SciBlogs

Archive November 2012

What a problem for ikeGPS…..managing its growth! Peter Kerr Nov 29

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ikeGPS chief executive Glenn Milnes with the hand-held device, with plenty of back-end smarts, that can measure and model anything

The ikeGPS has the world at its feet – so much so it is going to have to carefully decide which of many markets it should attack first.

The hand-held device integrates hardware and software and enables anyone from a utility to a mining company to measure and model anything.

By taking a photo combined with laser measurement, and knowing exactly where the device is located through GPS (global positioning system), all parts of the picture can be captured as data.

Any part of the picture can be measured accurately, and that information added to the data stream.

What it means in practice is a tool and package that, for utilities that have assets such as poles for power and broadband distribution which need verification of location and use, a cost reduction of two thirds says ikeGPS chief executive Glenn Milnes.

“Compared to such companies using a measuring stick, we can improve employee productivity by 70%,” he says.

The pole utility measuring and modelling market in the USA alone is estimated to be worth US$5-6 billion alone. But considering industry segments such asenergy and mining who have external assets which they want and need to know where they’re located, how big they are and what condition they’re in; then you’re talking massive market potential.

And also a slight conundrum for Wellington-based ikeGPS.

“The biggest mistake a business can make is try to cover the whole market,” says Milnes, who has a background in the European telecoms market, and in the Wellington venture capital industry before moving to the CEO role 18 months ago.

So, a strategic decision has been made to pursue the utility , defense and intelligence markets in America, and a sales and marketing office is being ramped up in Colorado, with the back end technical R&D and manufacture to remain in Wellington.

The currently 25 person team will look to add another 15 staff, mostly in New Zealand, mostly in the software interface area.

This also indicates a change in the company’s approach, founded in 2005 by current CTO Leon Toorenburg.

“Even two years ago we were all about the hardware,” says Milnes.

“Today, in terms of our engineering resources 70% of what we do is software driven.”

And though ikeGPS has patents and trade secrets around the hardward, its increased software focus is to “provide an end-to-end industry solution,” he says.

Thus, ikeGPS makes its backend software, proliferated on a customer’s IT platform easy to use and install.

To take advantage of the massive interpretation and measurement ability of this system though – well, the customer needs the hardware. And obviously, while there’s competition, ikeGPS sees itself being a few steps ahead at the moment.

“There’s a few layers to our competitive advantage,” Milnes says. “With the software and algorithms needing to network together, and the calibration required; it’s really not that straightforward. It really isn’t just about the hardware.”

The elegance, security and ease of use of the end-to-end solution provided by ikeGPS is also one of the reasons the company has been able to sign a recent development contract with In-Q-Tel, a US company which carries out a lot of strategic development for American intelligence agencies.

ikeGPS is the first Australasian company to be accredited by In-Q-Tel, and will bring remote measurement for asset security assessments.

“They have the capacity to bring a lot of really big customers to us,” he says.

Which again brings the NZ company back to the ‘dilemma’ of what markets to attack first.

Milnes is confident that the private and venture capital backed company can scale up sales and distribution (and NZ manufacture of the hardware).

A decision will probably be required in the next few years around further partnering with others.

“At the end of the day, we’re a platform,” says Milnes. “Do we let others build on it is a strategic question, along with how we’d manage that?”

In the meantime, ikeGPS soon shifts its sales and marketing focus to the US, and will concentrate on the niche vertical market of companies who have poles (and lots of stuff hanging off them).

“We’re looking to become dominant, experts in that; at the moment,” he says.

The company has doubling yearly growth, and Milnes envisages that will continue – at the very least.

The company’s keen to raise its profile and continue to attract clever engineering minds as it continues to develop its products and solutions.

Managing such growth will be a challenge – the past 12 months has seen a lot of change, and preparing for the next phase is equally so.

But, as challenges go, managing growth isn’t a bad quandary to have!

P.S.

In case you’re wondering what ikeGPS stands for; it’s ‘I know everything’.


What would responsible pastoralism mean? (A strategic ‘glue’) Peter Kerr Nov 27

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My contention is, by branding our method (pasture Harmonies) and taking that through on products to the consumer, NZ Inc would become the global custodians for responsible pastoralism.

What would that mean?

