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 website and has published seven books.

May 232015

Uber and other car services are claiming US disability laws don’t apply to them The Daily Beast reports.

It’s hard to think of how Uber can do more to alienate the community with the service pushing legal boundaries in many cities, avoiding taxes and trying to skirt employment laws.

The danger for all the new wave of companies in their trying to dodge laws is they are inviting restrictive legislation, particularly if they’ve alienated the community and electorate.

It may well be time for companies like Uber, SideCar and Lyft to start showing a bit of humility and tact. Hubris and arrogance may come back to haunt them.

May 222015

Our watches will outlast the Apple watch warns Montblanc’s CEO Alexander Schmiedt in an interview with Bloomberg.

Schmeidt is basing his view on his watches’ durability, “I don’t think that customers are going to be ecstatic to throw away watches in one to two years when the technology is obsolete.”

It’s a brave call and what Schmeidt’s views risk is that standard watches may become niches items. He could be right though and Apple’s watches might prove to be toys for technologist.

The market will decide.

May 212015
how can governments tax the internet?

In last week’s Federal budget the biggest news for business was the expansion of the accelerated depreciation limits where items up to $20,000 can be immediately claimed as a tax deduction.

While this was a reversal of the previous budget that slashed the previous allowance, it was welcome news for businesses looking at replacing older tools and equipment or investing in new technology.

One of the notable things about business technology is companies have a habit of holding onto older equipment long beyond what should have been its use by date.

The consequences of using old technology are real, the older equipment is often not as fast as the newer kit which affects productivity and unpatched software is often the way malware finds its way into a business.

Point of sale risks

Earlier this week computer security vendor Trend Micro held their Cybercrime 2015 breakfast in Sydney where the director of the company’s TrendLabs Research division, Myla Pilao, described some of the threats facing businesses.
One of the top risks were Point Of Sale systems (POS) where Trend Micro’s research had found over a third of US retailers had malware on their cash registers, in Australia it was six percent.

Most of those infected POS terminals would be older units with many of them being software running on out of date versions of Windows that haven’t been patched or upgraded since they were bought a decade ago.

Similar problems exist with older workstations, internet routers and even photocopiers where the technology has moved on and security holes discovered. Basically old equipment holds businesses back and exposes them to risks.
Now the carrot of an immediate tax deduction gives Australian businesses an opportunity to refresh their technology. So what is the technology, smart company managers and owners should be spending their money on?

Kick out your desktops

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the mantra for most business IT and desktop computers are the best example of this. In most companies as long as the word processing software or accounting package works the PCs continue to be used.

With the withdrawal of support for the decade old Windows XP operating system last year, many older computers started being a liability in a business so now is the time to replace them.

Consider tablets

It may not be necessary to replace the old desktop computer with new ones, for many job roles a tablet computer is often a better choice. With cloud technologies increasingly being adopted there’s less of a need for a grunty PC sitting on each staff member’s desk.

Upgrade the router

One of the areas where businesses often compromise is with their internet access. Having an old, cheap router designed for home use is just not good enough for companies who rely upon being connected.

A new business grade router will improve office internet access along with resolving most of the security issues older equipment is notorious for.

Going mobile

If you’re struggling on old mobile phones, now might be the time to upgrade to the latest smartphone. Amongst other things this will improve your office productivity, particularly if you combine the investment with some of the cloud services that make working on the road a lot easier.

Cloud services are not part of the depreciation rules as they are usually subscription models and this shows the weakness in the Federal government’s thinking.

Indeed for those vulnerable Point of Sale systems, a cloud based service running on tablet computers is probably a better solution than most server and PC based packages.

A lack of vision

The ‘ladies and tradies’ theme of the budget shows the Federal government is stuck in with the vision that Australian businesses are mainly mom and pop service operations in the traditional trades and professions.

While the depreciation changes are welcome they do little to help startups or companies in emerging industries and for the economy in general will provide not much more than a GDP ‘sugar hit’ for retailers’ cash registers as we buy imported equipment for our businesses.

For the Australian economy in general, the move really only benefits Gerry Harvey who can buy a few more racehorses from his stores’ and his rich mates who can afford some more expensive wine fuelled brawls in Sydney waterside restaurants.

Australian businesses owners need to be demanding better thought out policies from a government that claims to be friendly to industry. The economy is changing and 1970s style tax benefit is not the way to prepare for a changing world.

