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Posts Tagged Development

‘Fire engine envy’ + time = sales Peter Kerr Apr 01

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Fire engine envy.

No, I never knew that such a condition existed, though it kinda makes sense if you happen to be involved in the fire fighting business.

But fire engine envy is one of many factors that’s assisted Lower Hutt’s Fraser Engineering into a pre-eminent position as an Australasian manufacturer of such tenders.

Speaking at a recent gathering of Technology Valley participants (and totally coincidentally, held at Petone’s Fireman’s Arms pub), Fraser’s general manager Martin Simpson told of how firemen looking enviously at the units put together by his own company, make comments that gradually and ever so slowly filter up to positively influence decisions made by a purchasing officer.

Fraser’s manufacture virtually everything in a fire engine tender beyond an imported truck chassis and cab (though they’re thinking about building this as well).

It starts with feedback and input from real firemen.

Hosereels, pumps, valves, nozzles, cabinents and the whole kit and caboddle are designed from scratch, from single components up, on a SolidWorks 3D CAD software platform.

Most of them are then created through the use of more than $20 million of manufacturing equipment, including an increasing amount of 3D (additive) metal and other products printing.

The demands of fire fighters are an important element in designing extremely robust equipment.

“A fireman’s pumped with adrenalin when they’re in action,” says Martin.

“They don’t want to be grabbing something in the heat of the moment…and it breaks. Likewise, a pump must start first time, every time.”

Another aspect of firemen psychology is that, during some of their downtime (mostly they’re not fighting fires), they’ll often surf the net, checking out tools of their trade. (You can imagine that this sort of exercise would certainly contriubte to fire engine envy!)

Martin says that unlike some of their competitors’ fire engines, all Frasers’ vehicles are immediately able to go into service (commissioning is relatively easy). The company also concentrates on the “whole of life cost” of the tenders, noting that Fraser’s has virtually zero warranty issues. In other words, the fire engines work first time, for a long time.

It is information and feedback such as this that slowly filters through the fire services of different states and countries – helping to build Fraser’s reputation.

Martin says Fraser’s is helping to organise a major fire fighting conference to take place in Wellington in September 2014, which may be attended by up to 2000 people.

“If there’s any other fire fighting related companies who would like to attend this event that will have every purchasing officer from Australia and New Zealand there, as well as a swag from other countries, we’ve love to hear from them,” he says.


A trial with zero percent success proves trap’s worth Peter Kerr Mar 18

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 Any business that gets itself into a financial position to employ others is, by default, doing OK.

If that operation starts with a completely new product, to survive long enough to (at least) thrive, is even better.

So it is great to hear of pest and predator control company Goodnature coming up trumps in an extensive DOC test in a two-year project at two trial sites at Boundary Stream Mainland Island, Hawkes Bay, and Onepu, Northern Te Urewera.

We’ve set a whole new standard for rat control with traps,” says Goodnature head of marketing and market development Stu Barr.

For us and DOC the trial results are exceptional and beyond the expectations set at the start of the project.

To put it in perspective, the pass mark for the trial was 5%. To get 0% at both trial sites has set a whole new standard for future developments. At 0% all the rats are gone and therefore all bird and native species vulnerable to rat predation are going to thrive and grow in numbers.”

This is a level of control previously only achieved by toxins.

Goodnature’s A24 automatic humane kill-traps for rats and stoats resets itself up to 24 times powered by a 16 gram compressed CO2 canister. A bolt to the animal’s head results in an instant kill.

The Goodnature A24 rat and stoat trap

And while the innovative design of the traps (which, in a larger version also kill possums) was part of the design team’s approach, over time the Wellington company’s found much of its ongoing research and development aimed at perfecting longlife lures to attract the pest to its death.

Stu Barr says the constant trap and lure improvement were vividly seen when the 2013 technology version traps were deployed in 2013.

The humane killing technology, along with pest-specific lures, is now being use in more than 15 countries around the world.

As well as further rat control, Goodnature’s automatic resetting traps are helping eliminate the introduced mongoose in Hawaii, and mink in Scandinavia.