In one word, ‘glue’.

I argue that as nation of rugged individualists, the thing that has been missing for our farmers, our agritech, our marketers and our publics is a common sense of purpose.

Sure, there’s a sense that agriculture’s the backbone of the country’s economy and a worthy, if dull, image we take when we’re offshore. It’s hardly riveting though.

And across a plethora of ag industry reports and plans and initiatives of the past 40 years, the constant message is that ‘we’ need a shared strategy.

The obvious point, the obvious underpinning where we share a story and method, has never been put forward as a strategic platform.

But why would this act as‘glue’.

Firstly, in a world in which knowledge is seen as having value, it would clearly indicate that there’s a heck of a lot of knowhow in how we’ve learned to convert sunshine, soil and fresh air into fantastic products.

Branding our method would also enable farming to be a lot less defensive, and provide an underpinning argument for farmers’ contribution to our country.

Not the least, it would be a separate component, alongside the electric fences, animal and plant genetics and other agritech components that we sell overseas.

That is, instead of giving away (and implying that it has no value) the knowledge component of responsible pastoralism, we’d have a means to charge for the knowhow.

And on that overseas note, we’d also have a platform on which to partner with others.

If we enable other (world) farmers to be part of our brand, and also make more money, not only could we profit, but we’d be clearly seen to be spreading and encouraging the adoption of responsible pastoralism.

All it takes is for us to name/brand what we do.

Maybe it is just too simple?

Maybe we’d rather look for a complicated strategy that no one can explain in a sentence?

Maybe a common sense view isn’t commonsense after all?

P.S. I envisage that individual farmers would sign in/up to an as yet to be defined philosophy and statement of a sustainable responsible pastoralism. However, it probably would require no more than the current good practice, put down simply on one sheet of paper.


Callaghan Innovation – time for a concrete and practical illustration of its intent Peter Kerr Nov 22

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OK, now that we have the naming of the Advanced Technology Institute out of the way, and its genesis to Callaghan Innovation has been carried out, it’s time to move on from the warm fuzzies.

The thinking behind the new name and logo is, let’s call it an ‘interesting explanation’ and let it lie – can be found here.

There’s a statement in the same newsletter number two, that the name of the organisation shouldn’t turn into an abbreviation or set of initials….wishful hoping I’m afraid. CI or C.I. it will become once first named in any story.

There’s also,

“our thinking definitely veered towards the new organisation being first and foremost an attitude, an approach, a new conversation and activity, rather than a fixed position or a building.”

Well, if that means practically showing or discussing what that means – fire ahead.

Because it is easy enough to talk around the edges as the CI’s underpinning operating principles demonstrate:

  • Open and consistent processes
  • Focus on significant economic value-add
  • Firm and industry focused
  • Effectiveness through collaboration
  • “Access not ownership” of specialist science, engineering, design and technology services”

As we speak there’s a business case being developed, which will be about “doing more” (the newsletter’s quotation marks), and, we’re reassured, not about an exercise in moving the deckchairs.

All of which will be of little comfort you suspect to the R&D community, private research providers, and numerous consultants involved in commercialisation (let alone private industry).

This also includes the fledgling KiwiNet, the CRI and universities created group/hug commercialisation entity which came into being as the would-be Ministry of Science & Innovation National Network of Commercialisation Centres initiative failed to arrive.

This current CI fuzziness is even more reason for it to come out with some specific and practical illustration(s) of how it is going to work.

I would suggest that the CI needs a type of ‘stress testing’ before it, nominally, comes into being on 1 Feb. 2013.

Because the danger for it, and the country, is that CI becomes a proposal with little support if presented as a fait accompli.

And given that there’s precious few working days left between now and Feb. 1, creating and building stakeholder engagement, rather than policy development, is THE crucial element.

Or, to put it another way, and something I’m sure the late Sir Paul Callaghan would’ve endorsed – give us something concrete we can actually chip away at….or endorse.

Quickly.


We all own our agricultural story…..that’s the problem Peter Kerr Nov 20

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This post also runs at pasture Harmonies.

The trouble is; we all own New Zealand’s agricultural story.

That is, the huge collective effort that went into figuring out, developing and improving the soil, pasture and plant/animal interaction that is our pastoral method: is part of our collective birthright.

