Digi Digest with Ben Reid – The Canterbury Tech Summit

By: Jessica and Gemma 13 Aug, 2018

It’s not long now until The Canterbury Tech Summit is in full swing. This year we’ll be exhibiting at the event and we can’t wait! In the lead up to the event we spoke with Ben Reid, Executive Director at AI Forum NZ and ex-chairman of Canterbury Tech to find out more about the event, his opinion on this year’s theme and what excites him about the current tech industry.

You were the Chairman of Canterbury Tech for 2 years and on the committee for 6, how do you feel it has grown since you first started?

CanterburyTech (in those days the Canterbury Software Cluster) has grown in the last decade from a small monthly meetup to today’s much bigger group – the regular speaker events now have 100+ people which is a real achievement in Canterbury. I think the organization is unique nationally – we are lucky to have such a connected and vibrant ecosystem here in Christchurch – in particular I like the fact that the reach has expanded to include more technologists as well as those involved in the business of marketing and selling tech overseas.

You’re now currently the Executive Director of AI Forum NZ, what direction do you see AI going?

AI is a set of methods and technologies which have been around for years but are now able to deliver real business value due to advances in cloud computing, storage and data analytics capabilities. We’re still at an early stage of understanding what the AI tools are and how we can use them in our businesses – however the opportunities to improve productivity and make better predictions and decisions based on data are massive and right in front of us if we choose to invest in capability.

Why was the Canterbury Tech Summit set up? What is its purpose?

The Canterbury Tech Summit was originally set up to showcase the local software and tech innovation and successful businesses – and to bring the local ecosystem together to share war stories and hear from international thought leaders in the tech scene. It has grown year on year and is now one of New Zealand’s biggest tech conferences… bring on the new Te Pae Convention Centre, can’t come soon enough!

This year’s theme is ‘Amplify’ – do you feel this is relevant to today’s tech industry?

Absolutely – we do a lot of great innovation here in Canterbury but often don’t gain the scale or reach of our international competitors due to our geographical isolation and perhaps a lack of depth in marketing capability. No matter how great your tech is, people need to hear about it before they’ll buy it!

What do you think needs to be addressed at this year’s event?

I’m interested in hearing more about the real-world applications of AI and machine learning to solve real challenges the world over – using data to gain intelligence. The geospatial AI work that local superstars Orbica are doing is world class. Also the Cacophony Project has made great progress implementing AI for conservation and pest control.

Other than AI I’m interested in advances in Crypto tokens (not so much crypto currency) as a new mechanism for funding innovation – something between traditional venture capital and open source communities.  The ICO bubble is maturing and the propositions that are up for investment are becoming more interesting and substantial. Local Crypto exchange Cryptopia is a prime example of how great local tech can ride a wave of international growth and create a hugely successful international business based right here in Christchurch.

What excites you about the tech industry in Canterbury?

Fundamentally: day in day out I get to work with smart and interesting people, building world class technology products and services, right here in Christchurch: with awesome coffee, the Port Hills, Pacific ocean and mountains on my doorstep. Plus my kids get to grow up in a safe, friendly city with great schools and strong local community. The housing’s way more affordable than Auckland too. Yes I have to get on a plane for work more often than if I was located in a major city overseas, but when I’m here my commute is 10 minutes by bike. The Christchurch balance works well for me.

Will you be attending this year? If so, what are you looking forward to the most?

Absolutely – I enjoy the speaker programme. Particularly looking forward to hearing from Trineo’s Dan Fowlie – I remember when Trineo just started out 10 years ago and it was just Dan and Abhinav – and now they’re running a multinational software powerhouse. Kudos.

Razzbri are exhibiting at the Canterbury Tech Summit this year – what can we expect?

A huge crowd drawn from all over New Zealand! 


Check out our other blog post with  Helen Shorthouse, Strategic Tech Leader for Christchurch NZ here  where she talked about current trends and gender equality within tech.