All of this hasn’t happened overnight of course.

Goodnature, founded by three mature design students, started in 2006.

But there’s now eight people onboard – and you can only be an employer if you’re making money.

The constant trap and lure improvement is part of the company’s design philosophy.

The trial alongside DOC, and more importantly the 100% kill statistics all help Goodnature position itself as a viable est control method beyond poisons.

Undoubtedly too when Goodnature started, they considered themselves in the pest killing business. Over time they’ve found themselves just as much in the pest-attraction business – as the ‘kill’ part of the trap itself is increasingly honed to perfection.

It is this eye for constant improvement that is helping the company grow.

Good luck guys, keep up the good work.


Finding the fruitful intersection of ideas and organisation Peter Kerr Feb 18

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 Ultimately this blog is a plug for Stephen Cummings handbook of ways that business can fruitfully marry management and creativity.

Along the way it is also an endorsement of the Professor of Management at Victoria University’s Business School, and in particular the part he played in what was Industrial Research Ltd’s former Leadership Development Programme (LDP). (See page 5).

The LDP was essentially an MBA on steroids – condensing into a couple of weeks what often is a two year grind. Stephen was one of the LDP facilitators.

From (the former) IRL’s point of view, not only did the LDP expose and encourage  its researchers and staff into leadership roles, it was also a highly productive and cost-effective way to encourage ideas that would be of benefit to IRL and its clients.

The LDP gave permission for ‘ordinary’ IRL people to grow, to literally think outside the square of what the former crown research institute could or should be.

As a result, the ‘What’s Your Problem New Zealand’ concept, of a million dollars of research for a commercial challenge that had major potential to impact, was born.

The ‘Scientist for a Day’ programme, opening the doors of Gracefield to the general public was another initiative. (Coastal Markers Ltd used the day to introduce themselves to the science capability on its doorstep).

Some of the thinking, outcomes and research behind the LDP is no doubt included in Stephen Cummings and Chris Bilton’s ‘Handbook of Management and Creativity’. (Check near the end of the blog and you’ll find a link to a discounted early-bird order).

I gave the challenge to Stephen to give a one sentence line as to: why AREN’T management and creativity diametrically opposed.

And inch being pretty close to a mile, this was his email reply.

“The Handbook is based on the idea that good management and creativity are similar: they both require the effective combination of disciplined focus and unstructured free-association. We tend to see management as the opposite of creativity, but this is largely for historical reasons. In the middle of the 20th history management’s fundamental aim was defined as the pursuit of efficiency. Part of this limited definition of intent was reference to pioneers like FW Taylor (so called creator of Scientific Management) who were claimed to be only focussed on efficiency. However, was is forgotten in management history is that Taylor’s ideas were destined for the scrapheap until a young lawyer called Louis Brandeis remodelled them and used them to attack big business interests in a high profile legal case in 1910. ‘Conservation’ was the big political issue of the day, as governments sought ways to combat rampant business  exploitation and Brandeis connected these new ides about management to show how business could more carefully and creatively utilize their resources and share their wealth. The aim of the ‘conservation movement’, of which Brandeis, Taylor and FD Roosevelt were a part, ascribed this thinking was “the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time.” If history had been interpreted differently and we had come to see this more open guiding principle of management then we might not see management and creativity as opposites in the first place.”

And here’s the original email that earned Stephen his plug.

We are pleased to offer a special promotional price on The Handbook of Management and Creativity, a compilation of new research and case studies on the relationship between management and creativity (see the attached flyer). The book features experts from the fields of management studies, creative industries research, organisational studies and strategy. Further details can be seen via the weblink below (and extracts are available via Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ option). Some of the research findings in the handbook are also discussed in a blog which you can find here

We are able to the handbook to our personal networks at a special discounted price of £40 (+p&p). The discount is available to individuals only (not for libraries or institutions) between now and the end of March.

To order please click http://bit.ly/19UUd7j or email sales@e-elgar.co.uk, quoting promotional code BILT40

Please take advantage of what we think is a pretty generous offer from the publishers and please provide any of your own comments and thoughts about management and creativity in general or the book in particular on the blog site. It would be great if you could contribute to the discussion. And please tweet/linkedin/pass on information about the book to any of your friends/colleagues/networks that you think might be interested.