Unfortunately, NZ Inc has never (and as such never could) apply for a worldwide patent for the knowledge. There’s none of it that’s uniquely identifiable. If, perhaps way back in the 1930s when some of the eminent scientists of the day were working up their theories of how to grow grass/clover better, there may have been some form of IP we could’ve called ‘ours’.

That horse has well and truly bolted these days – indeed, there’s mid-Western American universities who would attempt to claim the mantle.

However, no one has ever claimed the STORY.

No one has ever said, ‘well, we work with rather than against nature, seasonally’. If you want a comparison, it is much like the way the Seregenti ‘works’; with animals grazing then moving on to new, fresh pastures in a circular pattern that is probably as old as the time we’ve been walking upright.

To mix metaphors, this method of growing, grazing, resting pasture is a globally unstaked claim.

By that token, we, NZ Inc can and should nab it. What we’d be laying claim to is responsible pastoralism – and for want of a title/name/brand, I’m proposing we call it pasture Harmonies (otherwise we’d spend all our time debating what to call it).

I’m sure there would be a bit of a furore if we did – but so? (The only bad publicity is no publicity).

From a big-picture point of view for NZ Inc, and particularly the companies and farmers with a financial vested interest in agriculture, naming our story would provide the missing glue, the rationale to allow us to work together when it best suits.

Because one of our main challenges, identified in a host of reports over the past 30 years, is there is no NZ Inc strategic vision.

That’s because there is nothing (yet) to consolidate around.

But the moment we named our agriculture’s comparative advantage, and allowed those who wished to participate (including partnering overseas farmers and companies) to use pH as a co-brand, co-story, is the instant we’d give ourselves a non-commodity future.

The moment we said, ‘this is ours’, and named the method, is when we’d change our offer to the world.

We’d also make more money.

Or, is making money something we shouldn’t aspire to?


Personalised time/place knowledge goal of ThunderMaps Peter Kerr Nov 16

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ThunderMaps co-founders (L-R), Lachlan Priest, Mickael Foucaux, Clint Van Marrewijk, Shannon Smith and Lewis Gyson; aiming to make geospatial information usable in real time

Location-based intelligence is one of the up-and-coming applications of all things mobile.

Wellington-based startup ThunderMaps reckons it has a solution to a problem – individuals and organisations having geo-knowledge that is valuable to others, but having no practical way of sharing their information.

ThunderMaps co-founder Clint Van Marrewijk says the five person team’s goal, is to reduce the barriers to the adoption and use of spatial information by the public.

“There is so much valuable data going to waste. We take data available from separate organisations, and data inputted from the public, and give users, usually smart-phone owners, the ability to filter that for themselves,” he says.

“Users can subscribe to receive alerts when things happen in places they care about. People can also report events or hazards that they witness, while they are on the move.”

Van Marrewijk says a good example of the problem that ThunderMaps is looking to solve is an individual knowing the location of missing manhole covers, graffiti, environmental breaches, or road hazards for example.

At the same time government and local government agencies also possess highly valuable geo-data from an individual’s perspective, but it isn’t released in a way that’s usable for normal people.

“ThunderMaps provides a platform where any organisation can distribute data, and control the types of data that is received from and shared by the public,” he says.

ThunderMaps has tapped into the NZTA’s Traffic Road Event Information System, so that road users can receive the same alerts that government officials receive when roads are icy, there’s a crash, hazard or major blockage of traffic. Anyone can sign up for free now, to receive alerts in their location of interest.

“Isn’t it wrong that this data isn’t easy to access? It’s almost criminal that this information isn’t accessible; the government simply must continue to release this data so that we can get it into the hands of people that can get the most use out of it – the public”

“We will enable efficient decision making, reduced costs, faster response times and increased community engagement in the role of government.”

The spatial dividend gap, defined as a failure to reap the benefits of spatial information, has been estimated as having a cost of $480 million a year in New Zealand (2009 ACIL Tasman study).

Van Marrewijk says ThunderMaps will help bridge this gap by providing an easy to use platform for both individual users, sharing their geo-data with others, and an easy way for government agencies that collect information, to distribute it to the public.

