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Digitising the nation to propel New Zealand forward

In the context of New Zealand’s continued evolution into a digital nation, a strategic approach combining leadership, technology, people and processes, will help organisations and industries respond to – and overcome – complex challenges and achieve great outcomes to propel New Zealand forward into a bright digital future.

Aurecon’s market research – Our Digital Futures – tackles how we can make sense of the ‘now’, through the first wave of results – The Digital Landscape. In this article, Rebecca Strang, Digital Practice Leader at Aurecon New Zealand, examines how working in a real-time digital environment and taking a more holistic approach to digital ways of working is essential to becoming future ready.

Less than one month after the November 2016 earthquake struck New Zealand’s South Island, something unprecedented occurred. Faced with communities isolated and without fresh water after critical infrastructure was damaged by the quake, in an industry first, government, infrastructure owners and large contractors came together and less than a year later all damaged road, rail and harbour infrastructure around Kaikoura had been restored, rebuilt and communities re-connected

Through a combination of technology, people, leadership, a common goal and a shared vision, teams came to the table and pulled together to overcome seemingly insurmountable issues. While collaboration between government, industry and community – plus hard work – played a major role in the Kaikoura post-quake recovery, a critical factor to success was that it embraced a fundamental change in approach from the norm. Instead of disparate, siloed stakeholders; a connected, interlinked approach was taken where many systems, processes and people were united, enabling decisions to be made quickly and the project to move forward at pace. 

The result was a closing of gaps and turning isolated stakeholders into an integrated team. Aurecon’s recent Our Digital Futures research reaffirms that this approach delivers results. With the right leadership driving ‘digital’ in an organisation, a shared understanding of what ‘digital’ means, alignment with a business strategy, and the right digital tools, organisations “can overcome challenges, be more efficient, work smarter and generate new opportunities.” 

Embracing ‘digital’ as business as usual

But this approach to digital ways of working shouldn’t only be wheeled out in times of crisis like Kaikoura. If our collective goal is to transform New Zealand into a digital nation to achieve a productive and competitive economy, then we must apply these approaches on a broader scale, across sectors, as business as usual. Only then will we enact the scale of transformation needed to succeed in our everchanging and complex world.

When strong leadership and a clear digital strategy are in place, organisations can look at what they want to achieve, what decisions need to be made and what information is needed to inform those decisions.

It also enables consideration to be given to culture and skills, and what is being done, or needs to be done, to change work practices downstream, across sectors and with consumers. By creating cultures where people and organisations are receptive to trying new things, to thinking differently, to challenging themselves in their approach, we can achieve different, better, results. When thinking is applied consistently across industry it will lead to meaningful contributions to New Zealand’s growing digital economy.

Leadership of technology drives value

Although the journey to becoming a digital nation isn’t about technology alone, understanding the role of – the right – technology in this growing digital economy is pivotal. Tech such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, visualisation, data analytics, digital data capture tools and workflows, and creative technologies are helping to connect and shape organisations, communities and cities. But they need to be clearly linked to business and community drivers in order to deliver outcomes.

Digitisation provides a framework, a common language. With a common language and structure in the sources of information, problems and solutions become clearer. It enables faster access to information and easier analysis of data – which are critical to providing clarity around decision-making. Without a clear understanding of what information is required and for what purpose, management of that information, seamless access to it or leadership around how it is implemented, you can’t make the decisions you need to make and you won’t realise the opportunities that are possible.

When it comes to infrastructure, which by its nature is challenging to deliver, the right technology can expedite the delivery of solutions through insights which inform better decision making. In Kaikoura, getting the right data and information in the right hands enabled speedy and intelligent decisions to be made. 3D visualisation allowed for the testing of various design solutions in a real-time digital environment. This visual, interactive and humanised approach helped NZ Transport Agency and KiwiRail to see a different perspective, allowing them to move forward quickly with clear decisions.

Technology also has the potential to help organisations gain competitive advantage and stay ahead of the digital curve. Those using scalable technologies and tools to digitise their estate (be it a portfolio of buildings or network of infrastructure assets), are optimising performance, improving operations, productivity, growing and innovating. With a digital estate portfolio, they are responding more rapidly to changing conditions, making better decisions and improving asset performance overall.

The power of strong leadership

In such a complex digital landscape, without leadership around planning and implementation of digital initiatives, there is a risk of being distracted, running off course and placing effort in areas which reap minimal value. 

To achieve these outcomes, and keep ahead of the game, strong leadership is essential. And with broad uptake and commitment of this approach, we can all contribute to securing New Zealand’s place as a leading digital nation, now and into the future. 

The first wave of Our Digital Futures was released in July 2019. The research will be released over three waves as The Digital Landscape, The Future of Digital and Your Digital Strategy.

To learn more and read the full report for the first wave, visit ‘Our Digital Futures’ at Aurecon.

About the Author

Rebecca Strang is Aurecon's Global Service Leader, Land Infrastructure & Spatial Insights at Aurecon. 

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse as 'How strong leadership can propel NZ forward as a digital nation' by Rebecca Strang.

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