Datacom kicks off Microsoft’s Global Integration Bootcamp

By Tim Nelson

It started in Auckland on Saturday, then followed the sunrise across the globe.

Dawn on Saturday 25th saw Datacom stop the countdown clock on the Microsoft Global Integration Bootcamp website.

Starting at 210 Federal Street in Auckland and following the sunrise across 12 locations across around the world, the Global Bootcamp brought the Microsoft integration community together for an intensive day of interactive labs using the latest Azure technology.

With a dual opportunity to lead and learn alongside co-hosts Adaptiv and Theta the team added hospitality and plenty of coffee to create a warm collaborative atmosphere for everyone in attendance.
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Photo / Datacom’s Craig Haiden presenting at the weekend’s Microsoft Global Integration Bootcamp.

Independent consultants and integrators from both vendors and corporates turned the café into a hub of concentrated activity, augmented by a constant flow of online appreciation from around the globe as successive centres kicked off their day.

Plenty of knowledge was shared and new skills were learned. Hands-on labs covered the full Azure integration stack: enabling hybrid integration scenarios to surface data to the cloud; setting up Service Bus and Logic Apps to orchestrate data flows; configuring API Apps and API Management to present and secure data access; and working with IoT Hub, Stream Analytics and Power BI to provide both deep insight and responsive control of data and devices in real-time.

A big thank you to the dedicated team of organisers and presenters who made it happen: Craig Haiden, Mark Brimble, Mahindra Morar, Mike Howell, James Corbould, Morten Velling and Abhishek Kumar. Literally world-leading…

Check out more about the Global Integration Bootcamp here.

Digital Transformation 101: Insights from DX 2017

By Caroline White

Business leaders from across New Zealand came together to discuss their challenges at the Digital Transformation summit  in Auckland this month. The key themes were:

  • Understanding innovation and transformation and how they work together
  • Unlocking value by leveraging technology and new business platforms
  • Understanding changing audiences for customer-centric digital transformation
  • Recruiting and retaining the right talent and unlocking real competitive advantages

The Datacom sponsored event saw Brett Roberts, Associate Director of Datacom Auckland’s Digital, Customers & Collaboration Group, take to the stage for his keynote advising companies on how to drive an innovative and adaptive digital culture. Digital Transformation means companies need to act fast to ensure they aren’t left behind.

BrettRobertsDX2017CloggCloseupBrett Roberts speaking at DX2017. Photo / Scott Clogg: Conferenz

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation is the latest hot phrase to be bandied round in offices across the world – but it is also a commonly misunderstood term. Basically, it’s the act of transforming businesses digitally from end to end – from operations to infrastructure, meshing together technology, processes and people.

DX2017 featured 24 speakers in total, each offering advice that can be loosely packaged into five C’s: competitive pressure, the confluence of ideas, customers, culture and continuous learning, and finally the biggest C: communication.

Competitive pressure

Firstly, why do businesses have to digitally transform? Technology and innovation is moving at a faster pace than ever before. We live in an uncertain world – A study from the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University estimates that 40 percent of today’s F500 companies on the S&P 500 will no longer exist in 10 years.

Foxtel’s Brett Cooper said digital disruptors are everywhere – the most well- known one for his company being being Netflix.

Competition has come from leaders who have shunned traditional business models and dared to do things differently – Uber, Amazon and Airbnb are just three examples.

Nicki Raistrick, Head of Digital at Fletcher Building looked at the same issue, raising concerns about traditional businesses making assumptions they shouldn’t. You may know the names of your customers and their likes and dislikes, but what do they really know about their customer’s customers – is there a new disruptor just around the corner?

Andre Guyer, Head of Digital Transformation for the Zurich Insurance, believes companies need to use money and experience as leverage against new entrants to their industry – to attack, rather than defend their market share.

New Zealand companies need to look at their products and services and work out where they are adding value to their customers – which enable them to innovate and provide a better service, and thus larger margin than foreign counterparts.

DX2017AudienceThe challenge of digital transformation – Brett Roberts speaks at DX2017. Photo / Scott Clogg: Conferenz

Confluence

At the heart of Digital Transformation is a triad, a confluence of people, business and process. It’s not possible to change one without considering impact on the other.

  • People – Robotics will feature heavily in the future, but nothing can substitute for the human brain. Algorithms are not the solution to all our problems.

Digital leaders still have a tough job in shaping the workforce of the future.  Traditional roles such as system administrators, operators, programmers, and help desk employees will decrease in demand and these people will need to be retrained and moved elsewhere.

New people for jobs which haven’t even been dreamt up yet will need to be sourced and an organisation is only as good as the people who work for them.

Quote of the day: “Never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER compromise your hiring.” Hire diverse people with good attitudes who are ready to slot into an innovative environment. And don’t be afraid to hire people who don’t fit the mould – the best innovations don’t tend to come from when people stick to the mould.