With development being carried out since June, ThunderMaps aims to eliminate the need for a business, organisation or cause to build an expensive individual app to report the location of incidents, in their particular field of interest.

ThunderMaps have been taking their platform to first mover organisations, and they are beta testing it with them now.

Among those showing positive interest are neighbourhood watch groups, graffiti response trusts and government agencies concerned with hazard reduction and awareness.

Watch this space – literally!

P.S.
Since yarning to Van Marriwijk, they’ve scored a couple of forward-moving successes:

• It has recently been accepted in the ‘Dragon’s den style’ presentation round of the government’s Open Door to Innovation – a bureaucrat attempt to harness market innovation http://ict.govt.nz/programme/open-door-innovation
• It has trials pending with two Wellington schools for truancy reporting


Come on ATI, tell us what you’re thinking – please! Peter Kerr Nov 15

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Those of us who care about creating more national wealth through better commercialisation, innovation and implementation by leveraging our science capability really want to see the Advanced Technology Institute succeed.

The ATI will be, after all, an important stepping stone between research and the market.

It will have to have an NZ-centricness – simply attempting to copy other exemplar countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Denmark or Switzerland will be doomed to failure.

Equally, no one who understands the complexity and difficulty of trying to put together what is a completely new piece of the puzzle will be under any illusion of the challenge of the task the ATI establishment board and unit have on their hands.

That is, we all know this isn’t easy.

But, it is even less easy when you don’t really tell us what is going on.

Sure, there’s a newsletter dated 31 Oct which outlines a process.

There is an intent as well:

The Board looks forward to keeping you up to date with the progress of the Establishment Board and Unit. Shortly we will be regularly updating and communicating with you via our own website and will make sure you know when this is available.

If February 1, 2013 is meant to be the up and going day (which it obviously won’t be), given that a fair percentage of December, and all of January are essentially dead days, then there ain’t much time to tell us much.

However, it is the structure, and more importantly the thinking around different possible structures, that is the meat of this particular sandwich.

From a public relations point of view, there’s a heck of a risk in a grand announcement that has failed to (in PR-speak) ‘engage with stakeholders’.

These stakeholders range from individual scientists to the CRIs themselves, universities, private research entities (think HERA, Cawthron) industry, entrepreneurs (or those of that way of thinking), investors and the general public – as well as other government entities.

I’m pretty sure none would mind if you flew some kites, looked for feedback on potential options, kicked a few tires on alternative structures.

Because, as I’ve already said, everyone knows this is not easy. We (and we’re all in on it) are unlikely to get it right first time; whatever shape it takes will almost undoubtedly require some massaging and morphing into an entity that works beyond the science, before the market.

So, just tell us what you’re thinking – please.

P.S. Since penning this, it has been announced that the ATI is to be known as Callaghan Innovation. Out of respect for the late Sir Paul, who, while loving science, was just as keen as making money from the commercial use of clever brains, let’s hope the (now) C.I. concentrates on those route to market difficulties, not rearranging the deck chairs of what we already have.


What does our agriculture offer?……..romance and reassurance Peter Kerr Nov 13

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I’ll be the first to admit that the frilly, intangible, non-scientific aspects of what and how we produce our agricultural products can be a tricky little number to get your head around.

Much of what we’re good at doing as a nation is hard-edged, ‘proven’ – be it across on and off farm technical performance, engineering disciplines, the All Blacks even – all those things that you can measure and monitor.

But, for a moment let’s just sit and accept these quantifiable aspects.

What else does our agriculture offer?

In a word (and now it may get really uncomfortable) – ROMANCE.

That is, in a world that for most people (especially the ones with discretionary disposable income) is urban, concrete, and pressured, we represent an ideal.

We represent an image that is matched by a reality. We are both olde world and modern; a ‘place’ where you have to work alongside nature using modern (including digital) tools, that still involves the type of honesty inherent in getting your hands dirty (literally).

And, in a modern working world that mostly occurs inside a building, the thought of working outside, producing physical outputs by combining a range of inputs (climatic, prices, scientific, gut-feel) is a wonderfully beguiling thought.

Put another way, (modern, as opposed to peasant) farming, the way we do it, offers a back-story for the piece of meat in a supermarket, that very few other products can.

It is an image and reality that resonates with the heart.