Opportunity lost? – a case study, Dr Werner Komposi Peter Kerr Feb 11

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By guest blogger: Mike Doig

Dr. Ingr Werner Komposi came to New Zealand about 12 years ago to take up employment at one of our universities. He was educated in Germany and while there divided his time between appointments in academia and industry.

Dr Komposi is married with two children, and the family has settled down well. They enjoy skiing and fishing, and appreciate New Zealand’s quiet and unspoiled natural environment.

Dr Komposi is a talented mechanical engineer who has specialised in the design of small diesel engines. He believes the diesel engine has unrealised potential and has a vision of designing an engine which could become a standard power plant in light aircraft.

He has prospered at his university. He has been promoted to associate professor, has published profusely, and was awarded an ‘A’ grade in the recent PBRF round.

He is a keen supporter of postgraduate research, and has supervised as many as six PhD students at the same time. Because of this he has been relieved of undergraduate teaching duties.

In 2008 Dr Komposi was awarded the Silver Medal for Innovation from the International Diesel Technology Association.

The university has been generous in its financial support of Dr Komposi’s research team. Dr Komposi has been able to attend numerous scientific and engineering conferences overseas, and this has enabled him to visit his family on a regular basis. His parents are now rather elderly.

He has not been able to obtain funding for his research from firms in New Zealand, nor from government sources.

However, as a result of his forays overseas, he has entered into a partnership arrangement with a large engineering concern in Korea, which has agreed to fund some of his work. It is thought that this arrangement grants certain intellectual property rights to the Koreans, but the university has no record of this.

Of his PhD students, all but two have found positions in overseas engineering companies.

One of the two others has taken up a post-doctoral fellowship in the university, and the other has entered the priesthood.

An MBA student at the same university became interested in the work of Dr Komposi and took as the subject of his final year project ‘A study of the feasibility of manufacturing diesel engines in New Zealand’.

It was a fine piece of work which earned the student an A+ grade. His finding was that while it would be technically possible to make diesels here, it would be hopelessly uneconomic and no sane firm or investor would be interested. Nearly all the most intricate componentry would have to be imported.

The MBA dissertation was embargoed for two years because it contained sensitive commercial information given by local engineering firms.

It has now been lodged in the university library but to date it has not been accessed, either in hard copy or online.

A seminar was organised by the university recently to celebrate the work of its most prominent researchers. Dr Komposi gave a stunning presentation of his diesel engine work, and two of his students gave a live demonstration of the latest design, which was surprisingly quiet.

A journalist in the audience was moved to ask how much support the work had received from the New Zealand taxpayer, and when a return might be expected.

Dr Komposi firstly replied that he didn’t keep very accurate records, but thought costs by now must be well over $1 million.

In considering the second part of the question, he first observed that the question wasn’t a very valid one.

‘Knowledge moves forward in unpredictable ways, and on a global scale’, he said. ‘We all benefit from the work of others.’

Dr Komposi and his family have now returned to Germany, where his elder son has enrolled at the University of Tubingen.


Chipping in for multicore champion – let’s get parallel programming Peter Kerr Feb 04

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 You’ve got to admire someone who has a vision, almost as much as someone who is prepared to use the word vision.

So here’s a plug for Nicolas Erdody, founder of Open Parallel, and more importantly the organiser of Multicore World Conference 2014.

Erdody’s well aware that computer hardware power – where many cores (essentially single computers) can be placed on a single chip – has advanced beyond the IT industry’s ability to program for such beasts.

In this light, he’s put together for a third consecutive year a two-day conference at Auckland’s AUT on 25 and 26 February that brings together many global experts on dealing with this challenge.

Naturally Erdody’s keen to get as many attendees to the world-class event as possible (just under $1000 for full attendance, including a conference dinner on the Tuesday night).

Equally he wants NZ Inc to wake up to the realisation that there’s a real opportunity for our collective psyche and IT infrastructure to ride the just-beginning wave of programming possibilities that exist around multicore coding.

