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New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem

The magical special effects that come out of Wellington’s Weta Digital are fire-breathing, big-screen evidence that New Zealand is a digital-innovation hothouse. And it goes way beyond the movies. Digital Planet 2017, a study by the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts, measured the digital evolution of 60 countries, evaluating supply and demand conditions, institutional environment and innovation and change. It ranked New Zealand among the Stand Out nations, classed as having high levels of development and innovation. Better still, New Zealand, the UAE and Singapore were lauded as the “standouts of the Stand Out segment”.

Australia was consigned to the warning Stall Out zone, with momentum slowing. So how has a country of 4.7 million leapfrogged its much bigger neighbour and much of the world? “New Zealand is a really good sandbox for digital development,” says Kevin Hart, CEO of GE New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. “I’m seeing a lot of digital initiatives in the pipeline here, and most companies I deal with now have a Chief Digital Officer in their structure, as well as a Chief Information Officer. The roles are quite different which business are recognising. Companies now see a digital strategy as being key not only to their growth, but also to their future survival.”

Contact Energy and the Canterbury District Health Board are just two Kiwi companies that have won global attention this year. Both presented their stories at GE New Zealand Digital Day in Auckland on November 15. GE Reports caught up with them at the end of the program to find out about their digital journeys.

Contact Energy: integration not transformation

Andy Sibley, head of business improvement at Contact Energy, has a great tip for companies embarking on their digital journey: don’t call it transformation. “A transformation is a program that’s got a start and an end, and that’s not what this is about,” says his colleague Hema Pericherla, technology manager for the power company. They first presented The Evolution of Digital at Contact Energy at GE’s Minds+Machines industrial internet event in San Francisco in October. “That point came through a lot at Minds and Machines: stop calling it transformation,” says Sibley. “Digital has got to simply be about ‘let’s do things better, let’s stop chafing sticks to create fire, let’s get more efficient’.”

Sibley says that in order “to take the fear factor out of digital” it’s essential to begin by gathering proof incrementally. “You look at a part of the business where a digital view will provide better insights and create better value. You think big, start small, and let it percolate and then it will be a long-lasting change. But if you call it transformation, people either think, ‘well that’s it, my job’s gone!’, or they think, ‘two years later these nerds will move out and we’ll move on!’ ”

To get buy-in across the company, at Contact they began using digital tools in an area that everyone cares about the most deeply: safety. It’s obviously critical in a 24/7 business operating across multiple sites throughout New Zealand, “and it’s something that our CEO holds dear,” says Sibley. “We demonstrated the value of data providing great insights through our process safety area, and then it made easier the discussion around everything else … then it was, blimey, what if we applied this digital view to our trading area, and to our steamfileds? So we just keep rolling on and having new conversations as the different bits of value are delivered by digital.”

Sibley says another important part of the strategy was two years of intensive programs with Contact’s diverse leadership team, “breaking down silos and getting all the levels of the business to understand what drives them and what connects them, and that allowed us to move much more quickly into what a digital vision could be”. Today, the Contact culture puts agility, innovation, culture and beliefs, skills and leadership and new performance metrics in the digital bucket, all underpinning their mission to continually improve. Sibley says they began with improving safety as the sole objective, and only moved on to set financial goals later. Contact now has a target of $NZ25-$40 million of value annually, through savings and productivity from digital initiatives, once it has “percolated” through every business unit and out to customers.

“We’re all wanting to explore data and digital,” says technology manager Pericherla of the innovation culture in New Zealand. “Beginning with the safety journey at Contact gave us a real boost, because it was about our people.” She says that finding the right staff for digital – data scientists for instance – is a challenge, and also an opportunity for nimble employees to retrain as well as those now choosing study tracks. Sibley thinks “there’s a much more open way of giving things a shot in New Zealand … you just need to make sure it’s scaleable. We can try pilots and start small and get on the journey.”

Canterbury District Health Board: primed for innovation

GE Reports has already told the inspiring story of doctors Richard French and Ross Kennedy, who set about analysing the data from Christchurch Hospital’s anaesthesia machines to see how much of the expensive inhalants were being used in procedures. The gases are among hospitals’ top expenses and their chlorofluorocarbon content makes them evil to the environment, too. Once a patient is under, the flow rate of these gases can be safely and dramatically reduced, but a busy anaesthetist might take some time to get to that task, using more gas than necessary. Christchurch Hospital, already proud of their standing as a “low-flow shop”, partnered with GE in a global-first pilot, where data from the hospital’s anaesthetic machines was analysed in near-real time by GE data scientists in the US.

Dr Richard French (right), clinical director of anaesthesia for Canterbury District Health Board in Christchurch, New Zealand and Professor Ross Kennedy worked together with GE to pilot a study using data to improve the use of anaesthetic machines.

Diving deep into the data, they eventually discovered that there were significant savings to be made if doctors were made aware of what they were doing. French and Kennedy presented their findings at the prestigious Euroanaesthesia 2017 in Geneva in June. GE’s Carestation Insights is now available as a suite of applications built on Predix, GE’s operating system for the Industrial Internet.

“The plan is to roll it out to across all the theatres and to continue improving the dashboard and the way we use it,” says Stella Ward, executive lead, innovation and IT at Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB). “The team’s quite interested in it being an app, and we’re also exploring using versions of it on other devices; the next one we’re thinking about is respiratory devices, particularly in the ICU.”

Several factors made New Zealand the ideal place for the anaesthesia data pilot: “The right clinical engagement, the right IT infrastructure, they were already collecting data and using GE technology … it enabled us to do some truly groundbreaking work,” says GE Healthcare’s Anna Shaw.

“At the moment, we’re only in the public health system in Christchurch, but there’s definitely a potential to take it into private hospitals in the city, too,” explains CDHB’s Ward. For it to spread further, she says, “We’ll need to prove that we can use the dashboard on non-GE equipment, because other theatres might have different machines, but the insights from the dashboard would be useful.”

Creating an innovation-centric Health Precinct is an anchor project of Christchurch’s earthquake recovery plan. “That’s the opportunity for us to think about collaborating with data scientists from the University of Canterbury and graduates from the Ara Institute, and how we continue to grow the capability of startups in Christchurch city, and power it with big companies and big public agencies like the CDHB,” says Ward. “We want to do the same thing that GE’s doing, which is to bring that startup mentality inside what has traditionally been perceived as a large, slow-moving bureaucracy.”

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