‘Leverage local to go global’ – Microsoft NZ Partner of the Year 2020, Enlighten Designs

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Cat Mules

What’s behind Enlighten Design’s Microsoft Partner of the Year award win? We speak to Damon Kelly, CEO and Founder.

Damon, congratulations on the win. What’s behind Enlighten Designs’ success?

Damon Kelly, Enlighten Designs CEO

We’re passionate about delivering human-centered technology solutions. It’s really about utilising technology to help communities and people in need, as well as business.

Our whole team feels that making a positive change in the world is critical and we select clients’ who’s values dovetail with our own. Companies and community look to us to solve problems. Our team makes impact by pushing the boundaries of technology.

The world is at a crossroads. Our planet, our communities and our economies are hurting. We feel that using technology for good can enable real positive change in the world.

Our Power was important because people in WEL’s local community had energy bill’s more than 10% of their income. We were brought in to create a fully automated Power retailer.

We used Microsoft Azure to enable this. It was run by 3 people, so that WEL could pass the savings on to the families in need of food and clothing, not just trying to keep the lights on.

Once this success had been realised, WEL got us to do it again, this time to give neighbouring Raglan a platform to trade environmentally sustainable local energy sources.

For Sustainable Coastlines, our technology enables people to look after the coastlines and waterways they love. This was driven by a strong personal vision – when co-founder Camden Howitt got hit in the face with a nappy, he knew he couldn’t take any longer what is happening to our beaches and pollution. Supporting these visions of a sustainable future is important to keep New Zealand at the forefront of sustainability, climate change and healthy oceans.

Our whole team feels that making a positive change in the world is critical and we select clients’ who’s values dovetail with our own. Companies and community look to us to solve problems. Our team makes impact by pushing the boundaries of technology.

The world is at a crossroads. Our planet, our communities and our economies are hurting. We feel that using technology for good can enable real positive change in the world.

What makes Enlighten Designs stand out, compared to other cloud-based technology companies in New Zealand?

It’s our focus on using cloud technology for innovation. We often find that our clients are driven to solve new problems or face uncertainty but need help with the technology side.

We’ve always built beautiful websites, however now the world has changed. It’s not just enough to build a great website anymore, web and mobile are now the primary channel for most business. The websites we now build are cloud based on platforms like Sitecore with CRM integration, nurture marketing and lead scoring within them to directly deliver sales and bottom line value.

I’m so proud of what the team has done with Power BI. Their focus on pushing it to its limits led to Enlighten creating a collection of custom visuals that have been downloaded over 275,000 times. We also currently hold the record of the world’s most viewed Power BI report in the world.

We’ve been able to really differentiate ourselves by focusing on our core technologies to become global leaders. It’s that focus that allows us to really master Microsoft technology to create amazing outcomes for our clients.

Our modern workplace team especially around SharePoint has been extremely award-winning. We leverage our history with Office 365 and bring in new innovative technologies like PowerApps and Microsoft Teams to help enable remote work, which became so important with world being impacted by Covid.

Another core differentiation is how we ensure we have enduring technical partnerships with our clients. This is our ongoing focus beyond delivering a solution. Enlighten has a team called Digital Response doing both evergreen support agreements and hyper-care on the applications we build across all of our practices.

Our clients want partners that really are specialists in their technology, with repeatable reliable processes so they get consistent results. Our focus is on getting the right balance between a repeatable framework and IP that we can apply, while customising our approach to ensure we get tailor solutions for our clients that also reduce commercial risk.

What are the main problems Enlighten Designs is driven to solve with cloud technology?

The problems our team really love to solve are the tricky ones for our clients or the problems challenging communities which are in real need.

I’m especially proud of how the team helped Te Waka the Waikato Regional Economic agency support Waikato Businesses in responding to Covid. Within days we helped them stand up a COVID-19 crisis site which enabled them to reach small business in Hamilton affected by the lockdown and for local SMB’s to reach out and receive support and advice.

