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5 Minutes with Lois van Waardenberg

11th Dec 2014

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Law graduate and former Director of Writer's Diet, Lois is currrently the Head of Business Technology and Information Services for Z Energy, a groundbreaking New Zealand based fuel company that is conscientiously run by Kiwis for Kiwis, providing fuel to retail customers and large commercial customers like airlines, trucking companies, mines, shipping companies and vehicle fleet operators, while also looking to provide and promote sustainable forms of energy for the future, and support local neighbourhoods. 

In our interview Lois shares with us her passion for this business and gives some insight into what it takes to stay a head of the game, as well offering some valuable advice to those women looking to succeed in IT. Thanks for the great read Lois!

What are your business priorities for the next 12 months?

Simplifying our internal operations – including our IT systems – ERP is a focus.  Serving our customers (fast, friendly and hassle-free).  Solving what matters for a moving world (our brand promise) -  achieving our financial and operational targets. For me, looking ahead to the fast-evolving and uncertain future is a constant priority that is best not obliterated by week-to-week urgencie.

What are your strategies to stay ahead of the competition? 

Providing our retail customers fast, friendly and hassle-free service (e.g Zip through Z retail stations). Pay@pump services and speedy point-of-sale on retail sites. Refining our commercial offers, and providing useful addons – e.g. integration with Xero cloud accounting services. A speedy, reliable service at commercial sites – such as airstops (just now rolling out updated reliable new technology), truckstops, marine bunkers, and direct machine refuelling. Considering how our current competitors will react to change, whether driven by us or technology or industry trends – and staying alive to the disruption and opportunities these evolving forces provoke.

What technology advances should business leaders and managers focus on?

Three or four - are top of mind:Consumerisation of technology – everyone is used to using technology everywhere all the time. The availability of services from your dining room. Skype, online shopping and the death of retail …The ubiquity of data availability and the evolving standards in the big data space – we’ll get to know how to monetise the opportunity over the coming few years. Anything that enables adjacent industries and pure-play tech companies to disrupt your own business eg. Online retailing; Powershop for electricity; e-payments.  It’s about the ability of tech advance to disrupt the customer lifecycle. What's the best piece of innovation you've seen in recent times and why?

Award-winning poems by my daughter – “crunchy” and alive. I love the ability to ditch physical entertainment media and rely on the world of aggregated content. I also kinda like arriving at the AirNZ lounge and being offered my coffee on my phone. Sometimes simple things make a difference -  integrating our Z Card customers into Xero online accounting has been really well received by our customers.

Describe a typical day?

On a good day it’ll start outdoors, followed by a huuuuge trim latte, preferably in a bowl.  Finishing with a Deisen Shiraz from South Australia would be a lucky, not a typical day – a bog-standard Riesling would be more normal.
In between, the only standard is constant interaction with people – internal customers, suppliers, and staff. Interacting with colleagues from other organisations with familiar dilemmas, and sharing and learning from their thinking, successes and mistakes is always a bonus.

When clients come to you, what business problems do you commonly hear?

Is technology always the answer? Z’s customers are every person in NZ – and small and large businesses. 
Technology is an inextricable part of solving what matters to our customers – and that’s more and more the case.  Very little transport fuel (or core business) gets delivered without the assistance of information and communications technology of some kind – think of onboard POS systems delivering deep into the NZ forest, or Jo Bloggs rocking up at the local Z service station and paying at the pump or instore – digital services are integral.Bottom line, though, business problems are created and solved by people (sometimes using technology).

You have worked in a few different countries over your career, how does the maturity of the New Zealand Tech space stack up?

NZ is full of people who are ultra talented with No 8 fencing wire.  We sometimes struggle to manage our creativity for business benefit – and yet our long term future depends on getting better at this. 
NZ isn’t an isolated ghetto any more – world’s best practice is available, we’re excellent at taking a good idea and running with it, something that seems key to New Zealand’s economic success.

The tech industry is notorious for the lack of women across all levels. What's stopping women from exploring a career in IT?

Nothing.

What's your advice to women who are interested in an IT career?

JFDI.  Really.  See above.  I’d have the same advice to anyone – what’s it you want?  Make it happen.

Apart from your day job, what other interesting projects are you working on?

Getting a new place sorted – including figuring out how to get my daughters’ poems displayed as canvases on the wall. Getting a finger crushed in an automatic door earlier this year functioning again through an operation or few and some entertaining rehabilitation.  I’m a musician, so this project really matters.

Favourite local food?

Charley Noble in Wellington’s a good fun place and 20 steps away from Z. Pandoro bowl lattes after a good long walk set me up well for the day.

My own attempts at dinner can also be at least ok (though I have a tough crowd to please)

Favourite place to travel?

NY for the first time last year blew me right away – I love the constant energy, though imagine it might get exhausting eventually.

What is that burning question within Strategy and Architecture you’ve always wanted to ask your peers?

Why don’t we articulate the business value of our work more clearly?