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CIO50 2020 #8: Richard Kay, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise

  • 2019 Rank 23
  • Name Richard Kay
  • Title Chief digital officer
  • Company New Zealand Trade & Enterprise
  • Commenced role November 2015 as CIO, role changed to CDO in August 2018
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 50 staff, plus contractors and consultants
  • Richard Kay knows being Chief Digital Officer of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) means any actions he and his team undertake will have impact across international borders. 

    “Put simply, NZTE is tasked with growing our country, by several billion dollars of direct economic value annually - by supercharging our export economy,” explains Kay. 

    “The bigger, better, faster we can grow an export company, then the better it is for New Zealand.”

    “The faster we can connect an exporter to knowledge or an in-market connection, say a distributor, manufacturer or investor, then the better it is for everyone. New Zealand has to trade, in order to survive and thrive.”

    Thus, for NZTE's Digital function, the key question is: How do we use digital technology to supercharge the growth of New Zealand exporters and our country? 

    “To do this, we need to digitise much of our knowledge, connections and services we offer,” says Kay. 

    This means augmenting NZTE staff with digital intelligence to provide help and answers to exporters in a much more connected, supported, empowered and transparent way, he adds.

    Kay says this perspective cemented their thinking when they built the Digital Customer Experience Platform for NZTE.

    They consulted with a range of organisations such as Microsoft, LinkedIn, NASA and McKinsey for the beginnings of “NZTE into a Database”.

    This entailed turning what people had stored in their heads, into data that can be accessed and utilised via applications and services, he says.

    Shifting focus 

    Kay says over the past few years, NZTE’s digital focus has been on improving their own IT environment, ensuring their people have access to the technology they need, and to support the development of a “one global team”. 

    This has certainly paid off recently with the onset of COVID-19.NZTE people can work anywhere, on any device, with the same experience as sitting in the office. 

    Today, the focus has shifted to the digital services they offer to customers.

    “The world is highly connected – information, questions and answers all travel at light-speed – and NZTE and its services must be a seamless part of this conversation,” he states.

    He says the digital technology and platforms also expands their reach, and allows more customers to access their services.

    New digital platforms, including separate websites for early-stage exporters and the investment community, have been launched over the past year, with related services to be rolled out this year.

    He says this includes the development of the earlier mentioned personalised digital portal, that is “intuitive and rich with NZTE’s knowledge and insights, built on a world-leading graph database – to provide a new experience for both existing and new customers.”

    Kay says the portal will allow customers to access information as and when they need it, to better understand how NZTE can support them, and to connect with their peers, so that they can learn from the experiences of others.

    The digital team is now focusing almost exclusively on building this platform to enable New Zealand Exporters (NZTE’s customer base) to grow bigger, better, faster, for the good of New Zealand, says Kay.

    “We’re working on cutting-edge technologies, some being the first of its kind in the world, to assist our people and customers to grow our amazing country.”

    One technology in particular is the creation of a Knowledge Graph that collates and produces relationships based on email, web, messaging, documents, interactions and phone call traffic (omnichannel). 

    “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 could 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.”

    Kay says NZTE has also built, from the ground up, an intelligent contacts application for people to enter in contact information, including AI text recognition and scanning of business cards. 

    “The next phase (Insights) 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; insights being produced on the fly and automatically," he states.

    “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.” 

    “Plugged into the Graph we have a customer portal, where exporters can engage with various know-how learning, event and content channels; all designed to supercharge their growth,” he says.

    “Everything a customer does in the portal is stored in our Graph, across all of our channels, whereupon insights are provided as to where the customer should focus next.”

    He says working on these initiatives meant they have to reorganise the ICT team, and bring in new skills such as development and UX/UI. 

    “We are doubling down our investment in areas such as big data and analytics, which again requires new skills and knowledge – such as data science,” says Kay.

    “Our investment in Graph technology, an area quite new for New Zealand, is pushing us to invest more deeply in staff development.”

    A CIO’s civic role

    Kay joined NZTE as CIO in November 2015, and then became its inaugural Chief Digital Officer in August 2018.

    As CDO, Kay says he is the chief owner and director for all things IT and digital for the organisation, executive leadership team and the board. 

    He is a member of the executive team and reports regularly to the board. He also holds one-on-one meetings with board members who have a keen interest in digital transformation or technology.

    What worked for him is simply delivering on what he said he would, and taking the lowest performing team to one of the highest performing teams at NZTE in a very short period.

    Thus, he is now called upon by other government agencies, both big and small, to help with their transformation programmes. He does this as a consultant, steering group member or independent quality assessor.

    “I absolutely love to help other departments, since we have paved a rich path for them to follow,” says Kay, who believes he is the only government CIO doing this.

    He also consults for and assists - free of charge - many New Zealand exporters and guest lectures at Auckland University, as part of the CIO Leadership Programme. 

    “I help to ensure they are in the best digital position to grow their businesses for the benefit of our country.”

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