New CE Shows Reliance on Kiwi Innovation

Luke Brenton, originally from Rangiora, New Zealand, is set to become the highest paid company employee in history. Sources suggest that a salary in excess of $500 million has guaranteed the services of Reliance Group’s new Chief Executive. Brenton was previously the managing director of Reliance’s Technology Division and masterminded the volatile takeover of Microsoft seven years ago, Brenton has made his mark by aggressively taking on competitors in the technology industry like China Mobile and Apple.

Brenton expressed ironic satisfaction at the appointment, stating “Of course I’m thrilled as the one chosen to put his head on the chopping block.” He didn’t elaborate but this was probably a reference to his predecessor, Max Mengstrom, who ‘resigned’ earlier this month after a record US 27 billion dollar loss last year for the world’s third largest multinational conglomerate. His successor, Brenton, can claim to have headed the only Reliance division that posted a profit in the last financial year.

Much of that success can be attributed to the technological innovations coming out of Brenton’s home city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The Indian-owned Reliance Group have owned 87% of the technology and entertainment precincts in Christchurch since 2017, when the then National government was forced to accept foreign investment after the 2011 earthquake rebuild stalled. Reliance now have a 69% stake in the technology, textiles and retail industries across New Zealand, compared to a 43% stake worldwide.

Brenton attributes his own success to his education and early opportunities in Christchurch. He completed a degree in Business and Technological Innovation at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) in 2024. This was four years after Reliance first started funding CPIT to create courses specifically designed to educate and train current and prospective employees for their business enterprises in Christchurch and elsewhere in New Zealand.

“I think it was a no-brainer for CPIT at the time,” remarks Brenton. “The rebuild was pretty much finished and they were looking for other stakeholders and areas of revenue to replace trades courses.”

Brenton reminisces on his time in New Zealand with fondness. “Reliance really looked after me…looked after all its employees actually. They paid for me to continue to study courses specific to my work at the time. I did short, block courses at CPIT. Later, when I moved to the New Zealand head office in Wellington, I did online courses through CPIT. The learning materials were very focused on the Reliance business model, but I was able to do some activities on the job, which suited me. They even gave me one of their first branded mobiles to use. I’ve had an Individual Learning Plan all the way through and access to personal mentors. They’re a great company!”

Of course, not everyone agrees that the Reliance Group is a great company. The announcement of Brenton’s promotion to CE has initiated another wave of protests both here in Dehli and in New Zealand. Protesters are angry at Reliance’s latest takeover of that colossus online shopping company Trade Me.

One protester in Dehli, who did not want to be named, complained, “They already have a monopoly on manufacturing and retail shopping – look at how many malls they own! Now they’ll control online shopping too. They’ll shut out the competition so they can keep prices high.”

Thousands of miles away in Christchurch, Juan Rodriguez, was also protesting against Reliance’s use of technology. He worked in Reliance’s technology innovation division in New Mexico before being relocated to Christchurch two years ago. Ten months ago he lost his job after complaining about breaches of the Privacy Act as a result of the information gathered from learning analytics used at CPIT.

“I worked on the learning analytic programme Reliance uses to collect data to support educational progress. It’s a great way to analyse learner interactions with content and identify issues early. However, I believe that Reliance were being unethical and exploiting the data for commercial purposes.” Rodriguez took a personal grievance to court but unfortunately lost his case.

Back in Dehli, Brenton makes no apologies for using analytics and sees the potential of data mining as the key to turning around the fortunes of the Reliance Group. He also sees an opportunity to help his native city and learning institution.

“When I was last home, I talked to the Chief Exec at CPIT about the future of the institution. They are now developing approved programmes of study for Reliance in a wide range of subjects. I’m thinking of developing that aspect, getting expert educators to collaborate to produce resources that can be taught in blended or online courses. CPIT could become a hub of educational innovation… within the values and control of the corporation of course.”



Scenario Planning Matrix

Because I work in a polytechnic, I was interested in what the work situation might be like in 30 years, and how that could influence vocational institutions. It helped me to try and imagine the kinds of economic, political and business structures that might exist in 30 years.

I’ve now revised my matrix. I wasn’t happy with one of my axes so changed the local-global perspective to one moving from the public to the private good. With some tweaking, I think the scenarios now fit better.

scenario matrix V2

Intrepid Journeys

Technology has improved to the point where automation and robotics has replaced many jobs. People work less but travel further afield in search of opportunities. International agreements encourage people to travel and work overseas but many governments have taken a hands-off approach to funding or controlling tertiary education. Education has become a commodity that grows and changes to meet individual needs and current issues. The growth in niche educational providers in Asia who offer courses cheaply online has resulted in similar competition worldwide. Vocational institutions specialise in distance education, with fewer campus-based programmes offered. Now students have a huge range of choice in courses, study online and through mobile learning. They choose their subjects and use social media as part of the shared global learning experience. When students complete courses they submit their results and other artefacts to certified assessors who authenticate and certify competence.