We loved how Microsoft recognised us not only for the innovative work we did for Gallagher’s with their Sitecore digital marketing platform, and visualisation of Port of Otago’s port in Power BI with full animation and collision detection, but also for communities with our Sustainable Coastlines, Our Power and Ragland Local Energy solutions.

A vision of a sustainable future drives Enlighten’s tech focus.

What recommendations do you have for New Zealanders aiming to make a powerful impact with technology?

Two main recommendations. The first, to ensure that New Zealanders are leveraging the cloud. We have these huge global vendors pumping millions of dollars of investment into innovating and then exposing this innovation to the world. They have created a platform that at a fraction of the cost allows you to build your own innovative solutions on. You can use these platforms to create solutions that change people’s worlds, at low cost with immense scalability.

When you leverage the cutting edge innovation from cloud providers often you see that your business or solution starts to sky rocket with growth, that’s where the magic is, that’s when you get the second most valuable part of a cloud solution, infinite scalability.

One of my strongest recommendations for New Zealand is not just to think local but to also think global. Don’t build just for NZ, build for the world. We have such amazing talent in all of our companies that is truly world class.

It’s also worth looking at how can you apply technologies like machine learning to your business. Chat bots which were initially a gimmick are now solving key real-world problems especially for customer service and call centres. Technologies like Microsoft Neural TTS are making bot more human and bridging the gap between technology and human experiences.

What are the ingredients behind a successful business model in the New Zealand context?

New Zealand really is at edge of the world, and innovation happens at the edge. You can really see this with New Zealand companies with our amazing ability to punch above our weight in innovation.

To be successful in New Zealand you need to be a good human. It’s important not only to do this because it’s the right thing, but because of the size of our market. People that don’t support others or go for a quick dollar or quick win at someone else’s expense get known quickly for being underhanded and untrustworthy. The great thing about New Zealand is that being good is also good for business.

The next ingredient and the most important is an age-old truth. Your people are everything. Get the best people, develop them, grow them, and then magic happens and your business will soar.

Enlighten’s tech solutions are created using Microsoft Azure, in partnerships with local and global community.

New Zealand innovators needs change depending on where they’re at in their business journey – what are Enlighten’s recommendations for the best ways to be innovative?

Entrepreneurs starting up are generally cash poor… This causes limited runway to get their start-up to fly. A great thing about the cloud is that it enables leveraging and innovating over the top of existing building blocks of massive global vendors. Plus, with the cloud you can re-start – just turn off the cloud services if an idea doesn’t work and start again.

COVID was a huge accelerator for digital transformation, turning businesses, industries, usual ways of doing businesses into outdated models overnight!

How we support our clients to respond is to use the cloud to pivot and trial new business models quickly. Using cloud innovation infrastructure to build their new future, we’ve helped them get to market faster.

We also cannot go alone. To meet the growing demands of our customers we need to be thinking specialization and collaboration. By embracing our partner network, we can create more innovation with a global impact by being able to create scale with partners.

Stay tuned for a podcast interview with Damon on the ‘why’ of Enlighten Designs. 

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Cat Mules

Umbrellar's Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat's inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.

Enlighten Designs

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Enlighten Designs creates beautiful, user-friendly digital solutions. As an award-winning creative technical agency, our mission is to deliver digitally transformative experiences for customers ranging from small businesses to enterprise clients. Founded in 1998, Enlighten Designs is based on our passion to bring exceptionally designed, innovative and custom technology solutions from the shores of New Zealand to the world.


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Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world.

Umbrellar Powered by Pax8

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Get the Cloud, Done Right. Umbrellar Powered by Pax8 is New Zealand's prime Professional and Managed Cloud Services specialist. Recently acquired by Pax8, we're transitioning into something "harder, better, faster, stronger" (thank you, Daft Punk!). Watch this space!

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