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 152016

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.

Jul 202016
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

This Thursday night join Tony Delroy and myself on ABC Nightlife to discuss Pokemon Go, how tech is changing the workforce and the future of Australia’s technology industry following the Federal election.

It’s taken a while but we finally have a video game that gets people off the couch and onto the streets. For the last two weeks we’ve been hearing stories of how hundreds of people are dodging cars, invading police stations and stampeding across parks as they try to catch virtual reality animals in the Pokemon Go game.

What is Pokemon Go and is this the future of augmented reality are two of the questions Tony and I will be discussing. We’re also looking at what the Federal election means for the government’s much lauded Innovation Statement along with the Moonhack record of the greatest number of kids programming at one time.

Some of the questions we cover include;

  • What is Pokemon Go?
  • Isn’t Pokemon somewhat old school?
  • Why did it take off?
  • So we’ve heard a bit about augmented reality. Is this what it’s really about?
  • Beyond games, are there any useful purposes for AR?
  • Are we all going to have strange headsets strapped to our heads?
  • Can we expected Australia to provide many of these AR applications?
  • What sort of support is the government giving these developers?
  • Apart from what was already announced what did the Federal election mean to the Aussie tech sector?
  • After all the noise late last year, tech and innovation wasn’t really much of an issue during the election?
  • Does all this talk of tech really matter to the average Australian worker?

Join us

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Australian Eastern Summer time or listen online at

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Jun 202016
Digital bus stop

On Monday I attended the Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce KPMG Internet of Things (IoT) & Smart Cities Briefing in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. It was an event that left me worrying about how the nation’s governments are dealing with the connected society.

The event was held under the Chatham House Rule so I’m unable to attribute quotes or identify the views of individual speakers however the conversation was mainly around the difficulties of getting Australia’s three levels of governments working together and their reluctance to share data.

Probably the most worrying comment was how Australian public servants aren’t empowered to make decision that would take advantage of smart cities technologies.

When politics eats everything

If anything this view illustrates a deeper problem in Australia where public policy and decision making is subsumed by politics. Exacerbating this is the insistence of opportunistic ministers and their chronically unqualified party advisers to micromanage decisions that should be made by qualified professionals.

A fear of delegating decision making quickly morphs into tendency to avoid accountability with decisions being made behind closed doors and contracts hidden from public view by the ‘Commercial In Confidence’ fiction that put contractors’ privileges over the public good.

That reluctance to share information also feeds into implementing smartcity technologies. With data being jealously guarded by government agencies, city councils and often corrupt ministerial offices, the currency of the smartcity – data – is locked away rather than used for the public good.

Accidental releases of data

One of the participants pointed out how in Australia government data is often released by accident and the siloing of data between government agencies and private contractors makes access difficult.

The real concern though was at during the question and answer session, in a response to a question from the writer asking if Australia’s business and government leaders are oblivious to the global changes, one of the panellists stated “boards are now convinced digital has a seat at the table.” That is hardly assuring.

Probably the biggest concern though for this writer was after the lunch. One of the other attendees, the CEO of  a major supplier to Australian councils, mentioned how the equipment he supplies was ‘pretty dumb’ and he was closing down the overseas operations of his business as they were losing money.

Inward business cultures

That inward looking attitude of catering to a domestic market that’s oblivious to global shifts seems to be almost a parody of the management books that talk about Kodak’s demise earlier this century or the fate of buggy whip manufacturers a hundred years before. Yet that is the mindset of many Australian businesses.

Exacerbating industry’s insular mindset, Australia’s planners seem to have a fantasy that the nation’s cities are like Barcelona rather than Chicago. The truth is Australia’s car dependent cities have more in common with their North American counterparts than European centres, something planners are reluctant to admit.

Being car dependent doesn’t preclude effectively applying smartcity technologies, in fact there might be more benefits to sprawling communities as vehicles becomes connected and driverless automobiles start appearing. However applying what works in Amsterdam to Sydney, a city that is more like Los Angeles, is probably doomed to failure.

“A smart city needs smart people to succeed” is a mantra I’ve heard a number of times. The question right now is whether Australia has enough smart people in positions of power to execute on the opportunities in the 21st Century. The roll out of smartcities may prove to be an early test.

Jun 152016

Two years ago I interviewed Technology One founder and CEO Adrian DiMarco about his company’s pivot to the cloud and the gold rush among consultants and services providers looking at making money out of cloud computing services.

DiMarco’s founded Technology One in 1987 to compete in the enterprise software space with the likes of SAS and Oracle. At the peak of the dot com boom in 1999, DiMarco listed the company on the Australian stock exchange where it is one of the few genuine tech stocks on the nation’s finance and mining dominated bourse.

Given the focus on listed companies at the moment, DiMarco’s views are worth noting. “if I were to do it again, I’d don’t think I’d go that path,” he says about listing the business. “I have a real issue with how public companies run in Australia.”