Erdody’s passionate that a concentrated effort of NZ government, commercial interest, engineering and developers’ communities, R&D and academia could provide programming solutions for multicore.

Given that multicore’s parallel coding requirements are weightless, location agnostic, and an increasing problem needing to be solved, Erdody’s dead right about the opportunity.

Rounding up the collective cats to bring it to fruition, even in a country as only two degrees of separation connected as New Zealand has been an ongoing challenge for the Oamaru (yes, you read that right), former Uruguayan businessman.

However he must be doing something right. After two years staging the event in Wellington, for the third conference Erdody has pulled Auckland’s AUT (Auckland University of Technology) onboard as one of the sponsors, along with well-known open source software promoters Catalyst IT, SKA Organisation (from the UK) Cray Inc, NesI, NZOSS, MBIE, ThinkAgency, Scoop Media and NVIDIA.

There are more than 20 speakers at MCW2014, with over two-thirds of them from overseas.

Erdody would love to see as many IT managers, CTOs and CIOs, engineers and developers as possible at what is cutting edge thinking – and what is sure to be an inside look at where computing is heading in the immediate and not-to-distant future.

In a sense (though Erdody’s too polite to say this), anyone connected with the IT industry at even a slightly senior level would be a fool not to be there – if not for the speaker quality, then for the informal conversations which alone can often be worth the price of admission.

Additionally, on February 27 & 28, Erdody’s helped organise in association with AUT’s Dr. Andrew Ensor and Prof. Sergei Gulyaev a Square Kilometer Array (Computing for SKA) Workshop – the global initiative, using radio telescopes based in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to better map the universe.  (New Zealand is a full member of the 10 country SKA Organisation, which is a cornerstone sponsor of MCW2014).

(Incidentially, Open Parallel is the only New Zealand company that leads a work package of, admittedly a small part of a huge international effort, the design phase of the SKA. Open Parallel’s contribution to the SKA isn’t funded by the NZ government, and, as a result, Erdody would appreciate international sponsorship or donors for the effort).

Finally, and getting back to the ‘vision thing’ (as accidentally coined by George Bush), Erdody deserves recognition for hammering away at an opportunity for New Zealand.

Our country could position itself as a centre of excellence and make lots of money by solving multicore programming problems for others.

Who is up for the discussion, the challenge and the prospect?

(In particular, government-type advisers looking for the next big thing, are you listening?)


‘Always be pitching, looking for feedback’ – Wipster’s Rollo Wenlock Peter Kerr Nov 19

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“Get your idea out there as much as possible, pitch it to everyone, even to strangers in a cafe, see what happens. If it doesn’t resonate, you probably don’t have anything.”

That was Wipster head sherang’s advice given at Wellington’s Entrepreneur’s Club in mid October.

Wipster was part of the Capital’s Lightning Lab initial inductees, and successfully pitched to 150 investors at Demo-Day in Mid-May. This capital raising brought in $600,000 for the startup – though this took a fair bit of too-ing and fro-ing, and it wasn’t till August that the money was locked down.

The cloud platform based service allows work-in-progress videos to be easily shared with team mates and clients, who can annotate feedback directly on the video.

Essentially, it streamlines the whole video-making process, with the video itself becoming the canvas for all communication to go through.

Compared to endless email chains which require naming a particular timestamp of the video, and then the editor having to go back and forwards from email to video, it is a neat solution to a problem says Rollo Wenlock.

He’s been in the video/film production and editing arena for a number of years, so is well versed in the frustrations of getting a final, edited and agreed by all participants, video out the door.

Considering that Wenlock had his lightbulb moment for what became Wipster only last November, he and Wipster have come a long way. Admittedly, Wipster’s been testing ever-improving versions of their product to those who have signed up as Beta customers.

But more importantly, the company’s about to hire a rockstar marketing/sales person whose sole focus will be to get out and sell to some of an estimated two million video-makers around the world, with a November 1 release date for a thoroughly tested product.