But the fact that we haven’t named this (back) story means we can only deal with the cold, hard facts of matter.

That’s all head stuff – and at that level all you’ve got to compete with is price.

My argument is, at an NZ Inc level, the moment we publicly and globally claim the mandate as being the world’s best at responsible pastoralism by naming our story, we provide ourselves with a completely offer to the world.

We would, in fact, step out of where we are now, and like the best movies, offer romance. That we back this elusive romantic notion with the reassurance of science is totally synergistic, completely non-commodity.

But maybe the idea of romance is naïve and unrealistic for our agriculture.

Are we therefore doomed to remaining stuck in the mud?


Officiating our way to an ATI totally the wrong policy Peter Kerr Nov 08

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Now everyone wants to see the Advanced Technology Institute set up and thriving.

This ranges from the ATI’s establishment board, to science minister Steven Joyce, to (about to be reformed) IRL, to the CRI and university scientists and commercialisers, to industry and the NZ public.

A question that needs to be asked is whether ‘policy advice’ and officialdom is getting in the way, hindering even, what is and will be an NZ-centric model to cranking up commercialisation of our science, engineering and entrepreneurial resources.

A couple of illustrative points.

My (process and chemical) engineering brother, recently returned from Australia, was at a function the other day, and met another policy person seconded from a government ministry to help the establishment unit.

My brother asked what it is that is that’s trying to be established? A vague non-answer.

Well, what will it help improve? Apparently, one thing is that instead of three possible doors for people/manufacturers wanting help to go through, there will be one door. Wow.

And then there’s the policy advice. The establishment unit is one source, MoBIE itself is another, MED comments on everything and NZ Trade & Enterprise also provides such advice. (On the NZTE front, whether or not it does become rolled into the ATI function looks less likely by the day seemingly).

Which brings us back to the main point that officialdom’s not doing us (NZ Inc) any favours in the way it operates…..aided and abetted by the fact that ATI’s intended role is presently a line of question marks, this ???????.

If the rumour that there are 4000 pages of cabinet papers about the ATI is true, that too is a scary thought.

What we all want out of ATI is a philosophy, a mouldable funnel and pathway of ideas and people across the science, engineering, innovation and implementation spectrum.

ATI needs to address issues such as capital, pathways to market, partnering, and bringing on and in best expertise in quickly creating scaleable businesses (especially in addition to the person with the original idea).

The danger with officialdom’s approach is it will invent answers for problems that don’t exist, and, even worse, create solutions that cannibalise existing providers – both public and private.

The other danger of officiating our way to an ATI non-answer is it talks amongst itself.

The paucity of discussions with industry and science leaders by the establishment unit is one indication of this. The ‘this is what we’re trying to achieve’ response that my brother received is another illustration.

So, for all our sakes, let some of these clever people on the ATI establishment board use their contacts, connections and links to alternative thinking to help develop unconventional models before developing answer(s).

Spread the intellectual focus away from how to adjust science capability (at this stage), and concentrate on making more money from our R&D + entrepreneurs + routes to market.

Creating any more than broad policy at this stage is a mistake.

When we don’t know what ATI is going to do, creating oodles of policy is totally cart before the horse.

It is the default course of action.

What we’d all be grateful to see is a business plan/’this is what we’re going to do’ created as a one-pager.

That way we can all clearly see and measure if we’re creating a structure that provides something of value. (And if we don’t then we can quickly tweak it!).

Policy production doesn’t produce useful answers.

All it does is shift the deckchairs.

P.S. According to the first ATI newsletter about this time next week we could see the name and head office location of the new body announced.


Our agriculture’s much more than the sum of its parts Peter Kerr Nov 06

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This post also appears at www.pastureharmonies.org

Too much, arguably all the time, we look at all the individual components of our farm production systems……and beat ourselves up about them.

We could use less fertiliser, our use of water isn’t that optimal at times, occasionally there’s animal welfare issues, and as for degradation of waterways……

And that’s just on-farm.

Get off-farm and meat marketers are continually giving a figurative fingers to each other, the ever-declining wool industry’s in(ward)-fighting continues and everybody wants to take a pot-shot at Fonterra – including sometimes Fonterra itself.

Meanwhile, back in the city, farmers and farms and all things associated with them are fair game for all and sundry to have a go at.

