Paul Wallbank

Paul Wallbank is a speaker and writer charting how technology is changing society and business. Paul has four regular technology advice radio programs on ABC, a weekly column on the smartcompany.com.au website and has published seven books.

Aug 232016
 
walking the shop floor is important to business management

Just how broad is the US tech industry? It’s tempting to think that most of the American tech sector is concentrated in San Francisco Bay Area with some offshoots in Seattle and on the East Coast but as this New York Times piece describes, the country has a range of high-tech industry clusters.

Like Silicon Valley itself many of those clusters exist because of other industries, research facilities or companies – Seattle being home to Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon being an example.

Another example of how other industries have influenced the development of industry clusters is shown in the example of Philadelphia.

I hadn’t thought have Philadelphia as having a tech sector until I spoke with Australian tech company Nuix about one of their key North American offices being in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken.

When I observed that Philadelphia wasn’t the obvious place to set up, Nuix’s managers pointed out how the city’s pharmaceutical, medical technology and telecommunications provide a deep talent pool for tech companies along with the city’s location between New York and Washington DC being an advantage as well.

Philadelphia’s civic leaders have contributed to it with their Startup Philly program that offers services and incentives ranging from networking events through to a seed investment program.

VeryApt CEO Ashrit Kamireddi, one of the recipients of a Startup PHL angel round, describes the pros and cons of the city investment program and points out it was the factor in setting up their business there.

Prior to raising a $270,000 angel round led by StartUp PHL, my two cofounders and I had just graduated from our respective grad programs and had placed 3rd in Wharton’s Business Plan Competition. We could have settled our company anywhere, with New York and San Francisco being the obvious choices. For a startup, the initial round of funding is where geography is most critical. Most angels don’t want to invest outside of their backyard, which explains the natural tendency for startups to relocate where there is the most capital.

Kamireddi’s point about capital is critical, for tech startups finding funding is probably the most important factor in where the company is based.

Funding though isn’t the only aspect and for established companies, particularly those in the Bay Area struggling with high costs which is what the New York Times article focuses on in its example of Phoenix, Arizona.

The spread of the US’s tech sector shows the country’s industrial depth and strength, it also shows how other factors affect the spread of technology businesses.

Aug 222016
 
building sydney as a smart city

There’s a mayoral election pending in Sydney and the talk of the city becoming a startup hub is becoming one of the issues.

Over the next few days I’m hoping to interview each of the four major candidates on their policies regarding how they see Sydney competing against the likes of Singapore and Shanghai, let alone San Francisco or London.

In 2009, I was working with the New South Wales state government on their Digital Sydney project which looked at how the state capital could become a global centre, one of the things we found was that the city had many of the attributes successful creative centres had – diversity, tolerance and access to talent.

That project died in the face of bureaucratic ineptitude but the idea still kicks around with last week’s launch of the NSW Government’s Jobs For The Future report which, despite its opening thirty pages of buzzwords and waffle, contains some serious analysis of the state’s reliance on inward facing service industry jobs.

Refreshingly, the NSW Government strategy looks beyond the current mania around tech startups based on the Silicon Valley venture capital model – something the Federal government’s Innovation Statement failed to do – and discusses how to encourage growth and investment in other emergent sectors both inside and outside the inner city startup communities.

While Sydney can be an attractive place to live for the digital elite, it falls down in a number of areas with property being among the most expensive in the world, telecommunications being costly and unreliable coupled with a complacent corporate sector and a stingy investment community.

Making the city more attractive is going to take a number of initiatives that including easing the cost of doing business, improving links between academia and industry along with tapping into Sydney’s diverse immigrant populations.

Some of these factors are within the City of Sydney’s purview but most of them are state or Federal matters. By definition this limits what local politicians can do.

Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to do them and it’s good to see these topics have become issues in the local elections. For Sydney though, one suspects it’s going to business as usual until The Lucky Country’s luck runs out.

Aug 202016
 
THE_BEAD_MAKER_--_Apprentice_Watches_the_Master_--_A_Rosary_Shop_in_Old_Meiji-Era_Japan

As Japan’s society ages and urbanises, the effects are being seen in buildings and communities being abandoned.

The Japan Times reports on how the nation is now becoming a magnet for urban explorers discovering what lies insides abandoned homes, hospitals, hotels and theme parks.

Many of the abandoned tourist attractions are legacies of the 1980s economic boom that saw a massive over-investment in property plays. With a shrinking population, those facilities were always doomed but in a growing society, there would have been economic reasons for redeveloping them.

In Japan though, those economic drivers don’t exist in much of the country as the Japan Times explains.

“Japan is in some sense uniquely blessed as a land of ruins. Its rapidly aging population, low birth rate, urbanization and lack of immigration have left a legacy of ghost towns and more than 8 million abandoned homes, or akiya. That tally could hit 21.5 million, one-third of all residences nationwide, by 2033, according to the Nomura Research Institute.”

Japan is the first of many nations that will face the consequences of an aging population, what they do will be a lesson to all of those who follow. Of those, China will probably the biggest experiment.

One big lesson is property demand changes and once valuable assets don’t necessarily hold their value in the face of a societal shift.