Outrageous Fortune

This is a world where multi-national companies employ a large number of the workforce. They also own or support many vocational institutions that subsidise students into short term programmes that match the needs of the company. They offer low or no fees in return for service. Polytechnics specialise in a few STEM areas and offer both blended and distance versions of courses. Standardised qualifications help to get students on the employment ladder. There is a high mobility of students to other regions and countries seeking work or promotion and study can be transferred to overseas campuses or continued online. Students are supported by ILPs based on learning analytics. These corporations also invest a lot of money into educational technologies and dictate the kinds of technologies used in the institutions they support.

New Zealand’s Got Talent

In this scenario, technology is encouraging the growth of small business and the Internet is the main means of doing business. Local entrepreneurship and self-employment is prevalent, although the market is global. People are demanding a wide range of business and STEM courses and partially government funded polytechnics compete with other private providers who offer government approved competency credentials. People want flexibility and targeted online and blended short courses proliferate. Students are prepared to pay for excellent teaching and support, so online courses are interactive using the best materials accessed globally. There is high mobility between providers as students seek courses that best meet their personal needs.

Close to Home

In this scenario, political conditions and a worldwide recession have restricted the movement of people and goods. Vocational tertiary institutions are small and regional. They struggle to survive with limited government funding and provide a limited range of courses to meet employers’ needs. There is little money or incentive for research development and upgrading technology, so government funding is spent on local campuses providing retraining opportunities for the unemployed. There is a mix of face to face and online learning as economics often makes it more viable to offer online resources with fewer teachers there to provide support. Technology is mainly used to provide access to existing resources and there is little innovative use of digital tools.

Identifying trends in a Learning Services context

Bullet list of trends from Horizon Reports

Tablet computing
Mobile Apps
Learning analytics
Personal learning environments
Mobile learning
Competency based credentials
Electronic interactive books
Open educational resources
Flipped classrooms
Social media
Cloud computing

Two major trends:

1. Learning analytics – This is comprehensive data analysis at every level of the organisation, and can be used to analyse learning and teaching trends. It could be very useful in student services for analysing student-related data to identify at-risk students immediately and possible reasons (eg. Non-attendance, programme effectiveness). So it supports student retention and a more personalised learning experience.

2. Mobile learning – I think this really now encompasses tablet computing and mobile Apps. It includes all kinds of mobile devices and mobile Apps giving access to a huge range of educational resources and communication opportunities via the internet. I was thinking of choosing Personal Learning Environments as a major trend here but think that in many respects mobile learning will allow students to create their own PLE. In my context, mobile learning will allow resources to be optimised for the learner, with a growing number of Apps that allow students to learn in ways that suit them, using a range of different media. What is also exciting is the growing ability of institutions to develop their own Apps to enhance their specific teaching and learning needs.

An interesting graphic I found:

Envisioning Technology. (2013). Retrieved August 7, 2013, from

Scenario planning through the lens of a Student Services Manager

My decision making context:

I am reviewing the scenario through the lens of a manager for student services, specifically academic services, at a medium –size tertiary polytechnic. The polytechnic provides a range of vocationally based programmes both face-to-face, blended and online.

Overview of the scenario:

I chose to utilise the “Four Future Scenarios for Higher Education” (up to 2030) scenario planning document developed at the OECD/France International Conference. I chose scenario four – Higher Education Inc.

There is global competition to provide educational services on a commercial basis. Vocational institutions focus almost exclusively on teaching, with very little research outputs. Competition for students is fierce and institutions look internationally for their share of the market. The most successful open campuses in other countries and develop and sell their educational programmes to other institutions. This has resulted in a division of labour and specialisation, a scenario allowing the growth of specialised education providers in developing countries such as India. While English is the language of research and post-graduate studies, specialist vocational and under-graduate programmes are run in the local language of the provider.

Key drivers of change in this scenario include government policies and international agreements to open up educational opportunities to overseas students, thus encouraging international students to move for their education.

Support comes in the form of lower communication and transport costs to encourage student mobility, and positive immigration policies. With government support, institutions realise the commercial potential of marketing their institution internationally as an alternative education provider.