This includes staying in touch with, and letting some of the 2000 people using the software know what is happening, and using them to test and help refine Wipster.

Wipster now also has a board of directors, a chief technical officer, designer, front end developer, “and myself”, says Wenlock.

But he’s a passionate promoter of Wipster, and leading the charge while learning new skills along the way.

He’s also clearly having a lot of fun in the new role.

“We’re always one step from failure; but by putting yourself in the firing line, there’s always the chance you’re going to succeed magnificently.”

Wenlock gave two (formal) pieces of advice – given that the entire 20 minute informal presentation was a wealth of how to’s.

  • The importance of a startup getting to ‘product market fit’. This can take months – and is validated is when you get multiple customers buying the product
  • Startup is a buzzword. Focus on what problem you are solving; and then what’s your solution is to that problem.

“Then tell everyone. Don’t secretly develop it, loudly develop it. You’re building a business, and that’s why nobody gives a s#@t about the idea – action is the only thing,” he says.

Wenlock calculates that if Wipster can be useful for 5% of the two million video producers, who will be happy to pay $49/month for the service, then a viable business can be created.

The Wipster team also has a range of additional features ready to be rolled out, which will compliment the core feature ‘comment on the video’, but it all needs validating…

Wenlock’s zeal for Wipster, and ability to succinctly explain why it is good and the problem it solves is obviously key to its ongoing success in such a short timespan.

The recent launch of the 9th edition of the TIN 100 (successful high technology companies) showed that much of NZ’s ICT international success is based on being in the cloud, with a SaaS (software as a service) for which recurring revenue is generated.

Wipster ticks all the boxes.

Don’t be surprised to see this Wipster weightless product making the lower echelons of the TIN 100 (the TIN 100+, more than $2 million in revenue a year) in the not too distant future


Plenty of traps along the way for pest eradicators Peter Kerr Oct 29

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No one ever said that creating and perfecting a resetting, toxin free pest trap was going to be easy.

The guys at Goodnature would be the first to agree, but, 12,000 or so sold traps later, the Wellington company that kicked off in 2005 is still trucking, slowly getting bigger.

A sticK story 18 months ago outlined how three Victoria University design school mature students bootstrapped their way to developing two unique traps that use compressed CO2 to power the possum, rat and stoat killing piston that instantly kills the pest.

They’ve since grown to eight people, and are continuing to learn lessons and modify their systems.

Goodnature’s head of marketing and market development Stu Barr says the company still has a design-led philosophy (and, as what is an attract and assassinate system these traps look good).

Stu Barr

As is almost invariably the case when creating injection moulded componentry that is assembled into a final unit, Goodnature had a few teething troubles with its new A24 rat & stoat trap.

A24 rat & stoat trap

“We had to resolve some moulding and technical flaws,” says Barr. “The reliability wasn’t up to where we need it to be.” Those challenges have now been overcome.

What has particularly been the team’s focus are new, highly effective lures, which ideally last a long time.

“We’ve developed a new food-based rat lure and possum lure and now working on non-food based lures and different delivery mechanisms for them all,” says Barr.

“We’re also working on a few simple things that support the traps in the immediate future, and other big developments that will take us a few years to perfect.”

And while New Zealand is the home base for Goodnature, the market opportunity for its traps is global. This is in a world-wide environment that is tending to move away from pest poisoning as a control method.

A recent trial of an E2 trap (a renamed A24) in Indonesia showed the potency of its system.

In the first night of the trial the two traps each killed seven rats..

“Our Indonesian partners never get that sort of kill with conventional traps,” Barr says.

“In terms of marketing, that story is better than any brochure. What people realise pretty quickly is that they can set the trap just once and kill multiple pests.”


Appiness is good service – Icestack launches its moonshot to America Peter Kerr Aug 27

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Given that his presentation was to the MobileTech Summit 2013, a primary industry focused event, Andrew McPherson’s app analogy was very apt.

A tractor can be likened to a mobile device, the tool that is driven off the Power Take Off is the app says the chief executive of ‘Icestack’, and of ECONZ an Auckland-based 40 year old enterprise wireless provider.

