Empowering employees is the key to digital transformation for businesses.

Digital transformation has been unlocking value for New Zealand companies for a number of years now and Sarah Bowden, Microsoft's One Commercial Partner and Small, Medium and Corporate Business Director says 5G mobile has the potential to accelerate the process.

Speaking during Vodafone's Future of Connectivity event in Auckland she says while New Zealand companies are very much on their digital transformation journeys, today it is mainly about empowering employees.

"This is giving them the tools they need to be more productive; it might be mobile phones, it might be Microsoft Office 365, it can be other digital tools. We're doing well when it comes to engaging customers, there's a lot of shared information.

"But optimising operations is one area where New Zealand businesses struggle," she says.

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"It's hard because they don't have all the data and insights from their organisations in order to understand change and how to optimise.

"It's great having the data and insights, but if you're not doing anything with it, it's challenging to optimise and transform."

Sarah Bowden, Microsoft's One Commercial Partner and Small, Medium and Corporate Business Director. Photo / Supplied
Sarah Bowden, Microsoft's One Commercial Partner and Small, Medium and Corporate Business Director. Photo / Supplied

Bowden says two years ago Microsoft set up to understand more about the New Zealand industry sectors that would be most disrupted by technology change, a list including agriculture, transportation, smart cities, manufacturing and retail.

She says these all have one thing in common: "They are all sparsely located in terms of their distribution models" and they deal with multiple, often remote, end points.

Sparse distribution is something that 5G mobile networks address head on. It can mean working with the Internet of Things (IoT) and with services like edge cloud computing, or in Bowden's words, "leveraging the power of technology".

The move to IoT is happening fast. Bowden says that by the end of 2021 some 94 per cent of businesses will use the technology.

She says the opportunity from 5G linked to IoT, cloud, artificial intelligence and related technologies is huge: "It's not just about optimising your costs and reducing inefficiencies, it's about taking the savings you make and pumping them back in to opportunities that create even more value for your business."

IBM New Zealand's chief design and technology officer Isuru Fernando says effective use of 5G application will maximise all three of the wireless technology's key defining features: low latency, the peak data rates and the massive connectivity.

"We see three use cases for 5G applications," he says. "The first is around massive IoT. At one end of the spectrum this means things like smart buildings, asset tracking, smart agriculture and smart metres while at the other end there is critical IoT, things like traffic safety or using robotics for remote health.

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"In the middle there is what we call enhanced broadband. This is really a consumer play - among other things it means being able to watch 4K or 8K TV."

Isuru Fernando, IBM New Zealand's chief design and technology officer. Photo / Supplied
Isuru Fernando, IBM New Zealand's chief design and technology officer. Photo / Supplied

Fernando says it's important not to see the technologies in isolation. "The next business cycle is really about 5G 'plus' - 5G plus all the systems that can leverage 5G the most. So we talk about 5G plus AI, 5G plus the cloud and 5G plus virtual reality; there are a multitude of symbiotic 'plus' opportunities and systems that can leverage 5G.

Ultimately, 5G is all about an experience," he says. "So when you're thinking about innovation, the real question is what experience you want people to have – then designing for it."

IBM is already working globally with partners on 5G projects and there's also a worldwide IBM – Vodafone partnership around cloud and AI (artificial intelligence) that is part of a $550 million deal.

"Our partners bring 5G to the table, we bring our best-in-class apps like IBM Watson and our cloud capability, but also our design and innovation studios," he says. "It's not just an IBM story, we are stronger together."

To learn more about how 5G can benefit business innovation see Vodafone's 5G for business site.