How does it feel to have won the Microsoft NZ 2020 Partner of the Year award and what does this mean for Enlighten Designs?
Our team is stoked. It’s a really significant achievement and we like that it’s been showing just how much our solutions have been making a really positive change around the world.
A lot of our solutions we put into the award submission were for places like Sustainable Coastlines who are cleaning up the beaches in New Zealand, and Our Power who are helping people in energy hardship - I think it’s really good. The main thing it means for us, is the fact we can take the solutions and technologies and use the exposure to scale it and keep making a positive impact.
Your company is making a big difference, locally and globally. What is the change that you are most proud of above all else in leading Enlighten Designs?
We’ve been around for 21 years now, Enlighten originally started in a caravan in the backyard of my family home.
Right from when we began, we really wanted to create Enlighten based off three interconnected parts. We had a collection of people who were passionate around technology and innovating on top of it – using technology to make a difference. We also really value connection. Being passionate around people and developing people, working with clients and having a good team culture is super important. We’ve always run on this prospect called sustainable prosperity, we want to do good and help but also want to invest back into RNV and our people. We always try to keep these three in balance, allowing us to really make a positive difference.
Things that Enlighten has done – Deloitte Tech Fast 500, our work has been shown to Bill Gates, we won the Microsoft Country Partner of the Year Award (as well as a tonne of other Microsoft awards over the years), we have the most viewed Power BI report in the world, and more recently we’ve been creating tech solutions that have been transforming media (American and European elections) - a lot of which has been real-time broadcast on the web.
However, what I’m most proud of has been the ability to create an organisation with amazing people that have come together and used technology to make a difference - that is the coolest thing. I’m really excited for the future because we have this amazing platform to use the Partner of the Year award to scale out and make an impact. Whether that’s by picking up amazing clients we can make a difference for, helping organisations in need, have more employees joining our team etc. It’s a really exciting time.
The most viewed Power BI report in the world: The European Elections
Data and AI has a contentious reputation, do you see any downsides to the use of Data and AI in the future? If so, what are they?When you look throughout history you have these situations where humankind has hit points where new tech has come in. e.g. fire, gunpowder, penicillin etc. When these fundamentals come, they give us so much power but also so much danger at the same time. Data and AI really sits in that category. The most important thing we do is slow down and ask questions about what we’re building e.g. is this ethical? Is the technology appropriate for the problem that we’re looking at applying this to? Who’s going to be impacted and are there any unintended consequences from that? From an AI perspective, what are the potentials for misuse or exploitation? For Data/algorithm, is there a likelihood for bias and how inclusive Is this technology going to be? Are we going to marginalise people?
There is a tech were using now which is called neutral text-to-speech, and what’s cool about it is that it’s a computer that sounds like a real person. We can record you and perfectly mimic your voice using the computer - when you think about that technology, it can really be used in some bad ways. What is good and reassuring, when you look at larger vendors like Microsoft, is that this technology is restricted. Before you can even start using the technology you have to apply for a licence and then you’re essentially monitored to make sure you’re not using it in a negative or unethical way.
There’s no real stopping Data & AI and what’s going to come, but it’s important for vendors like ourselves and clients that we continue to treat it with the seriousness it’s got and that we are responsible and accountable with how we move forward.
What are the most interesting things that you think are happening in tech right now?I think in my career, right now might be one of the most exciting times in tech.
Chat bots were a little bit gimmicky when they first started making a presence, but within the last six months we’ve been getting a lot of requests for building bots, and they really are making a difference, particularly in the call centre/support style scenario. Chat bots can be powerful as long as you really think about the human experience and how you can remove some of the friction. There’s a great example of some airlines in the states, when you ring them they already know your number, so they can welcome you with your name and flight details which makes things easier and is a lot better than the chat bots on websites you’d have to fight with for a while. The technology is speeding up so much.
A piece of technology we’ve been working on with Microsoft News Labs is Project IDA (Insights Discovery and Accelerator). Media has been in a challenging space for a while now, and one of the things I’m really proud of Microsoft for doing is looking at “How can we use technologies like AI to support media? What IDA does is uses a bunch of technology, like Azure Search and Video Indexer, and allows journalists to find critical content in huge volumes of data. With Azure Search you can put in all this unstructured data and the software will go through it and identify given entities for you.
A subset under Artificial Intelligence is Machine Learning – we are doing some cool projects with this now. Machine Learning is a great technology where it helps to solve something that you don’t know the answer to in advance. One of the things we’ve been doing is helping organisations with HR surveys. Normally in an HR survey, you’d have all of these quantitative yes/no questions, but actually most of the time when you’re running an employee feedback survey the real value comes in when you ask them the qualitative answers and let people actually write what they think. However, when you have a larger organisation it becomes hard to get insights out of that, so we’ve been using machine learning over the top of those qualitative data sets to essentially turn them quantifiable. This way you can see the graphs and the reporting and drive into that data.
What do you see as the next steps for technology in the world – what are your predictions?I feel like the whole remote work movement will be really sustained. I feel like every meeting moving forward is likely to be virtually enabled. We’ve found in New Zealand in this post Covid-style situation, is that sometimes people are in the office and sometimes they aren’t, so every meeting is a Teams meeting.
About a year from now I think that the whole concept of geographies will have broken down and - it’s going to continue. There used to be a bias previously towards working with organisations that were in the same geographical location as you, whereas now they just want the best talent and best organisations, so they don’t really mind where you’re coming from.
Five years from now, we’ll start to see the voice assistance bots and human experience platforms are going to be dramatically different from what they are today. We’ve got a younger guy who just joined the team recently, and I watch him all day just talking to all his his devices and so you can just start to see where this is going. You look at the bot technology which is starting to get quite useful in situations like call centres, and it’s not far away before some of the experiences are going to be incredible where you’re talking to these AI assistants.
When you go further from that into the 10 years plus, I still don’t think AI is going to replace humans. I believe it’s going to be more of this journey of augmentation. I was cleaning my house over lockdown and started finding this old technology like a floppy disk, VCR and blue ray players etc. and it was interesting that all this technology became irrelevant quickly. If we think forward into virtual and augmented reality, I can see why big companies like Microsoft are investing so much into these technologies.
The future is going to be very different to how it is today, but it’s super exciting though!