by Divina Paredes

CIO50 2019 #23: Richard Kay, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise

Mar 28, 2019
Business ContinuityCloud ComputingInnovation

Richard Kay has stepped up to become chief digital officer, following nearly three years as CIO, at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

The transition further cements the raft of innovations, many of them the first of their kind in New Zealand, that he and his global team have delivered over the past three years.

“NZTE is now 100 per cent cloud-based, with no NZ-based system or application; the first New Zealand government agency to achieve this, and the first agency to have a 100 per cent cloud licensing construct with Microsoft,” says Kay.

“Every single application at NZTE is now browser based, and mobile capable,” says Kay, who was awarded New Zealand CIO of the Year in 2017.

The requirement to have traditional Windows desktops is now obsolete, as people can freely work on whatever device they please, anywhere in the world, and securely, he adds.

Legacy skills such as virtualisation, thin-client, backups, patching and so are no longer required.

“All layers of our technology stack globally have transitioned to a ‘as a service’ model, including networking and security technologies,” he says.

NZTE was the first organisation in the Southern Hemisphere to deploy a truly global implementation of SD-WAN technology to every office, therefore removing the requirement for traditional MPLS technologies.

Kay says this alone reduced operational costs by several million dollars annually.

“Now that the complete IT stack has been transformed, the entire IT team has transitioned to a customer-centric Digital team, focussing almost exclusively on systems and platforms to enable New Zealand Exporters (NZTE’s customer base) to grow bigger, better, faster, for the good of New Zealand,”he says.

The team works on cutting edge technologies to assist NZTE staff and customers.

One technology in particular is the Knowledge Graph which collates and produces relationships based on email, web, messaging, chat and phone call traffic (omni-channel).

This graph can then be queried to ask questions about ‘Who knows who?’, ‘Who knows what?’ and ‘Who knows how?’.

For example, a customer or employee can ask ‘Who is an expert on exporting baby formula to China?’, then based on the mapped/graphed data flows of our people, natural language and sentiment technology can instantly determine who the best person to talk to is.

The next phase is to connect external databases, such as Stats NZ, the World Bank, and more, to then allow customers to ask questions we didn’t know they’d ask, says Kay.

“The power of data for NZTE and its customer is not the data itself, but the relationships between data points that provide the most insight,” he explains.

The current environment is a far cry from the NZTE he joined in late 2015.

“The IT situation was dire to say the least,” he says. “Our Net Promoter Score, which indicates how likely people would recommend the service we provide, was -35, engagement was below 60 per cent. “It couldn’t get much lower, to be honest.”

He says 1.5 years later, the team got an NPS of +80 (it is now +90), and team engagement was 86 per cent. “The team is now regarded as one of the highest performing teams within the organisation.”

He explains the backdrop in which the team pulled off this radical transformation.

He says NZTE’s strategy is about supporting the agency’s global team to be able to work and collaborate from anywhere in the world.

“Our ICT strategy is about supporting NZTE’s global team with technology that works, and to provide an effective support structure when it doesn’t.”

NZTE’s superpower is our in-market connections, i.e. who we know that we can introduce an exporter to; to help them grow bigger, better, faster,” says Kay. It is our “know who” and “know how”.

Traditionally, these connections sit within people’s heads, and it’s very difficult to extract such information into a system, he says.

However, they discerned that the signals for these connections can be seen through their various messaging and unified communications systems.

If this traffic is harnessed, without impacting privacy or security, then a connections database can be graphed and or built dynamically.

This insight has led them to building a customer portal for NZ exporters, where exporters can access content, events, a peer to peer community, their NZTE workplans and more.

“We want to assist our customers to reduce their international execution risk and to grow exponentially,” he says.

“Finding connections and information for growth can therefore reduce from weeks or months, down to seconds,” he says. “The faster we can get a customer growing, the better it is for our country.”

He cites how one global company, with 330,000 people find expertise by emailing large groups of people.

This takes time, he states. “We’ve democratised this process and have reduced the process down to seconds. What previously took weeks or months, can now take place instantly. This has enormous benefits for the growth of our country. The solution itself is revolutionary, but we’re still in the prototype stage.”

Kay says this portal is leading edge, and was developed by actively working with Microsoft in Redmond.

The structure of the team also changed over time.

The legacy skill sets were replaced with application, integration, network and security skills. Some staff opted to move to other organisations where legacy skills were still the norm.

“A key challenge was, and still is, finding people in New Zealand who understand Knowledge Graph and big-data technology, particularly as our organisation is on the bleeding edge of this technology in New Zealand,” he says.

“We’ve therefore amped up our experimentation and on-the-job training for these areas, until the market catches up.”

“Attitude is everything,” he adds. “We always hire first for attitude – technology skill sets come second. We are actively training our people in blockchain, augmented reality and IoT – mainly, as mentioned through experimentation and prototyping.”

He is proud of the diversity of his team.

Throughout NZTE, there are over 100 languages spoken, he says. “We have 53 offices globally, where a significant percentage of the employees in each office are locally engaged – so as you can imagine, the diversity of our culture is extremely high!”

In the digital team alone, there are over 20 spoken languages. We utilise these languages daily, when dealing with customers, employees and vendors, says Kay.

He encourages every employee to attend Kia Kaha, a two-day offsite NZTE Maori cultural education and engagement programme.

“Personal and career development is my number one priority and is something we push for almost every day,” he says.

He encourages the team to ‘name’ where they want to be, and then do everything possible to assist them.

This is true across NZTE teams, and within the digital team, this advocacy has led to a number of career leaps.

He names a few: an Auckland CRM Developer transitioned to Business Development Manager in London, an Auckland Business Analyst transitioned to Trade Commissioner in Taiwan, a Wellington User Experience Manager transitioned to Business Development Manager in Santiago, Chile, and later on to a similar role in Madrid, Spain. The list goes on, he says.

Kay says his role at NZTE is very specific – to be chief owner and director for all things IT and digital, for the organisation, executive leadership team and the board.

“We earned their trust and respect through consistent delivery,” he says.

Today, he is regularly asked to speak to other government departments, big and small, to help with their transformation programmes.

He was also a guest lecturer at the University of Auckland’s CIO Leadership Programme. He regularly consults for and assists New Zealand export businesses, for free, on how they can ensure they are in their best digital position to grow their business.

He strongly encourages the digital team members to take on secondments with customer facing roles across NZTE.

“This type of activity allows our people to see things through the eyes of the customer, which only improves our services within the digital team.”