In the meantime, enjoy your tax write offs.


May 202015
happy guy with lots of money

“There’s great availability of capital for young companies,” says Doron Kempel, the CEO of software defined data center company SimpliVity.

Since being founded in 2009, the company has had five rounds of funding and raised $276 million dollars in equity and debt.

The notable thing is Kempel says the banks are keen to lend money to his business, something that probably underscores how difficult it is for banks to find suitable places to place funds.

As one of the unicorns – Simplivity’s last fund raising gave the company a valuation of over a billion dollars – it shouldn’t be surprising that banks are comfortable lending money to the business but it also underscores just how much money is available to startups with the right investors.

For those investors the paper returns are good as well, with Kempel observing each round of funding sees the company’s valuation triple.

So for companies with good ideas and unique stories it seems right now is a good time to be raising money, particularly if the founders can get one of the pedigree venture capital firms to invest.

The question now though is how many coffee apps and delivery services can the also ran VCs support?

May 182015

Streaming video service Netflix is looking to launch in China reports Bloomberg Business.

The Chinese joint venture to be run with Wasu, a company backed by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, looks to increase Netflix’s global footprint.

Netflix plans “to be nearly global by the end of 2016,” the article quotes a company spokesperson answering questions about a possible China partnership.

The Netflix model is a major departure from the established broadcast television and movie business where studios and producers would enter distribution agreements with local TV stations and theatre chains.

With Netflix and the streaming model, the licensing of rights to local outlets becomes largely irrelevant with the producers – which increasingly includes Netflix itself – able to cut out the local licensees.

A similar thing is happening in sports, one of the mainstays of broadcast television, where the professional leagues are taking control of their own content and leaving the networks, at best, minor players.

Neflix’s move is part of a shift that’s affecting many industries, including those like broadcast television that thought they were untouchable.

May 172015
cheap robots cleaning computers

Once again the question of what happens to the jobs of today in the face of technology is raised in a Quartz story by Zake Kanter looking at how driverless cars will lost the US economy millions of jobs over the next decade.

Zake isn’t alone in this, just one study predicts half the US police workforce could be put out of work as autonomous vehicles take to the road.

Worrying about today’s jobs is understandable as it’s clear the news won’t be good for many occupations. However the discussion should be about what roles are going to be needed in the future.

Looking back

Should we go back a hundred years there were a huge number of people, primarily young boys, employed in cleaning roads of horse dung. The equine industries provided work for tens of thousands of workers ranging from skilled blacksmiths and buggy makers through to those unskilled street sweepers.

Most of those people lost their jobs and their careers became redundant as the age of the motor vehicle took over.

Yet those displaced eventually founds jobs – as mechanics, panel beaters, traffic cops and gas station workers – although for many the dislocation was tough.

Automotive transformation

The motor car also stimulated a transformation in society as it made travel easier and wide scale logistics viable. Those changes allowed supermarkets, drive-in theatres and fast food chains to develop, all of which were unthinkable at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Industries like fast food and the drive-in theatre were also driven by the demographic and social changes of the mid-Twentieth century as concepts like the teenager and the consumerist society were developed.

Demographics and economy

Those changes to demographics are important as well, the developed economies’ aging populations and shifting income patterns are going to determine the shape of society and the workforce even more so than technology.

For businesses and governments assuming the mid Twentieth Century consumerist economy is the future the next wave of change could be a difficult time. Even more so given that model of growth and employment was allowed to continue far beyond its natural life by the 1980s credit boom.

Credit, and banking, will be one of the challenging fields for the next decade as governments struggle with the consequences of guaranteeing institutions during the Global Financial Crisis along with the disruptions of higher frequency algorithmic trading, Big Data analytics and startups with new payments platforms.

Disruption everywhere

The disruptive effect on the banking industry by new technology will be repeated across sectors with startups and new business models challenging everyone from retailers to window cleaners, it’s not just the automotive industry that’s challenges.

While it’s difficult to predict exactly what the world is going to look like in 2025, it is clear that many industries and occupations will be struggling with a very changed world. The task for managers and business owners is to be aware of unexpected threats and opportunities.

Some of the opportunities are going to lie in studying statistics – essential in a world of big data – and learning the basics of software coding. Design is another area that is going to need many new workers.

For today’s workers, it’s more important than ever to be grabbing the skills required to be employed in the industries of the mid Twenty-First Century.