We can’t see the wood for the trees.

It is as if instead of standing back and looking at the whole picture of say the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, we go in with a magnifying glass and try to check it out.

‘Oh, messy brushstroke there’, ‘could’ve used a different shade of skin tone here’, ‘that eyeball’s not quite even’.

But then we never pull back and contemplate its beauty, its completeness, its balance.

Luckily, from art’s point of view, it is only art historians and art archivists and art lovers who get that close – but all the time they appreciate the big picture.

We, we never give ourselves the opportunity to ponder that, wow, we (mostly) wisely use nature’s resources and sunlight and produce fantastic products.

And seeing as I’m on an art bent, even if we stand back and look at the big picture, we’ve never given it a name. We can’t even begin to describe the components of the picture because there’s no start point.

da Vinci didn’t call his masterpiece ‘Picture of a reasonably pretty, enigmatically-smiling woman’ (though at least it would’ve been a name).

My argument is; over the past 100 years or so, we’ve painted a great picture, provided it with a stylish frame.

But, because we’ve never named it, (and getting back to the main point) it is as if our wonderful picture competes with one completed by a house painter.

Because we’ve never given a name to responsible pastoralism, we’re undifferentiated, unable to precisely say why our produce should command a premium.

But, the whole of our agriculture is more than the sum of its parts.

Or maybe it’s not.

Perhaps our inability to stand back and think romantically about our total offer means we deserve to forever be in the downward spiral of commodity produce and prices?


TIN100 again proves it is the meat of an innovation club sandwich Peter Kerr Nov 01

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One way to consider the value of the TIN100 report is to consider what things would be like if it didn’t exist.

The almost 200 colour page report on the NZ-owned top 100 (well 200 if you count the additional ‘mentions’ at the back) high value manufacturing, biotechnology and ICT is now into its 8th edition – and its value grows over time.

(As an aside, the collated data of the past eight years is also an important part of the specific bespoke reports TIN100 is able to carry out on request – taking information, converting it into knowledge and clipping the ticket for such expertise)

Its information, contacts and commentary provide a roadmap of what was quite hidden until Greg Shanahan kicked the publication off.

What will be interesting is whether Shanahan, when commenting on Australia as a safe haven for TIN100 companies, also looks to carry out the same exercise across the ditch. Apparently there’s nothing similar in Aussie, and the TIN100 report also includes a six-page overview of Australia’s TIN50.

Again though, not having this resource – which though sponsored by IRL, MBIE and NZTE, still costs $399 – would leave a huge void in the promotion, understanding and employment attraction of the value-adding businesses in the sector.

Where else for example, would you get an appreciation that there are nine changes to the TIN100 from last year?

  • Six companies had revenue growth sufficient to push into the TIN100
  • Three companies (Catalyst IT, Fraser Engineering Group and Wedgelock Equipment) have been included for the first time
  • Bomac and EFI Prism left the TIN100 following acquisition and amalgamation into multinational businesses
  • Reduced revenue figures saw seven dropping back to the TIN100+

Launching the TIN100 in Wellington, Shanahan says part of the purpose of the publication is to provide a reference for other would-be and actual clever technology-oriented companies. This is especially in the two-degrees of separation NZ-context, who to contact for particular expertise/technology.

In its industry analysis section, the TIN100 notes that 42 companies that have featured in the publication have been acquired by overseas buyers. After a lull following the global financial crisis, acquisitions have increased significantly over the past two years – indicating founder and local investor fatigue, as well as increased overseas investment interest (obviously!).

The TIN100 also notes that though revenue was up 2.2% for the largest 100 locally-owned, export focused technology companies, staff numbers were up 5% to over 28,800.

This was especially driven from growth in IT services and the support sector which increased its headcount by 14%, much due to the index’s second largest company Datacom taking onboard 440 new people.

And, as Shanahan contemplates an Aussie edition, the TIN100 says NZ companies with an established foothold who had entered the Australian market strongly with something such as an anchor contract, are doing well. New Zealand’s lower cost structure is also helping Australian growth.

With some clever graphics and interesting tables, the TIN100’s an interesting read.

At the risk of repetition – a NZ landscape without this resource would be much poorer for it.


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