“The apps that work best help achieve a single task very efficiently,” he says.

Speaking to over 200 attendees at the inaugural MTS2013 in Wellington, McPherson spruiked Icestack, succinctly described as a community-based app to directly connect with industry services.

Icestack’s a separate gig for McPherson et al as a technology to help people find and interact with good service providers.

(As an aside, ‘Experieco’, as the builders of Icestack are described as McPherson, ‘chief collaborator’, Philip Court, ‘big picture visionist’, and Nicky Lowrie, ‘agony aunt’).

It is about to be launched after a year’s perfecting – with America as its first major target market. From their own market research, there’s nothing that achieves this as quickly, easily and practically as Icestack (though of course he would say that!)

Icestack came about in the first instance when McPherson found it difficult to find a good plumber for a rural house he was involved with.

His team looked at somehow incorporating social media, though quickly found that sites such as Facebook “aren’t that good in a business sense.”

At the same time, searching for someone via the desktop isn’t that useful as many service providers aren’t present there as such.

Hence the solution goals the team came up with:

  • To allow businesses or individuals to build a list of the service companies they regularly work with
  • To be able to interact with the service companies to schedule work and get realtime updates
  • To be able to share the list of companies with friends and clients

In designing the Icestack app, McPherson says they very much wanted to continue the real world way of doing things where, usually first, you’ll ask a friend or colleague if they know of a good carpenter (or plumber or fencer or whatever).

In other words people know other (good) people – and by being able to link these connections in a social media sense, an individual can tap into a wider service community.

“In a social-mobile world, social business communities will be the new business clusters,” McPherson says. “Businesses can and should band together to offer combined services in a geographic region.”

The combination of these ideas has resulted in a self-described app that allows people to “find, store, request, rate and recommend your favourite service providers.”

Icestack itself is a free android and Apple app for an individual end-user.

Where Icestack hopes to make its money is by providing it to service providers, who only pay (US$15/month) once they obtain six or more service requests through the app.

As McPherson described offline from MTS2013, Icestack is a ‘moonshot’ for the Experieco group.

The job is to as quickly as possible attempt to get the app to go viral, and not be one of the living dead among an estimated 1.5 million apps that have been developed in what is essentially less than half a decade.

Whether the app achieves a single task very efficiently, and individuals and businesses tell their mates about it – time will tell.


Primary industry mobile tech forum draws the digerati Peter Kerr Aug 20

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Numbers tell a story on their own.

And the fact that over 220 attendees ponyed up at the Mobile Tech Summit 2013 in Wellington on August 7 & 8 underscores the message that our natural resources aren’t as old-hat as some would like to believe.

This new event is designed to showcase current and upcoming mobile innovations in New Zealand’s principle food and fibre sections.

In other words; the application of smartphones and mobile devices across our biological industries – which for all the movies made in New Zealand and talk of standalone digital businesses, still underpin our economy.

Indeed, it is the use of an increasingly wide range of digital tools to improve the production, quality, performance (and partly the consumer reaction/acceptance) of products of our land and sea that MTS2013 was clearly aimed at.

The physical, financial and environmental information and components that can be added right along the value-chain from pasture to plate, (or seedling to structure or fish to dish) is huge – and there’s no shortage of tech products for what is commonly known as decision support.

There was a wide range of speakers and different types of vendors – with, unsurprisingly, the start point for many being of the products on offer being a map; farm, forest, vineyard or sea.

The layers of information that can be applied to this spatial place range from soil type to irrigation history, fertiliser requirements to the crops and animal production that have come off a particular piece of dirt.

One challenge I’ve often observed is how these different dataset talk to each other, and how an individual actually makes money from being up with the tech play (beyond such information simply being a cool thing to be involved with).

However one of the underlying themes through the two days is how such silos of knowledge can interlink and interact so that better decisions can be made – even if many of the speakers acknowledged the difficulty of enabling meaningful collaboration between datasets.

The industry will get there; though one factor that will need to be overcome is demographic. Older farmers (and the average age of sheep and beef farmers is 58) mostly aren’t going to be interested in adopting the new mobile technology.

