COVID 19 Reflection – Digital Business Readiness

Its now 1.35 pm on the 9th April 2020: half way through our New Zealand Level 4 COVID19 Lock-down. Its Easter Weekend and to ensure compliance, there are roadblocks and increased police presence to enforce the key principle of “staying at home.”

Here is the official site for the fight against the virus as a country. To avoid disaster and essentially eliminate the virus from New Zealand. Its called UNITE AGAINST COVID19.

Below I present the maps from a very cool dashboard put together by Andrew Jackson called COVID19 Map. Brilliant! Today it really looks like we have turned the corner but the Level 4 Lock-down will last for another 2 weeks.


My reflection is about our Digital Readiness. I can comment on this not from the perspective of being an expert in pandemics but as someone who has worked on Digital Business for a long time. Since 1995 through IBM and then since 1996 to-date doing one of the first PhD’s on Online Retail in the world and subsequent publications and teaching. Still not an expert but continually learning. So, observing and learning about the Lockdown and our digital business readiness.

NOTE: This is NOT a criticism at all. Rather, thinking about when this happens again. What will be different in terms of our response?

Like Korea, New Zealand has the opportunity to be a digital visionary in our world.


To be honest we have a big hole. This is disappointing because New Zealand started on the full eCommerce retail journey in 1996 with Woolworths Online (now Countdown Online). This site was the basis of my PhD and subsequent publications with colleagues. Ahead of many countries, Woolworths Online (now Countdown Online) was profitable and successful at food retail (the most difficult product category) by the year 1998.

In 2020 we have a serious situation where online shopping is being significantly limited. This is compared to New York for example, the new ground zero for COVID19, where people can order products and they are immediately delivered by UBER drivers contactless.

So where is the problem? From what I can understand there are three issues. These are the Last Mile physical infrastructure of the digital supply chain, digital infrastructure and working from home.


1. The Last Mile

The first issue is the last mile of online retail. The physical delivery. In the digital cost model: this is where all the cost is.

So, with the increase in demand. Exponential! There is not enough and measures have not been put in place to increase it or adapt the type of product with the appropriate delivery mechanism. While ensuring that the last mile is contactless.

I am sure there are many options that could be controlled and managed including training and strict procedures:

  1. Enlist selected UBER drivers (delivery of appropriate product).
  2. Recruit casual drivers (delivery of appropriate product).
  3. Longer term, courier companies and retailers set up together a dedicated fleet to reduce the cost of delivery to around zero to encourage more people to shop online, all the time.
  4. I am sure there are more…

Action Step 1: Improve the current and long-term physical delivery capability 


2. Digital Infrastructure

There are three parts to this. Network and Service Provision Capacity as well as Online Learning Readiness.

Network provision is stellar. At volumes close to 3 Terabytes per Second. We are going gangbusters. Here we are talking 4 million plus people at home in lock-down. All doing a huge array of digital content consumption. From Netflix to Online Learning. Thousand of people working from home.

Well done Chorus but I would note that basic internet services are still not available in some areas with copper phone lines. Talking basic ADSL and VDSL. For example, some areas of North Coromandel.  Many kids in rural communities still don’t have internet access. These areas can’t afford to pay for satellite access either. The cost of that is absolutely crazy.


Action Step 2: Internet access everywhere (and I am not talking about satellite as a solution)


The second part is Service Provision Capacity. Product and Service providers and the current state of their digital customer service strategy including the volume of customer interactions online they can handle. I think a lot of  businesses have been caught out here. Especially the larger online retailers. Many SME’s don’t even have strategy. Those that do: can’t operate in the government lock-down even if they were allowed.

I expect after 2 more weeks of lock-down at level 4, we will move to level 3 and I expect businesses will be allowed to reopen. But only if they can do contactless service provision and delivery.  So, do you have a digital strategy? Do you have a contactless service provision plan? It need not be complex for an SME but it should have a mobile option. I used to buy wine from a small provider in Albany using simple email. It has very effective. We need to be better than this and remember that in 1996 we were very early adopters across online retail and banking.

In fact on that point. New Zealand is pretty much a cashless society. According to a 2018 Newshub survey  “The most popular methods of payment in New Zealand today are bank transfers (71 percent), online payments (64 percent), credit cards (40 percent), and Eftpos (39 percent), the survey found.” In 2018 MYOB sited that 27% of transactions were made with cash. Being cashless is great for the COVID19 response. But its also great for digital transactions.


Action Step 3: Develop and implement a digital strategy with a contactless service provision plan 


The final point in this series is Online Learning Readiness. In the current Level 4 Lock-down, all places of learning are closed to classroom based learning. All moving to online learning. This happened with days. I expect this to continue until the end of the year.

New Zealand learning service providers have been engaging in online, mostly blended learning since 1997 and before. Massey University was an early pioneer in extramural learning. Not quite digital but a similar principle.

So, we did it. But only just. The key factor in my view are the strengths of the existing staff.

I think learning service providers need to rethink digital service provision. All courses should have both physical as well as digital platforms. They could be mirror images to start but then progress towards mirror plus supplement. Meaning the both are different but interlinked. For example, digital can be become a living live resource. Physical represents a different experience. I use it for example as a means for discussion and taking the ‘content’ off-road.

This approach, apart from the fact that it improves learning outcomes, it allows this essential service to continue seamlessly. Not matter what. The old strategy is to expect existing teaching and learning staff to do this. They will continue to do this but the organisations themselves need to invest in better online services for learning service provision as well as people to do things (not just provide advice). It takes time and resource to do it properly.


Action Step 4: Service learning organisations, invest, develop and implement a digital platform for all courses and programmes 


3. Working From Home

Again, like online learning. Workers relocated to home withing days. I am not surprised this was effective. It also happened when Auckland City had a major electricity blackout in 1998. But the strange thing about this is that after the crisis is over. People all get back into their cars and go back to work creating many problems for society.

Organisations as part of their sustainability strategy should be asking appropriate staff to work from home maybe 2 days per week. Count the benefits to your costs, society, the environment and staff well-being.


Action Step 5: Enhance you sustainability strategy by creating a working from home policy.


Best of luck New Zealand and the world.

Kia kaha

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