Geraldine McBride once headed software giant SAP in the United States, with a turnover of $8 billion a year.

It was big tech, with more than 6000 staff in the US alone.

Now she is focusing on something much smaller, centred on one key figure - a "virtual personal assistant" called Frank. He was born from a "eureka moment" she had while walking the hills around Queenstown.

Towards the end of her time at SAP, says McBride, she met more chief executives who were being kept awake at night wondering how to respond to rapid changes in consumer behaviour, using technology such as smartphones and disruptive apps.

Advertisement

"When you're the president of SAP you get to fly on a private jet and talk to dozens of major corporates in America and they all came up with the same set of issues ... you realise this is a universal change and the paradigm needed to shift."

McBride says the challenges in reaching consumers that she was noting around the turn of the decade were momentous, and it's her expertise in this area that has helped elevate her to directorships at Sky TV, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and National Australia Bank.

"I could see that a lot of the technology that I had been involved in building, like CRM (customer relationship management) systems ... the last mile of railroad track had not been laid for the consumer."

With her start-up company MyWave, she flipped the model and began building technology centred on customers, or CMR - customer managed relationships.

"The old world of CRM was 15 years old. I had been involved in developing those systems and taking them to market and they never delivered on the promise of building relationships with customers."

McBride gathered some US experts in digital disruption in a Queenstown barn and MyWave was born two years ago. Its aim was to satisfy consumer intentions - what they want to buy next, not what they did last week.

Users own and update their own data based on their preferences and buying intentions, enabling a business to tailor products and services in a far more targeted and relevant way.

A Melbourne-based technical team built MyWave to develop apps that use personal information to help users choose banks, a house, home appliances, power companies - right down to reminding them of meetings or warning of traffic problems.

Data security is paramount.

"We store the data in so many little pieces that even if someone tried to take your data, they would only get bits they would never be able to put together again," says McBride.

"Because our technology is two years old, it grew up in the world of cyber crime, one of the first core things we looked for was security. It has to be a trust network."

MyWave's first commercial development is Saveawatt, which will allow Frank to advise on the best power deals once consumers have entered information about their use - and even make the switch if they choose.

It has been soft launched in Australia and New Zealand, and McBride says it has already been "pulled" into the United States and Britain.

The company has shelved early plans to go public, in favour of private capital raising, including $4.5 million raised this year. MyWave's systems are free to consumers, and paid for by clients. There is also scope for revenue sharing between businesses and MyWave.

In banking, Frank could deliver statements to the individual's personal cloud, and for the customer it could pay the bills.

While others such as Google, Facebook and Apple offer virtual personal assistants, McBride says the MyWave model is different because of data security and because it is extremely personalised.

Growing up, McBride lived a very Wellington life. Her father was a radio officer on the Cook Strait ferries, her mother a civil servant and she went to Wellington High School before studying zoology at Victoria University.

"I researched rare frogs of the Coromandel, got part way through a masters degree and decided there was no money in this and it wasn't what I wanted to keep doing so I followed a passion - technology."

Jobs at IBM then SAP followed, and she remains a technology enthusiast.

"There's so much in the world still left to change," says McBride.

"We operate on a 150-year-old industrial model where we think consumers are these passive participants at the end of a value chain when in fact they're not. They have more power and more information and they should be at the centre of value chains."

While a champion of disruption, it is affecting other businesses she is involved with.

Sky TV, for example, is facing growing competition from video streaming services such as Netflix.

"[Tech entrepreneur] Derek Handley and myself are on the board to look at those changes and look at how Sky may do well in that and continue to preserve shareholder value."

Banking is also under attack.

"Fifty per cent of bank revenues could disappear within a decade. Where we gather fees is at risk of being disrupted, which means banks must move up the value chain and become much more relevant in terms of a customer's daily life."

McBride spends much of her time travelling, but with her husband Colin has a house at Clearwater near Christchurch and at Closeburn Station, Queenstown.

Their daughter, Amy, works as MyWave's chief experience officer.

She takes the occasional holiday and lives by this motto: "life is a marathon, not a sprint".

Profile

• Former head of SAP in the US & Asia-Pacific

• Born: Wellington

• Age: 54

• Expert on the role of IT in digital disruption

• Has addressed the World Economic Forum and European Union

• Director of National Australia Bank, Sky TV and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

• Married to: Colin, with daughter Amy

• Best place for ideas: While hiking, running or enjoying a glass of champagne