Three tech leaders on riding out the pandemic

Vomle Springford

Three New Zealand tech industry leaders share how they’ve fared during the pandemic, the realities of working from home and ideas for how the sector can bounce back.

For Blair Scott, Founder and Director of Wellington-based IT solutions provider Walkerscott, one of the most challenging things during the Alert Level 4 lockdown was trying to cram an office chair into an Uber. Unlike some businesses, working remotely was intuitive – the 35-member team has always done this in some form, as the business has offices overseas.

“What we’re not shielded from is the fact our business is completely dependent on our customer base to invest and spend in technology. So the biggest challenge for us as a small business is the uncertainty.”

“We’ve had a really mixed bag, some customers have been massively hit while others have benefitted. The challenge will be in the slightly longer tail of a recession.”

Connon Daly, General Manager and Co-Founder of The I.T Team in Christchurch, says as a whole, the Canterbury and NZ tech industry is on the up and up.

“We know a few tech companies that are not in as good a position as February – a bit of a drop – but still pretty solid.” For them to grow at the rate they were before, they need the economy to recover.

Paul Scott, Chief of Platforms & Partnerships at ClearPoint, believes the NZ tech sector is well-positioned to help contribute to the economic recovery.

“What has been proven through the lockdown is where you’re physically located doesn’t matter in this new norm. This provides the opportunity for NZ tech companies to help export our innovative solutions and services to the world.”

He says NZ businesses will need to be leaner and more efficient. “This will create opportunities for companies that can provide solutions that can help organisations modernise and migrate from their legacy applications quickly, especially to off-the-shelf solutions.”

ClearPoint delivered the WhatsApp Covid-19 chatbot solution for the Government, which was critical during Levels 3 and 4 to communicate official Covid-19 information. They are also working with the Government to look at the feasibility of Bluetooth wearable technology for contact tracing. “The results so far have been very encouraging, especially the potential to support keeping the country out of needing to go back to level 4 and enabling the border to be opened sooner.”

Blair Scott says there were probably some Government departments caught short and it could invest in cloud technology with NZ-based medium-size firms. They could also help SMEs who have taken a financial hit by leveraging the tax system or GST.

“Cashflow is a big factor for small business; that in my mind is where the government could pull levers to support business in the last half of the year. The simplification of taking out loans is good but when the economy isn’t looking positive, the last thing people want, regardless of how attractive it is, is to take on debt.”

Clearpoint’s Paul Scott says now is the time to invest in systems of national significance, just like we invest in roads of significance. “Let’s take the time to modernise and digitise government services and let’s open the door to kiwi companies to do that.”

Government procurement could be simpler – “no one likes RFPs” and rather than just repondsing to government needs,tech companies with innovative ideas to pitch need a forum.

The pandemic has also created a discussion around the future of the workplace.

“It’s accelerated us all five years,” says Blair Scott. “I think as a society we need to be careful we don’t miss this opportunity to take advantage of it and use it as a catalyst for change for better. Not everybody wants to work at home and not everyone wants to work in the office, so let’s have a business environment that allows people to work in the place most productive for the type of work they do, their personality types and their living situations.”

Clearpoint’s team already had a detailed business continuity plan after a fire closed the office a few years ago. But Paul Scott says he’s never had so many back-to-back meetings with customers, by cutting out travel times. “Given this level of productivity, many people are asking, do I really need to be in a physical office 5 days a week?”

Daly says there are some things that don’t work as well from home. “You can’t collaborate; you can’t stand around a whiteboard and do those types of things… so there are things to work through. Generally, everyone is really positive. More family time, more time for hobbies and exercise – less Burger King, which was right next to our office.”

He says the challenge will be for workers who “want to go back to the old way” – just because they want to go to the office, doesn’t mean others will.

A major change for many people was schools and daycares shutting, leaving them juggling work and childcare.

Blair Scott says it was a positive experience but was definitely a challenge for his three kids to have mum and dad home but not always available.

Daly has a three-year-old and his wife was working from home too, which was hard at first. He says working from home has created change and reduced the formality of working.

Paul Scott says it was “completely a balancing act between sanity and insanity. Key was flexibility and not holding on to any specific ‘old’ ways of doing things, especially when it came to juggling the kids.”

Blair Scott says his company is already rewriting their workplace policies. “We are definitely not going back to the way it was in the short and medium term.”

Vomle Springford

Vomle is a journalist who enjoys writing about people doing interesting things in New Zealand and abroad. She was most recently editor at noted.co.nz.

Walkerscott

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Walkerscott is a Microsoft Dynamics business applications led consultancy who differentiate ourselves through our focus on analytics and reporting. A Microsoft Gold partner across multiple disciplines that deliver solutions across industries and business sizes from Forestry to Consumer goods to Government.

The I.T. Team

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The I.T. Team delivers reliable, well managed and cost-effective I.T. services to medium-sized organisations around New Zealand. Our focus is on providing proactive technology advice, backed by fixed price, best in class Managed Services.

ClearPoint

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ClearPoint is a digital design and engineering company, creating world-class digital solutions for NZ and Australia’s leading organisations.

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