"We can all be Peter Becks in our given field."

That was the challenge business owner, commentator and futurist Paul Spain told the audience at PwC Herald Talks: The Tech Revolution in Auckland today.

How do you get into a revolutionary mindset?

Spain suggested two thought experiments. One was to think about the amount of tech change in the past 30 years, then where your organisation would be in another thirty years' time.

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The other was to imagine your business had been destroyed, then how you would rebuild it and carry out all of its operations if you could start from scratch today.

Spain noted the recent NZ Trade & Enterprise-backed Technology Investment Network TIN200 Report, which found not only that the tech sector is our fourth-largest generator of export receipts in 2019, but that on its current growth trajectory it could be number one within three to five years.

From left: Spain, Vodafone NZ Business Director Lindsay Zwart, KotahiNet founder Vikram Kumar, Dexibit CEO Angie Judge and Callaghan Innovation Future Insights Manager Jonathan Miller.
From left: Spain, Vodafone NZ Business Director Lindsay Zwart, KotahiNet founder Vikram Kumar, Dexibit CEO Angie Judge and Callaghan Innovation Future Insights Manager Jonathan Miller.

During the event's panel discussion segment, compare Heather Du Plessis-Allan challenged Vodafone NZ business director Lindsay Zwart to name real-life applications for technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 5G (fifth-generation mobile networks) and AI (artificial intelligence).

Zwart described how Alaskan Airlines is already using AR headsets to help with aircraft maintenance, giving engineers instant access to reference material and specifics about any given component their servicing. She also reeled off several real-life 5G trials in Europe, including one that utilises 5G's increased capacity and near-imperceptible latency (or lag) to operate heavy construction machinery remotely, or even carry out surgery from afar.

More broadly, Zwart observed that the accelerating pace technology advancement was changing the nature of business competition.

"We can all be Peter Becks in our given field," says tech commentator and futurist Paul Spain

"It used to be big eats small. Now it's fast eats slow," she said.

"Sometimes we need to take a risk not to be left behind."

But although all members of the panel were unashamedly pro the tech revolution, all warned, in various ways, that enthusiasm has to be properly channeled.

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"Hiring a chief AI officer is silly," said Callaghan Innovation Future Insights Manager Jonathan Miller ⁦noting a trend in some overseas companies that puts technology ahead of the business.

Similarly, Zwart said she preferred it when customers started with a business problem then looked for tech options to solve it, rather than adopting the trendy technology of the moment for the sake of it.

But properly deployed, there were a lot of positives.

"It's great that here in NZ were using technology to help with dangerous tasks, such as the use of robotics in forestry," Miller said.

Even if you're more conservative by nature Dexibit founder Angie Judge said, "Make sure that you're making a few brave investments into your technology portfolio. Don't let your business be comprised entirely of legacy systems."

And KotahiNet founder Vikram Kumar also advocated a balanced approach.

"Think through how your business can be transformed by technology. Take a strategic approach and recognise the huge potential, as well as the risk," he said.