Brainstorm of potential decisions:

Student advisors would come from a range of cultural and language backgrounds
Provision of training and support in dealing with students from diverse backgrounds, and in the technologies to teach and support them
A reassessment of working hours if increasingly flexible provision of programmes is offered
Providing individualised learning plans that support the success and retention of students
Provision of student mentors to support the student’s educational ‘journey’
The accessibility of online resources, as seen through language and cultural filters
Decisions around how much English language teaching and support can be provided for international students
How to collaborate with colleagues in satellite campuses, sharing expertise and resources
Choosing the most appropriate technologies for communicating with and teaching students in distance learning programmes
Resolving the accessibility issues of student services to students in terms of information, locations and flexible means of support
Developing ways and means to orientate students to the host culture, educationally and socially

The two most important strategic decisions:

1. Resolving the accessibility issues of student services to students in terms of information, locations and flexible means of support. This is really important as in the competitive business model clients demand prompt, individualised service that meets their needs. If they don’t get it, they will go elsewhere. Being able to meet student needs in all areas, including student services, ensures a competitive advantage. That means making information and resources accessible to students in multilingual forms, and providing a comprehensive front-facing service both face-to-face and online.

2. Providing individualised learning plans is the second strategic decision. It provides the ability to track the progress of students, identifying issues that may affect their success and, as a consequence, the prestige of the institution. It is an important part of the package that offers a personalised, student-focused service and particularly necessary in supporting students to overcome language and cultural barriers. Learning plans can also move with students if they move from one campus to another.

Transferability of recommended decisions for the scenarios alternatives:

Both strategic decisions are crucial in the ‘Open networking’ scenario as it too is very internationalised, often delivering courses online and with students expected to work independently. There is less strategic importance on addressing accessibility issues for international students in the ‘Serving local communities’ scenario as anti-globalisation sentiments discourage international students in favour of local and national students. Both strategic decisions are relevant in the ‘New public responsibility’ scenario because institutions are more “attentive to the learning needs of students of all ages and with a wide range of learning needs.”

Keying in to the uncertainties of the future

I’m beginning to understand how scenario planning is useful for predicting longer term futures, especially as it emphasises contrasting possible futures. It leads to an emphasis on flexibility and adaptability, key elements of sustainability. It does force decision makers to look past the current trends and plan for those unexpected events. It also forces decision makers to look past personal preferences to other viable possibilities and options.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m struggling to get my head around scenario planning and its usefulness in my context. It’s interesting to note that at my tertiary institution a number of important decisions have been made recently, with significant monetary investment, on technologies to address the learning and teaching needs of the future. One of the key guiding documents the Steering Group was given was the 2012 New Horizon Report, The Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2012-2017, whose methodology is rooted in a systematic review of the literature on current and emerging technologies and trends. It is a response to recent trends, or what is happening now in education and gives us a good look at identified drivers of change in education (predetermineds). Therefore it takes a strategic rather than a scenario planning approach to predicting technology adoption in education.

Where I think scenario planning is important in an educational context is the ability to predict where our learners will be in the future, what work they will be doing and what their world will look like, so we can work backwards and put things in place that will hopefully be relevant to their futures. I would like to better understand what the key uncertainties of the future are for tertiary education and explore how well decisions that have already been made address possible future scenarios.

Johnson, L., Adams, S., & Cummins, M. (2012). Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2012-2017: An NMC Horizon Report Regional Analysis.[Report]. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.

Scenario planning is about being prepared

“Scenarios can’t predict the future, so what’s the point?”

[Have now added appropriate tags…omission reflects the fragmented nature of my mind at the moment.]

Scenario planning is about predicting possible futures further ahead than just the foreseeable future, that of a few months or 1-2 years. Strategy planning extrapolates data from the past and uses current trends to predict short-term directions. Trends change over a longer period of time and so are unreliable indicators of change. In addition, there are many unexpected events that can change the direction of the future (eg. Christchurch earthquake). The key is in preparing for possible futures.

The video emphasises that businesses are better at preparing rather than predicting, but shouldn’t limit themselves to preparing for one possible future as there are many possibilities. The challenge is to use current drivers and uncertainties to predict the most probable futures, and prepare for those. It’s about preparing to face the most relevant effects of change.

Freeman identifies an important distinction of scenario planning. Scenario planning helps us visualise what influential factors such as “Ideas, Nature, Society, Politics, Economics, Culture, and Technology” might have on the future. Because there are a wide range of external factors, it is equally important to include perspectives from a wide range of people in the scenario planning. Once possible futures are visualised (also described as stories) we can work backwards to identify what strategies should be put in place to prepare for those plausible, possible futures.

So, the point of scenario planning is not to try to predict the future but predict several plausible futures so that strategies can be put in place in preparation for any likely eventuality.