Kiwis need to work smarter, not just harder

By Simon Hendery

That much-talked about loop is on the verge of finally being unbundled.

The Government's announcement last week of a powerful regulatory package aimed at busting Telecom's grip on the broadband market has been hailed by most commentators as good news for business.

Access to cheaper, faster broadband is seen as a starting point to invigorating the local economy and allowing New Zealand to become internationally competitive on the technology stage.

But where to from here? With the impacts of the Telecom shake-up still some time away, what else can businesses do to make themselves more productive? The Business Herald asked four business and technology industry leaders for their tips on simple but effective ways to increase corporate productivity using technology.

Chief executive, Telecommunications Users Association (Tuanz)
Businesses looking to add or replace staff should first investigate the technological alternatives to hiring someone new, Newman says.

"New Zealand's problem at the moment is that we have a saturated labour force and we're all working too hard and for too many hours.

"The answer to that lies not in throwing more people at the problem - because we don't have them. It lies in replacing people with technology at every possible opportunity.

"Whether you're a tradesman, work in an office or drive a taxi - the opportunity is always there to make your business more efficient with technology. The specific solution will vary by organisation."

Newman cites a recent experience within his own association as an example. Tuanz runs a large number of events for which more than 10,000 registrations are processed each year through the group's website.

Each registration request used to arrive in the office as an email and had to go through a labour-intensive procedure, which included sending an acknowledgement of the request, processing a credit card transaction, and adding the registrant's details to databases.

This year the association has invested in technology that automates about 80 per cent of the process.

"The net result is that for an investment equivalent to about one year's salary for one person we've cut out about two-thirds of a job," Newman says.
"So we'll get a very quick return on investment for that and it's blindingly simple. That's the thinking that New Zealand needs to get its head around."
Chief economist, ASB Bank

Building an effective website is an effective way to boost business because it allows companies to offer a more sophisticated service to customers, Byett says.

"From a customer service perspective, people are demanding it. It saves considerable time if you can facilitate a lot of your transactions through the internet.

"Also within an organisation - particularly a big organisation like ours - information flows are enormous and if you can facilitate that through [an in-house] intranet, people can service their own needs very easily. There's a greater willingness by people to do that now - there's more of an acceptance of [the technology] than there was three or four years ago."

Byett says as well as a resource for staff, intranet-based material provides quick access to information for answering queries from clients and customers.

The intranet can be the source of a full range of easily-updated company information, from a simple phone directory to product specifications and pricing.

Meanwhile, a side-effect of the growth in e-commerce is that the internet has made product and service pricing more transparent for business, Byett says.

Customers are able to shop around without leaving their PC.

"That's good for the consumer. It also forces business to be aware of where they're making their profits," Byett says.

Clarifying where a company's margins are being made allows the business to allocate resources appropriately, he says.

And even if price transparency forces some businesses to reduce rates to meet the market, that need not be a bad thing for the company concerned, Byett says.

"If they [customers] can save a few dollars on one transaction they might give it back to you on another transaction. So it all facilitates growth."

Country manager, IDC

Instant messaging, once just a toy for teenagers, is now an effective business efficiency tool, Muller says.

US research shows that worldwide, 28 million companies are using enterprise instant messaging, sending over a billion messages a day, he says.

"It's having a massive effect on the productivity of companies as businesses pick it up - it's improving collaboration inside the company."

Within IDC, he says, staff can see when any of their colleagues around the world are at their desk, then message them to find out if they are available for a phone conversation.

"When you see different companies start to use it you realise how much more productive it is not to be playing phone tag and to be able to get a quick response immediately. It makes a big organisation feel like a small one."

As well as helping improve collaboration within a company, instant messaging can be used to do the same with a business' supply chain and customers, Muller says.

Executive director, HiGrowth Project

Biggs suggests that given this country's requirement for a world-class technology infrastructure, lobbying politicians to ensure this happens is an important way to improve business productivity.

Research commissioned by The HiGrowth Project found that if half the population were connected to broadband within five years, the country's GDP would increase significantly.

It predicted a cumulative increase in nominal GDP of $5.9 billion by 2020 if the country had 50 broadband subscribers per 100 people, up from the present level of 8.1 subscribers, according to OECD figures.

Biggs says businesses should ask themselves what it would mean to their company if broadband connectivity was widespread across all their customers, suppliers, and staff.

They should then get on the phone to their MP and ask them what was being done to make this happen, Biggs said.

He said the Government's announcements last week around planned regulatory changes to Telecom were encouraging, but the business community needed to keep the pressure on politicians to ensure technology advancement remained high on the Government's agenda.

"If the country was a business they could make some really hard decisions in terms of saying this is the way that our cash-flow is going to improve if we make this investment," he says.

"There's an investment to be made, let's make it because there's a bottom-line benefit."

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