – asking you the right questions, and suggestive selling you your fries.

For customers, buying dinner is more efficient, and they get a more consistent experience. The company saves money on resourcing, and guarantees customers are always being presented with the option to upsize their combos. It’s a win-win.

The fifth annual Datacomp event will be held from the 10th to 12th of June this year and the theme is “to create personal experiences for our customers or your own ideas through the use of cognitive technology”.

Datacomp is an innovation event where teams take an idea through to a working product in 48 hours and compete for coveted top prizes. In the last four years’ competitions we have had over 250 people from across our business trained in new technologies and new ways of working. Last year’s event saw 130 competitors take part from across New Zealand and Australia, which raised the bar for creativity, results and… dance.

Kerry Topp is the General Manager of Transformation & Innovation at Datacom.

Xamarin Evolve 2016 wrap-up

By Mohit Singh and Joshua Fenemore

mobile innovation

The Xamarin Evolve 2016 conference is a wrap, and it was a full two days of inspiration, fun, learning and big announcements for the mobile-first world.

For a couple of years now we’ve been using Xamarin to streamline mobile development for our customers. The tool allows us to build a mobile app once, and then deploy it to multiple mobile platforms – to Android, iOS, Mac and Windows. That means we can deliver more quickly, and our customers save on development costs.

Previously we’ve blogged about why it’s important, and what the advantages and disadvantages of the platform are. Since then Microsoft has acquired the company and its products. As a result uptake of Xamarin has shot up – but we’ll go into the details of that later.

Here are 5 key takeaways from the conference:

  1. Xamarin is now Open Source

Xamarin CTO Miguel de Icaza announced that its platform has now been released to public as open source. That means anyone with an interest can pick it up and play around, and it will have a huge positive impact on innovation.

It also means that Xamarin is now closer than ever to realising a vision of running on any platform, and any device. You can find the source code via or directly on GitHub.

  1. Xamarin Forms – Now ready for prime time

Xamarin forms allows developers to create native user interfaces across multiple platforms. One of the benefits of Xamarin Forms has been code-sharing between iOS, Android and Windows. It uses a “write once, run everywhere” strategy.  However, while Xamarin Forms has always been considered an innovative product, it had many challenges which made it hard to adopt.

With the upcoming addition of the Xamarin Forms XAML previewer, a live designer, adding the ability to mix native and form views and the introduction of Data Pages, now means that it’s ready for prime time adoption, especially for Line of Business apps. In fact, this has been the biggest push in messaging at the Evolve Conference.

  1. A better story together – Microsoft and Xamarin

It’s clear that Microsoft’s acquisition of Xamarin is paying off. Xamarin CEO Nat Friedman shared stats post-acquisition that showed uptake had grown by 300% since the announcement was made in February.

The company is growing exponentially – the dream of any start-up. It opens the ecosystem for a whole lot more for organisations and developers, enabling a full enterprise grade mobile DevOps life cycle.

  • Development with Xamarin Studio 6 & visual studio.
  • Source control & Continous integration with TFS
  • Test automation with Xamarin Test Cloud
  • Deployment and analytics with Hockey app

Xamarin’s offer of support across the entire application development life cycle was a key theme throughout the conference.

  1. New tools for ideations & documentation

Every corporate is trying to be agile and to adopt the start-up style of working. New tools for developers were introduced at Evolve, making it easier than ever for developers to work closer with businesses. Xamarin WorkBook is a console style application where you can write code and have it immediately deploy to an emulator. This is a great new tool for experimentation and learning certain features on the fly.

  1. New testing tools

During the keynote presentation we were shown live remote debugging of an application to a device hosted in Test Cloud. Now those annoying bugs which only occur on obscure android devices will be easy to track down and fix.

We were also shown real time recording of user interactions in an application which were immediately converted to a Xamarin UI test, so there’s now no excuse for not having automated UI tests.

The rest

Another key theme of the conference was “build awesome apps”. Technical Program Manager Nina Vyedin lead a session named “If you build it: Making apps for humans” – a fascinating and incredibly thought provoking session. Vyedin presented footage from her video project where she interviewed several people from very different backgrounds asking them what smartphones, apps and developers mean to them. It was really interesting to hear everyone’s perspective and thoughts on what is important to them about mobile and reminder that “building awesome apps” comes from understanding your users and doing right by them.

We were also lucky to attend a session lead by Grant Imahara, an engineer from the Discovery channel TV show, Mythbusters. Grant talked about his experience in engineering and how solid engineering principles and good team work are relevant for every industry. In particular, the principle that “failure is a design tool”. The Mythbusters motto is “failure is always an option”.

Imahara also mentioned about the two head engineers on the show and how their personalities and engineering style were completely opposite. They worked so well together, he said, because they understood their differences and left their own egos at the door. They were always prepared to take on new ideas, listen to feedback and understood that their way was not the only way.

In summary, it was a real treat to attend the conference and every attendee walked away with some new technical knowledge, excitement for the future, and some personal growth. We can’t wait to bring some of our learnings into our work with customers.

If you’re interested in learning more about Xamarin, our Auckland office runs regular meetups – you can keep an eye out for the next one here.