Kirsten Patterson is the chief executive at the Institute of Directors in New Zealand.

The late Sir Paul Callaghan once said that for New Zealand to grow, "we need to make it the place talent wants to live".

Callaghan's vision was a country where science and innovation are hand in hand, and talent is fostered through making it a world-class place to live.

This is a New Zealand where we make the most of being a small nation, creating a fully connected and nimble economy that enables our young people see hope in their future.

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But in getting there, New Zealand will face a number of challenges.

The World Economic Forum's Future of Work report estimates that in the years 2015-2020 there will be a loss globally of 7.1 million jobs due to automation. The jobs that will be most vulnerable will be those that are easily automated, meaning we will need to work together as a society to adjust.

New Zealand is riding the wave of unprecedented historical change caused by the uptake of digital technology, where our ability to create resilient and agile organisations will determine the impact we leave on the world.

This is a different world from the old New Zealand – one where the land of milk and honey has come of age in the world and become connected. The old rules of geography no longer have the same sway, and our regions and towns have the capacity to lock into the grid to sell products and services around the world.

Last year, we co-authored a call to action paper on artificial intelligence urging the Government to put together a high-level working group on its impacts.

Since then, we have been pleased to see the formation of the AI Forum (a group compiled of universities and industry) and the Government announced a new focus on the future of work.

Our research shows that directors are aware of the changes that are coming. Each year, we take the pulse of the director community through our annual Director Sentiment Survey.

Digital technology is anticipated to lead to the automation of 7.1 million global jobs by 2020. Photo/123RF.
Digital technology is anticipated to lead to the automation of 7.1 million global jobs by 2020. Photo/123RF.

Our 2017 survey showed 58 per cent of directors expect technological disruption will impact on their organisation – a rise from 47 per cent in 2016.

Increased regulatory compliance, in conjunction with a more complex operating environment, including the potential impact of technological disruption was also being felt with 68 per cent of directors feeling that they are spending more time on risk oversight in the boardroom.

It is not surprising given the speed and breadth of change that directors can feel underprepared for this transition.

Our 2017 survey showed that director confidence in the capability of their boards to deal with the digital revolution is declining – down from 35 per cent in 2016 to 30 per cent.

This may be because directors now have much more of an understanding of the ways in which digital technology will impact on their businesses.

We have been working with directors across the country to ensure that New Zealand is prepared for these coming changes, and are aware of the impact that trends that seem far away in the future might have on our workplaces.

Preparing doesn't mean that directors need to know how to code, or the ins and outs of marketing (that's operational and management), but it does mean they need to have an understanding of where the world is moving.

Directors need to have access to the latest information and trends from around the world, and to build their businesses in a future-focused manner that can cope with the next disruption from companies like YourDrive, new technological developments, or the latest malware and cyber breach.

For an economy that is primarily composed of small to medium enterprises, this awareness is critical.

Boards can also work to prepare their organisation for digital changes by looking at the skills composition of their board, and recruiting directors with technical knowledge.

Alternatively, boards can also look to how they might be able to increase their technological capacity in their organisations through recruiting talent with tech skills.

New Zealand has a unique opportunity to take advantage of these changes. We have a highly educated, highly skilled workforce, and access to technology in our homes and education that means we are well placed to emerge as a world leader.

We have an emerging tech scene that is growing in size and gaining international recognition.

We also have the advantage of being small in size, which means we are well placed to connect government, industry and not-for-profits together to create new solutions to old problems. Boards play a vital role in ensuring that New Zealand remains future-focused and a place that talent wants to live.