  • Business – Transforming to digital can often unearth all sorts of issues that weren’t apparent beforehand. Go back to basics, make sure the company vision is clear, and map out all your processes to how they would work in the real world.
  • Technology – Big data, blockchain, and artificial intelligence were all discussed prominently – and will need to be a part of any future plans.

Lots of companies are using all of these technologies already. Google Maps combines AI, robotics and big data. Starbucks and Amazon are teaming up for an AI, chat and voice app.

Trevor Delany, Head of Information Technology & Services for BP New Zealand said that customers had even arrived at its petrol stations asking to pay with bitcoins. It’s impossible to commit to all of the good ideas out there, but the smart people are those who see how this could fit into existing business models in the future.

Customers

Customers should be first priority for every organisation; but for many busy organisations, they are often the last. Every speaker at DX 2017 called for companies to be more customer- led rather than focusing strictly on products. Customer centricity was frequently discussed, especially innovation labs and collaborative programmes.

Culture and continuous learning

The one fundamental kickstarter is having an innovative culture. Allow everyone in the company to get involved and have their voice heard.

If staff feel are empowered in an innovative culture, they will rally and try to solve issues themselves. They certainly won’t sit by and let disruptors take over. Encourage staff at all levels to be curious and ask questions. You need to accept that you’re not always going to get it right – as Brett Roberts puts it ‘experimentation’, rather than ‘embracing failure’.

Don’t get complacent – embrace constant learning. For example, millennials often have a different way of looking problems compared to other generations. Don’t disparage that, encourage it. Datacomp, Datacom’s yearly hackathon has been so successful that it has become a blueprint for hackathons at other companies, such as Genesys and ASB.

And finally, the big C, communication

The overwhelming message from DX 2017 is to start focussing on people. A major part of that is communication.

Digital transformation is terrifying. Frontline employees can feel hopeless and removed from the decision making process. They’re often wondering: What is going on? Is my job safe? I’ve been here for 20 years – what are all these crazy decisions that the company is now making?

There will always be resistance to DX, said Gerard Smith, Senior Digital Manager for Teachers Mutual Bank.

You need buy in; to get your employees to embrace the model you’re trying to adopt. You need to educate and reassure them, and offer the appropriate training to enable them for the new model.

There is a human being behind every change the business makes, and they need to be engaged – help them celebrate successes, actively promoting your digital projects and highlighting the importance of the change.

My three takeaways:

  1. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Start with small changes and then work up. Review your legacy systems and grade the changes needed into levels of urgency and importance before implementation. If there is kick back from the top team, ask them what else they’ll spend their money on if it isn’t DX.
  1. DX is the whole package, not just the tech – people and business processes are just as important
  1. Uncertainty is a certainty –  Organisations need to be agile, nimble and ready to experiment or else they will die

What do you think? If you’re looking for some ideas on transforming digitally please email us at digital@datacom.co.nz.

Main photo/ Brett Roberts speaks at DX2017.  Photo: Scott Clogg: Conferenz

Tourism NZ intranet – built with Datacom – recognised as one of the world’s best

Tourism New Zealand’s staff intranet has been named one of the top ten in the world. International user experience firm, Nielsen Norman Group announced the award this week with Tourism New Zealand the only Australasian winner.

As well as winning the Nielson Norman group award, earlier this year Datacom and Tourism NZ were named winners in the Microsoft Partner Awards for Content and Collaboration for the same solution.

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Photo: Tourists on the Tongariro Crossing – one of New Zealand’s most popular vistior attractions. Wikimedia Commons user Yogi De

“We have staff based around the globe and staff who travel internationally working from mobile devices so it’s really important as an organisation to keep our people informed and connected to our global whanau. The intranet was redesigned with these principles in mind so it’s great to see the site being recognised for being accessible and easy to use,” says Deborah Gray, Tourism NZ’s General Manager Corporate Affairs.

“The site was also praised for its use of plain English and social interactive features. We made sure to integrate the ability for staff to post photos and have conversations, it’s been really successful in helping staff engage with each other and share information.”

The redesign project took around six months to complete. The work included the review all content on the site, rewriting it to make it more accessible and more visual, as well as removing unused and old content.

The intranet site was delivered by the Datacom Office 365 team, helmed by Matt Swain.

Datacom’s view is that an intranet is based on 5 key pillars:

• Communication
• Content
• Collaboration
• Culture
• Doing Work

Evaluating where customer’s currently rate in each of these pillars, and what they are trying to achieve with their intranet is critical in driving successful, measurable outcomes.

Datacom believes that each phase of an intranet build should typically only focus on one or two of these pillars, with a light touch to the others. Having clear goals set against each pillar then allows organisations to clearly prioritise and deliver against each phase, while still gathering requirements for future phases.

It is important to keep in mind an intranet cannot be fairly judged as successful on day one, but needs to look at 6, 12, and 18 months in the future. Constant evolution is needed.

