Kiwis have started disruptive businesses ranging from local beauty salon booking apps to rockets aimed at flying satellites to space but more could be thinking bigger, say sector leaders.

New Zealand risks missing out on fully capitalising on disruptive technology and business models, says Greg Doone, PwC's digital strategy and data leader.

"I wish I knew the obvious answer. There's something about the digital world that the New Zealand No 8 wire mentality has skipped a little bit but I do believe that we should be world leaders in this," he said.

While the Government says it is satisfied with how it was supporting these companies, business leaders are worried about keeping up.


A survey of chief executives by PwC which showed the proportion of them worried about the speed of technological change had risen from 37 per cent in 2014 to 68 per cent this year.

Xero chief executive Rod Drury said New Zealand disruptive businesses could do more on the world stage if there was a strategic plan.

"The frustration we would have is how can we leverage that to move the country forward? What we're seeing is a lack of leadership on the technical disruption."

While it was up to business to devise a plan, it needed the Government's blessing, he said.

But Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said his government did not want to get in the way of innovation by adding complexity.

It was however, supporting companies through the Callahan Institute with potential through matched funding and tax incentives.

"With Callahan we're prepared to back where people put in their own investments because that's a fairly sure sign of where the world wants to move."

The Government wanted to be reasonably neutral about technology and industry it followed rather than "second guess" it. One indicator of the disrupters' success - exports of software - was showing strong growth, said Joyce.


"While we always want to do more and I won't be happy until they're double or triple their size, the ICT (information communications and technology sector) is growing at the rate of just under 10 per cent a year."

Doone said the pace of disruption was about to step up.

"We see that a lot of New Zealand big businesses are fast followers and waited and watched how digital markets have evolved.

"But the speed of disruption now is such that it is becoming a flawed strategy - they're not able to follow quickly enough."

New Zealand's distance from the rest of the world had traditionally been a barrier for physical exports but technology meant smart firms here could easily operate overseas.

"The flip side of international competition is an international marketplace," he said.

Traditional retail and entertainment content businesses were on what Doone said was an endangered list rather than doomed.

The competitive threat was changing and it will not necessarily be local or vertical.

"Will the disruption to the supermarkets come from each other or elsewhere?"

In the United States the main threat to supermarkets was Amazon through which customers now ordered their groceries.

New Zealand retailers were being hurt by online shopping overseas. The percentage of retail goods bought online from overseas sites had grown from 28 per cent in 2013 to 42 per cent in the past year.

"You don't necessarily have big financial alerts above New Zealand retailers, however there's a massive market share they've missed out on."

Drury said consumer banking in this country used to be an international leader - rolling out eftpos well ahead of other countries - but wasn't any more.

He said New Zealand disrupters needed to be more ambitious. High value, smart exports were even more important, as sectors such as dairy slumped.

"We think we need to export more and take some of the load away from the primary sector - they've done a fantastic job of being export focused and the rest of us need to move away from just providing domestic services and build export businesses."

Drury said a government-backed "chief technology officer" with the same status as chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman in the Prime Minister's office would help drive high-tech disrupters but Joyce has a different view.

"Rod has a touching faith that there'll be an all-seeing and all knowing chief technology officer - it's a completely different game to the science research game.

"A chief technology officer would never have picked a Xero," he said.

"We want fewer moving parts on the government side than more because of the danger of getting in the way and having one person that will drive it in one particular direction," the minister said.