In that regard though, by the time those farmers retire, the different mobile apps and datasets will be much more integrated and provide a much more compelling logic and means to make more money.

Finally, a couple of points raised by speakers.

Mark Pawsey of SST Software (Australia) says that “pure cloud is a challenging environment for agriculture”. This is because, firstly, there’s a tonne of information that can be gleaned at one place and point in time from a piece of land. And, secondly, because wireless networks are comparatively underpowered in rural situations, (and devices such as iPads don’t have that much computing power), getting that data to the cloud to be processed is a trick in itself.

That said, Lukasz Zawilski, the Ministry of Primary Industries’ strategy and architecture manager reckons “mobility is really good at solving complex problems.”

The organisers of this event were no doubt delighted at the turnout, and made the closing comment to the effect they were happily surprised at the number who turned up.

This interface of real (products) and digital (data and intelligence) looks like it could be an opportunity to mine for the foreseeable future.


Reading between the lines – an app to promote a book digital conversation Peter Kerr Aug 13

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How can the book publishing world engage in a digital world?

Amazon’s claimed much of the high ground in the ebook format, and others are scrambling with their own offers.

At the same time, your traditional publishers aren’t going to shuffle wordlessly into the night, and they’re looking for ways to remain relevant and profitable in both a hardcopy and digital format.

Wellington’s Lisa Buchan been involved in publishing through a rights trading platform, sparkabook.com, and last year launched vangelizer.com – a Facebook-oriented vehicle for Literary Angels as a means to socialise books and engage with readers. (A story of Literary Angels kickoff and hopes is here and here).

Well, that’s been a middling success, so…time for a pivot. (Buchan was an early contender for the initial 12 week Lightning Lab startup incubator at the beginning of this year, but couldn’t make work from a financial or time point of view).

The result, the change in direction, is SmackFiction, a hot off the press Apple app (android coming soon) as a new way to encourage book discussion, reading and, not surprisingly, sales.

One of the first onboard publishers is HarperCollins NZ, who just before Buchan knocked on their door with the SmackFiction app idea had been discussing how they could reach young adults.

Early supporters also include the NZ Book Council and Hutt City Libraries.

All see the mobile app as a way to encourage a younger generation away from games and onto reading.

The app features sample chapters for readers to browse, particularly those commuting or waiting for class, as well as entertaining articles about authors and their creations. People can see what their friends have been reading, and status points are awarded to readers who explore new books and share comments about their friends.

Individual details are kept under wraps, but libraries and publishers will be able to get aggregated reporting on their reader activity.

For Buchan, an ex-IBM executive, the self-funded journey to deliver a means for authors, publishers and readers to engage in a virtual world has been a real learning and adapting one.

Good Reads is possibly the best forum for discussions around books – though Amazon bought it recently!

“There’s no discovery mechanism to find a good book to read,” Buchan says.

Which is where this app, with its reliance on friend recommendation (which is shown to be easily the most powerful form of advertising) is attracting its sponsors’ interest.

Young people have little engagement with the web as digital immigrants know it; they live on their mobiles says Buchan – the time they spend on laptops is mainly devoted to video and games.

At the same time young people (with a slight caveat, Buchan’s focus groups have been young women based) have a huge attachment and love for a physical book (reinforced by this recent New Yorker article which examines an e-book versus a p-book)

Lovers of reading, want to share their interests, know what others are also reading – and having a latest feed update on a mobile is one way to tap into this love.

This comes down to a potential for engagement. Publishers will be able to (at an aggregate level) collect data, and direct their actions at something most likely to result in sales.

Buchan’s the first to admit she, and SmackFiction, are on a journey of discovery with the app.

Along with recently repatriated developer Adrian Parker, she’ll be seeing what works, what needs to be tweaked, and how to leverage public participation in the digital world with the (necessarily) private sphere of reading.

“As I appreciate more than most, it’s a punt; which as far as I know, no one else has managed to crack,” she says.

If she gets it right, publishers, libraries and authors will beat a path to her door. If not, it won’t be for want of trying.


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