NZ firms want customer focus for IT

New Zealand chief executives are using IT to orientate their companies towards customers faster than most in the region but they are more concerned with the cost of implementing and running e-commerce projects than their regional peers.

Strategic Research has detected a "remarkable" shift toward the customer over the past year, says e-business analyst Rob O'Neill. Strategic asked 618 chief executives across Asia-Pacific (77 in New Zealand, 188 in Australia), What are your key IT projects under way now or planned in the next 12 months? Then: What is the principal objective of this project?

Whereas in the past Australasian organizations had cited productivity or efficiency, says O'Neill, speaking at a Great Plains road-show in Auckland, focusing on the customer has become paramount. Some 19.4 percent of all IT projects were aimed at putting customers first, compared to 14.4 percent in Australia.

Chief executives in the region overwhelmingly desire growth for their organizations, but cost is uppermost in the minds of Kiwi bosses.

Cost of implementation and cost of running projects flank finding e-business staff as key hurdles, whereas re-engineering processes is top of the list in Australia. According to Strategic, New Zealand organizations have to date spent an average of US$418,000 and expect to spend US$346,000 in the next 12 months. In Australia the figures are US$557,000 and US$682,000 respectively, with Asia topping this by some way.

Asia-Pacific heads are looking first to online sales to boost both growth and productivity, but New Zealand firms are far less optimistic about B2C revenues than Australian ones.

Less than 9 percent of all projects will be focused on online consumer sales in three years, compared to 14.1 percent in Australia.

On the B2B front New Zealanders are only less expectant three years out (27.5 percent compared to 29 percent). O'Neill puts the B2C lethargy to "problems with scale".

The upside is lower in a small market, he says, so e-business generally means inter-national business to New Zealand firms.

Great Plains Australasian head Richard Johns-tone says that though the move to e-commerce and customer-facing business is well under way, there is "huge inertia" in the business systems of the world's economy. "There is always stuff you can improve."

Locally this appears to be the case. When Johnstone asked the assembled crowd of about 150 how many could articulate their competitive formula - what makes them what they are and what they can do differently - two or three hands were raised.

When he asked how many had a comprehensive, written-down e-strategy, only one hand went up.

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