Aug 182016
 
Autodesk University 2015 Las Vegas

A common factor when talking to tech companies is their talk of disrupting industries, they themselves are not immune from change though.

This week networking giant Cisco announced they would cut seven percent of their workforce, nearly 5,500 employees, as the company deals with the shift to software defined networking equipment continues.

Industry commentators are warning Cisco are not alone as software and cloud based services change the tech industry with Global Equities Research’s Trip Chowdhry estimating the sector may shed up to 370,000 positions this year.

Today I had the opportunity to ask Autodesk’s Pat Williams, the company’s Senior Vice President for Asia Pacific, about the challenges facing companies transitioning to the cloud. At the beginning of the year Autodesk announced they would be cutting ten percent, over 900 jobs, as part of a structuring plan.

“I think there was a model that we had that as we moved to a subscription business that said we would see a bit of a drop in revenue and we realised our gross margins would be pressed,” he said.

“What we were trying to do was right-size the business,” Williams continued. “Sometimes you need to do that. It was a very intentional forward looking move we made.”

Autodesk and Cisco are far from the first tech companies to suffer from the software industry’s shift to the cloud. Microsoft have been probably been the business most affected by the change.

Cisco themselves have been dealing with this shift for a decade as well, with a major restructure in 2011 that saw 6,500 jobs cut.

What is clear in a transitioning industry is that Microsoft, Cisco and Autodesk are far from alone in making cuts. As Autodesk’s Williams points out, it’s probably best for managements to be doing this proactively rather than waiting for the changes to force their hands.

The stories of Cisco, Autodesk and Microsoft show all industries are facing changes. Assuming you’re safe in any sector is brave thinking.

Aug 172016
 
padlock on a cd drive

What can consumers do to protect themselves online? Nuix’s Chief Information Security Officer, Chris Pogue, believes it’s all about sticking to the basics.

“It’s honestly easier than you think. It’s basic IT hygiene.” “Just the basics – bad passwords, reutilisation of passwords. There’s password managers available for ten dollars a year. Don’t reuse passwords.

“Close your wi-fi, don’t broadcast your Wi-Fi SSID. Make your PSK password longer than normal. Just make sure that you’re being smart and you’re exercising due diligence and you can stop a lot of attacks.”

Pogue also points out no computer, or device, is unhackable. The point with security is to make your devices less attractive to opportunistic cybercrooks.

“If you make it a little bit harder, the attacker have an ROI for their time. It’s a business, a multi-billion dollar business. They’re not going to mess around with you if you’re messing up their gross margin. Just make it not cost effective.”

“Nothing is unhackable but you just make it so it takes too much time,” he says.

One useful resource for home users is the Australian Signals Directorate’s Top Security Tips for the Home User. While basic, that advice is well worth while for those looking at protecting their systems.

Paul travelled to Las Vegas for the Black Hat conference as a guest of Nuix

Aug 152016
 
sold-australian-property-and-foreign-real-estate

It started so well but has ended in a whimper. I’ve just filed a story for Diginomica on how Australian’s Innovation Agenda died, strangled by the nation’s complacency.

While writing it, I found the moment Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s credibility evaporated. At a media stunt in suburban Sydney, Turnbull and his treasurer Scott Morrison visited the Mignacca family who own two speculative properties and had just bought another for their one year old daughter.

That stunt illustrated everything that is wrong about modern Australia’s investment and taxation policies. The Mignacca’s could be improving their skills and education, they could be setting up a business to provide the jobs and growth that was the cornerstone of Turnbull’s re-election campaign or they could be developing innovative new products for their industries.

Instead they are speculating on property – and borrowing heavily to do it.

The Mignacca’s are doing nothing wrong and are responding rationally to the incentives in Australia’s tax system as well as doing exactly what their peer and parents did, speculating on property to secure their retirement.

Not that this strategy is without risk, like 85% of the Australian workforce both of the Mignacca’s jobs are in domestically facing service industries and in the face of an economic downturn the young couple could find their properties falling in price at the very time they can’t afford to keep them.

In ditching the Innovation Statement and adopting the comfortable rhetoric of his predecessors, Turnbull betrayed the Mignaccas, Australia’s economy and his own stated view about the nation’s property addiction.

Moreover, he killed any credibility he had in being able to recast Australia’s economic future.

One suspects history won’t be kind on Malcolm Turnbull and the day he travelled to the Mignacca’s home will go down as the moment he lost the future.

Aug 122016
 
awesome-foundation-sydney-friday-lunches

Last night I went along to the Awesome Foundation’s Sydney chapter‘s celebration of dispensing two million dollars in grants.

The Awesome foundation trustees and ambassadors meet once a month, throw a hundred dollars into the pot and grant a thousand dollars every month to the most awesome pitch they hear. Past Sydney winners have included super pollinators for native bees, Friday lunches for at-risk youth and setting up a rooftop garden for refugees.

What’s particularly impressive about the Foundation is that how the grants come with no strings. It’s a really good way to create grass roots projects.

Hopefully we’ll be seeing more programs like the Awesome Foundation, and more people like the trustees who make it possible.