DiMarco’s view is at odds with Netsuite’s Zach Nelson who told Decoding the New Economy last month how being on the stock exchange forces management to focus. “Managing a public company is a great discipline and in some ways gives us an advantage over non-public company who don’t have to have discipline and make good investments,” Nelson said.

In DiMarco’s opinion, the regulatory and ‘box ticketing’ requirements of a listed company don’t reflect the true performance of a corporation’s management. “There are mediocre CEOs walking away with millions,” he says.

While listing made sense for Technology One in 1999 those looking at starting a business today shouldn’t necessarily follow his path warns DiMarco, “tor startups these days, don’t follow up normal route.,” he says.

“I think the world’s your oyster to do want you want. Don’t let anyone talk you out of anything,” DiMarco says. “When we started out we were told ‘don’t build enterprise software’. We did and we succeeded.”

“Don’t be scared,” he advices. “It really is a great time to startup a business. The technology is redefining business. It’s a good time.”

Jun 092016

This is the prepared version of my speech at the Cloud Crowd “Can Innovation Save Australia” debate. I was on the affirmative team, even though in truth I’m probably close to the negative side.

Australia truly is the lucky country. We entered the Twentieth Century as one of the richest countries on earth and at the turn of millennium we remained so.

The first fifteen years of this century have been equally kind, however that prosperity has been built on a mining boom and an ever growing property bubble.

Now those foundations are slipping – the mining boom is over and Australians have became the most indebted people on the planet as housing loans put an increasing burden on Australian families, a situation that is not sustainable.

The three Bs of Australian Business

Making matters worse, the good years of the last three decades have seen Australia’s business community become inward looking and complacent, as one of my colleagues recently wrote Australian managers are obsessed with their “Three Bs” – Bonuses, BMWs and their Balmoral Beach Club memberships.

Australia though has a fine history of invention and innovation, we’ve seen ideas ranging from the stump jump plough and Hills hoist through to the flight data recorder and Cochlear ear implants change the world.

Cochlear itself forms the centre of an Australian hearing technology hub at Macquarie University which brings together university researchers, private sector R&D and some of the world’s best medical specialists to form a globally competitive centre of excellence. We can do great things.

Starting from behind

However we are starting a long way behind the rest of the world. Not only is Silicon Valley speeding ahead but so too are countries as diverse as the UK, Israel and Singapore. One of the understated stories in Australian media is just how heavily China is investing in its pivot into a knowledge and innovation based economy. Others in our region like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia are already well down the path of moving to economies based on 21st Century technologies.

All of these countries – their governments, their business leaders and the communities – have recognised success in the Twenty-First Century will depend upon investment in education, research, development and businesses that harness the great powers being unleashed by today’s technologies.

This is where Australia’s opportunity also lies. In the 19th and 20th Centuries the country was the beneficiary of technologies like the steam ship, the telegraph, refrigeration, electrification and, at the end of the Twentieth century, the great global financial deregulations. We truly were the lucky country.

Staying lucky

Remaining lucky in the 21st Century is going to take more than riding on the back of sheep, the end of coal train or surfing the wave of easy credit that crashed over our economy in the 25 years after 1990. We are going to have to be smart, canny and adventurous.

Australians though have shown they can grasp opportunities and with government policies that favour innovation over speculation, investment over ticket clipping, a business community that pulls its weight in research and a community that values education at all levels we can do it.

So yes, Innovation can save Australia but we as a nation have to be prepared to work at it and change many of our current ways of thinking.

May 252016
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

While Australia talks about innovation, some of our most exciting tech companies are moving to Silicon Valley. For the May 2016 ABC Nightlife we asked why are they moving and what can we do to encourage them to stay down under?

Along with discussing why Australian startups are moving to the United States we also looked at some of the announcements out of the recent Google I/O conference. If you missed the show it’s available for download from the ABC website.

If you’re in Sydney, we’re also debating whether innovation really exists in Australia in a Cloud Crowd debate on June 9. Tickets are free.

Some of the questions Tony and I looked at included;

  • Who is making the move over the US?
  • What reasons do they have for going over?
  • Why aren’t they going to Europe, the UK or SE Asia?
  • Is Australia having a brain drain?
  • It seems the much vaunted Ideas Boom has been lost in the election, is it over?
  • One of the things Google announced at Google I/O was their new Google Home device which listens to your spoken commands to control the house. Doesn’t Amazon already have one of these?
  • Another thing Google announced was they are looking at putting intelligence into every device. How far away is that?

Cloudcrowd innovation debate

On June 9 in Sydney we’ll be debating whether innovation is a myth in Australia, tickets are free and you can sign up through Eventbrite.

Join us

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Australian Eastern Summer time or listen online at

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.