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New Zealand’s Health IT sector has a huge opportunity to grow its international presence and deliver significant export returns. A number of innovative companies are already leading the charge.

By Glenn Baker.

Ask almost any Kiwi to name a successful health IT export firm and invariably the name Orion Health will crop up. That’s because the company and it’s founder and CEO Ian McRae has accomplished so much on the global stage since its formation in 1993, and it is now a major contributor in terms of overseas earnings.

I remember meeting McRae in 2006 in the course of researching an export story for sister magazine NZBusiness and being impressed by the progress of Orion even back then.

McRae told me that they had few role models to follow when launching into overseas markets, but there’s no doubting the fact that in 2016 Orion Health provides a strong role model for today’s emerging exporters in New Zealand’s health IT cluster. And there are quite a few of them.

Excuse the pun, but New Zealand’s health IT export sector is looking healthier as each year passes. To get an accurate picture on the state of the sector’s health, we consulted Scott Arrol, chief executive of NZHIT, an industry grouping of New Zealand-based health software vendors, consultants and healthcare providers.

Arrol was a healthcare manager for more than 16 years and involved in health service delivery. He understands what it takes to position IT as a key enabler of models of care and health service delivery. He also believes New Zealand has some of
the leading exponents for developing IT solutions specifically for the
health sector.  

“In the health IT sector we genuinely have people who are fully committed to doing their best to help enable health services to be delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible. This largely comes from New Zealand’s comparative size and a greater understanding across the wider health sector about the key issues and challenges we’re facing as a society.  

“Hence, this gives us an excellent [export] opportunity. Global markets see our sector as highly innovative and extremely well-tuned to solving many of the world’s health issues.”

Arrol agrees that Orion Health is an excellent example of a health IT firm that’s taken their knowledge, innovation and abilities offshore with significant success. 

“They’ve been able to use local proof points to demonstrate their capabilities to health sectors in other countries whilst being highly responsive to what each of those countries require for their local citizens,” he says. 

“At the other end of the scale there is the likes of SHI Global at the early entrepreneurial start-up stage; who’ve developed a highly innovative solution and gained traction offshore without having the local use case usually expected in order to gain an export deal.  

“However, in all cases the critical factors of building relationships, showing they understand local needs and building future-focused solutions are essential no matter where the export company operates.”

As the peak industry body, NZHIT supports a wide cross-section of members who come from both health IT and health service providers. “The growth and strength of our network means we’re able to ‘connect up’ a lot of the activities that are occurring both nationally and internationally,” says Arrol, “especially as the need to have strong collaborative relationships is increasingly essential.”  

NZHIT is about to launch a new initiative to develop an industry-led growth plan on behalf of its members. “This will require close involvement by members to ensure the plan is reflective of their strategies and objectives over the coming ten years, whilst identifying the level of support required to assist the sector to reach its full potential,” explains Arrol.

Member feedback suggests it can be challenging to navigate the many pathways within each government agency (such as NZTE, MFAT and MBIE), he says, as well as across agencies.

“Our growth plan will need the agencies input so we can pull together a way of coordinating resources, support mechanisms and have an ‘all of Government’ approach – so we’re able to maximise effectiveness and efficiencies when it comes to the investment that we all put into growing export returns.”

Arrol says government agencies need to incorporate peak body groups more into their strategies. “We can provide a lot of support, coordination and act as a communication conduit that the agencies themselves sometimes struggle with.”

Healthy strategies

Arrol’s advice for firms with export aspirations is to have a very clear focus on what problem their health IT solution is going to solve and which markets to focus on. 

Research as much as possible, build relationships, have the capacity to scale up when required, and the technical expertise to ensure the solution is fit
for purpose.  

There are no shortcuts when it comes to getting in front of key decision-makers, he says. And to build direct relationships be prepared to work within a partnership-based framework, as opposed to simply “selling boxes”.  

“Fledging exporters have the tyranny of time and resources to overcome so they have to tap into the support provided by government agencies, build collaborative relationships with other like-minded partners, and be single-minded about strategies and how to achieve them.  

“Also, whether starting up or well established, all New Zealand health IT operators must have a full understanding of the newly released New Zealand Health Strategy.  

“This strategy is already being recognised globally as an example of the way that health environments must remodel themselves in order to face the huge demands being placed on them – especially in areas such as the ageing population, long-term chronic conditions, disabilities and mental health.”  

Being responsive to the Health Strategy gives health IT firms an advantage when it comes to international opportunities, he says.

Healthy targets

Arrol is convinced that New Zealand’s health IT sector has a huge opportunity to grow its international presence and build significant export returns. He believes it’s time to move more exporters up the ladder to sit alongside, or even above, the achievements of Orion.  

“In its own right the health IT sector should be targeting at least $1 billion of exports over the coming five years, that would then provide the platform for a further $1 billion-plus to be added through to 2026.  

“To do this we need to establish a clear set of objectives that aligns everyone with achieving them – private and public – and we need a supportive New Zealand health sector. 

“None of this can be achieved unless we’ve a strong, local health IT industry that is enabling leading-edge health services for New Zealanders, and can use these proof points to establish offshore success stories.”  

Glenn Baker is editor of Exporter.



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