Datacom spent considerable amounts of time working with Tourism New Zealand to clearly understand their goals before work started. As such, the intranet was focused on social interaction to enable workplace collaboration, as well as the construction of valuable content. This allows the intranet to feel fresh and lively, a place where people want to work together, and utilises information well suited to the medium.

Jakob Nielsen, Principal for Nielsen Norman Group describes Tourism New Zealand’s site as having “A clean design, rewritten content, and well-integrated social features turned Tourism New Zealand’s new responsive intranet into an essential tool for communication and collaboration, regardless of location or device.”

See more here about Datacom Social Intranet.

 Daniel Thurston and Matt Swain

Cloud Breakfast – Learning from early adopters

If you attend almost any IT conference these days, you could be mistaken for thinking that every serving of The Cloud comes with a free side of business transformation. Can our clients achieve complete business transformation simply by migrating their IT systems to The Cloud, or is there more to it than that? We were recently treated to a breakfast briefing from two clients that have already made the journey to The Cloud and helped to answer this question from first-hand experience.

Datacom’s Cloud Insiders Breakfast was held at Pilkington’s in Auckland last month, during the Microsoft Ignite conference. “Insights from early adopters” was the theme of the breakfast and Kotahi CIO Neville Richardson and Zespri Global Manager of Information Systems Andrew Goodin presented to a packed room of Datacom clients.

Datacom assisted Zespri to migrate their IT systems into the Azure Cloud in 2014 and now provide ongoing Managed Services to monitor, automate and support the platform. Kotahi’s journey to the cloud began with Datacom’s annual Datacomp hackathon in 2015, which produced a unique logistics solution using Azure PaaS (Platform as a Service) software. This has since become a mission-critical business system for Kotahi, who are now migrating their legacy systems into Azure also.

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Kotahi’s Neville Richardson describes how Kotahi made its Cloud migration.

Michael Farrell – Datacom’s BU manager for Microsoft Managed Services and ALM opened the breakfast by sharing his view that a move to the cloud doesn’t guarantee transformation. In his experience, if clients don’t create or correctly apply a cloud strategy, most are simply consolidating and reducing their total cost of ownership (TCO).

“Azure enables transformation. It doesn’t guarantee it. “

Some key points made by Kotahi’s Neville Richardson:

  • Kotahi’s IT strategy supports differentiation by delivering “cloud as a service”, an integrated platform utilising familiar technologies
  • Choosing the right platform is key, including geo location, sizing to requirements, platform flexibility, value for money, implementation and management expertise, utilising data for new insights
  • Richardson said it was important to start small and test the environment, select a good partner to support and don’t try to make all workloads fit. He advised creating a “cloud first” culture for all new applications.

Andrew Goodin had a different, more tumultuous story to tell – the first steps towards cloud migration for Zespri began at a dark time for the kiwifruit industry – a time of retrenchment and fear for the future, brought on by the arrival of the PSA virus in New Zealand.

The PSA virus was ravaging Bay of Plenty orchards and the company was investigating ways of easily scaling down operations. But now – with PSA beaten quickly and record export volumes flowing out of New Zealand – the Azure cloud is proving to be the perfect framework for innovation and flexibility.

“But the cloud is not for everyone”, said Goodin. He advised other potential cloud users to make a migration decision based on the facts, not emotions. “I built this, I look after it – it’s often at the heart of it.” he said, describing the emotional attachment some IT staff had to buying and managing their own infrastructure – even when it could be done more efficiently and effectively at scale – by a partner on the public cloud.

goodincloudpicZespri’s Andrew Goodin shares his Cloud migration story

Some cloud lessons from Zespri:

  • Partnerships are essential when you embark on this journey – since not everything will go to plan
  • Test your platforms against performance and cost models
  • The cloud opportunity should be considered for driving innovation and scalability, and not just for cost savings
  • Not every workload is suitable for the cloud – but always challenge that assumption!
  • The financial benefits are real, but that’s not the only reason to move to the cloud.

There’s nothing better than shared first-hand experience when you’re about to embark on tough, demanding journeys. This is a key part of the value Datacom brings to our client partnerships; our breadth of skills and experience as the leading enterprise IT solutions provider in NZ is unrivalled.

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We don’t just migrate our clients into the cloud and leave them there to try and optimise it themselves either. Our services cover the entire lifecycle of a client’s Cloud journey; from creating a clear and structured cloud strategy to managing and supporting the cloud platform and products that run on it.

We would like to say a big thank you to our friends at Kotahi and Zespri for sharing their experiences with us and those about to take the first step to business transformation on the cloud.

James Stainton

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

cyborg

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.”

toyrobot

Why?

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.”

Conclusion

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

coloureye

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!

References

 

 

 

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.

iotwordassociations

 

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;

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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.

 

 

 

iotbenefits

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.

glasses

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).

 

catSkull.jpg

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).

strongManCar.jpg

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.

arvr

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 kerryt@datacom.co.nz.

 

Resources

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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

Oceania17

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.

Friday

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.