Predictions are that New Zealanders will soon be storing most of their data on the Cloud. Will there be trade-offs?

There’s really no question about Cloud computing’s enablement of increased profitability and wider economic growth, but New Zealanders would be forgiven if they’re unclear about the exact possibilities it holds or how it will affect the future of their jobs or the economy. There’s a lot of information out there.

Talk of the Cloud and it seems likely you’ll be met with one of two reactions: zeal – verging on competitiveness, or a blank stare. While some remain unaware about the Cloud’s presence and value for business and society, the majority – 73% – of New Zealand businesses actually intend to run most or all of their applications on public Cloud infrastructure. Upcoming large-scale investments by the likes of Cloud vendors such as Microsoft with their anticipated data centre, the hiring of a Government Chief Digital Officer last year, and the establishment of Māori Treaty framework Ngā Tikanga Paihere are promising greater Governmental focus, presence and economic and social progress.

Change is coming – will we realise it?

Blair Scott, Managing Director of Walkerscott, a Microsoft Dynamics Partner, comments on the “evolution and modernisation of computing infrastructure that is step-changing how and what we can do,” but he cautions that we as a society “have a way to go to leverage what is possible”. Drawing on 23 years’ expertise in the software consultancy and entrepreneurial management space, he sees two main areas as key to making progress.

One emerging area that is rarely capitalised upon is the health sector. To really do so, we must transform the way in which we deliver services to all New Zealanders. This must be a focus where we leverage data for the good of everyone.

Another is connectivity. The Cloud doesn’t solve this but unless we get connectivity to every corner of New Zealand there are many that will be limited by how they take advantage of the Cloud. Farming, a sector that wants and needs change, is still not fully connected. Solving this is a significant challenge and must be addressed.

There’s one chief benefit of the Cloud according to Blair Scott: acceleration. He explains, “With the scale of a local public Cloud we will adopt faster as barriers are removed. A commitment to the region by Microsoft will give them an advantage and give New Zealand the opportunity to do more. More research, more data processing, more optimisation and generally enable us to adapt and change faster. This commitment is an indicator that our uptake of Microsoft Azure warrants the commercial investment. This will ensure New Zealand is on level terms with other nations. Squarely up to us to be a leader in the future.”

For all the SMEs and start-ups out there, if you’re not already seeing the business strategy of the Cloud it’s likely you soon will. Scott predicts that New Zealand business “will become even more connected with the workforce becoming more fluid and agile, hiring expertise for intelligence task completion, compared with role based employment”.

Cloud Computing is an enabler and it has and will continue to empowerment government, businesses & individuals to open up opportunities that we previously couldn’t imagine.

The onset of automation

One aspect of these changes will clearly be automation. Scott comments that “Repetitive tasks will be aggressively automated over the coming years,” that will “lead to a major shift in roles predominantly affecting white collar workers.”

“Robotics will disrupt knowledge workers faster than they can retrain, creating problems for society and government in how we transition people to new jobs. If your job is a series of repetitive tasks then chances are it won’t exist in 5 or so years. I believe people think of robotics as physical things that will replace physical work, and yes there will be some, but the real disruption will be in the back offices of the world.”

With change, comes learning. Scott cautions, “what’s different right now is the speed at which change is happening and can be adopted. How we cope with this is what matters. Covid-19 recently showed what rapid technology change and adoption is possible when we must. How we deal with change under less mandated circumstances will be of great interest.”

We need to tread carefully

In the backdrop of the Cloud platform evolution, the nature of jobs New Zealanders are employed in is changing. It’s shown maybe most clearly in CAANZ and NZIER’s study that forecasts the effects of disruptive innovations on New Zealand. A high risk of automation was found in 46% of the overall New Zealand workforce, from 75% for labouring tasks to 12% for professional tasks. This is supported by McKinsey research finding that most employment growth will be in managerial, technical and related professional service and retail jobs. Administrative, trade and manual labour jobs will see a reduction in employment.

The Productivity Commission agrees with a mid-point pace of the technology adoption scenario. They predict that 21% of current work activities will be automated by 2030.

There is wariness about the pace of technological change. Businesses may have to make careful decisions about when and where to adopt technology, and what new jobs are being created to drive people-focused growth.

As Scott comments, coming up against the speed of change, it is people’s adaptability that will be the biggest hinderance to the advancement of technology. And this is a good thing: we are needing a more empathetic approach with consideration of the wider impact of change. “Progressing carefully, especially in areas such as robotics and AI with its ethics and moral impacts is of the utmost importance,” Scott says.

“Every industry can benefit by what will become possible with the endless scale of computing, but it needs to be considered. Our laws may need to change, people need to be retrained as roles become automated, security and cybercrime will rise all whilst dealing with the ethics of more intelligent computer programs (AI). We must openly discuss, debate and address this as we decide what and where to drive change.”

Questions of ethics and job displacement will have to be asked by close to every employer.

Bridging the digital divide

The digital divide, Scott sees as an issue of “if we want to solve it, we will.”

“Personally I believe we need to ensure everyone has the same opportunity. If everyone is empowered digitally then more problems will be solved.”

“The people best able to solve the problem are those that are affected by them. To solve the real challenges in society we need to ensure everyone has access to technology alongside education so they can envisage the opportunity and most importantly believe they can create action to make a difference.”

What industries will change?

As we continue our constant evolution, the prediction is that all industries will be affected in the coming years.

“I foresee augmented reality empowering field based roles with over the shoulder expertise and support,” says Scott.

“Field workers who have distance to travel between jobs and thereby limiting what they can get done will have a less skilled worker do the time-intensive driving with the experience and highly skilled work guiding them through augmented reality.”

The biggest shifts impacted by Covid-19 may be in New Zealand’s education and health sector. These were shifts that were already on the way but that were accelerated. Scott explains that the flipside positives of Covid-19 were in the education sector, where “the perception of access to people digitally has significantly changed”, bringing about a new possibility that the “physical location will be a redundant factor in the future”.

“We can imagine a world where a classroom in Onehunga could have experts from Beijing, Boston or Berlin providing a vastly different viewpoint to improve our learning.”

“Logistics and supply chains will need to become more automated to cope with the scale and complexity of getting the product to customer as it gets more competitive. Near real-time deliver of products and autonomous distribution are all advancements just around the corner.”

Healthcare needs to change and if we can overcome all the complexities, the digital doctor will become a reality. The arrival of new start-up ‘Tend’ new start-up is an example of how this is being made a reality.

The retail experience will be radically different, augmenting products into our environment. Trying virtually before you buy is not far away. The latest generations of phones have arrived with capability to allow this. The apps will follow shortly.

Banking is going through a revolution with neo-banks appearing and the growth of peer-to-peer transactions services enabling a range of services for business and consumers.

With all this opportunity, the benefits will only be realised through our people, the talent needed to make it happen. Our education system must prepare young New Zealanders to lead this. The historical reliance on migrant talent needs to be balanced with homegrown expertise. It is this talent pool that will drive the real change, enabled by Cloud technology, for society through the lens and understanding they have for what needs to be solved in a way that is uniquely NZ. We can expect to be world leaders.

About the author: Cat Mules is Umbrellar’s Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat’s inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.

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