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
 
adrian-dimarco-technology-one-ceo

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
 
australian-flag

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 www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

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.

Apr 182016
 
Innovation index versus GDP

After two complacent decades Australia’s pivot away from a mining and housing  based economy is promising to painful. In anticipation of the punishment to come, the nation’s political and business leaders have devised a safe word they hope will ease the pain — innovation.

That safe word was desperately repeated as a group of “innovation rock stars” gathered last week at Sydney’s Knowledge Nation summit, billed as bringing together the nation’s leaders to drive the implementation of the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Knowledge Nation showed that despite having a safe word Australia’s Anglo-Saxon, male dominated elites aren’t prepared for an economic pivot and true change in the nation will have to be a grass roots movement led by small business and community groups.

A lack of diversity

Notable in the selection of “key leaders from the innovation, science and technology ecosystem, including entrepreneurs, business leaders, investors, researchers and scientists, and policymakers” was the lack of diversity.

A look of the speaker list showed only four of the fifteen speakers being women and only one of the 15 not being from an Anglo-Saxon background.

One of the baffling things about modern Australian is the how few from non-Anglo groups feature among the ranks of the business, politics or media leaders. Yet Australia’s greatest success has been in integrating the successive immigration waves over the late Twentieth Century.

A visitor to Australia could be forgiven for not noticing the country’s diverse population as the media, politics and business is dominated by those of British heritage. For the country, this is a tragic wasted opportunity and was reflected in the line up of ‘innovation rockstars.’

Disjointed government

The political ‘leadership’ also reflected that lack of diversity with three Federal government ministers — all men and no opposition, state or local figures — lined up to recite the grab bag of thought bubbles that are what now passes as policy in Australian government.

Ministers offered succession of turgid recitals of disjointed programs which do little to address Australia’s structural barriers towards innovative businesses or the wholesale defunding of education institutions although the Innovation Minister’s snarling response to an academic’s question about R&D spending told much about their defensive posture.

The political ‘leaders’ illustrated a key problem in the nation’s pivot. The long term failure of consistent planning across portfolios means no Australian investor, entreprenuer or student can have any confidence in government policies over a five or ten year horizon when policies barely survive one ministerial thought bubble.

Overall though the biggest gap in the Knowledge Nation summit was its focus on government — the real weakness however lies in the corporate sector where inward facing service industries are distributing more on dividends than in research and development.

Inward focus

That inward focus, articulated well by Freelancer.com CEO Matt Barrie who described how almost all of the nation’s twenty biggest corporations are domestically focused service businesses, is the real problem facing Australia as it tries to pivot its economy away from being dependent on the fading Chinese commodities boom and domestic property speculation.

A lack of globally competitive businesses leaves the nation exposed as most employment is in organisations that are unable to survive outside a relatively protected domestic market. It also means these companies don’t see the need to invest in research and development as their fat profits are dependent upon market dominance rather than innovative products and services.

Barrie also had the only challenging idea in a day that promised many of them, the somewhat tired trope of abolishing Australian state governments.

Government focus

It’s quite touching that Barrie sees Australian Federal governments as being havens of intelligent, long term policy making when all the data indicates otherwise. The very idea of Canberra running education given its flip flopping on the Gonski reforms, confused policies on university funding and ideological obsession with funding elite private schools is, quite frankly, derisory.

That the most challenging idea out of the day was the old chestnut of flattening Australian government speaks volumes of the dearth of original thinking coming out of the nation’s business and political leadership.

In truth, Australian business needs to be snapped out of its inward rent seeking focus while the household sector needs to be weaned off speculating on residential property. These require real policy reform and cultural change.

Little leadership

Knowledge Nation showed there no understanding, let alone no appetite for that reform or change from Australia’s elites and as the Australian economy starts to feel the pain from twenty years of complacency we can expect the safe word of ‘innovation’ to be increasingly used by the nation’s elites.

The lesson from Knowledge Nation is Australia’s economic pivot will come from the grassroots. It will be startups, small businesses, community groups and local governments that will lead the change. Australians waiting for government support and corporate leadership will be waiting a long time.

In meantime, squealing ‘innovation’ at every sign of economic pain will be occupying much of the time of Australia’s comfortable Anglo elites.

Apr 122016
 
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Is the smart home worth the trouble? We live in an age of connected smoke alarms, kettles and even egg trays. For this month’s ABC Nightlife we’ll ask if these devices add to our lives or just make things more complex.

Earlier this month Google announced it would down their Evolv home automation platform leaving hundreds of users stuck with useless devices. So what happens to smart gadgets when they are disconnected from the Internet? We’ll also look at the new folding phone and just what a dire state the Australian telecoms industry is in.

Some of the questions we’ll cover include;

  • What was Google’s Evolv system?
  • Disabling the devices is a bit dramatic, why have they done that?
  • Do customers have any recourse?
  • Is this a risk with all connected devices?
  • What about connected cars, could they be turned off?
  • My computer needs updating, what about these devices?
  • What happens when the internet is disconnected, will my internet fridge work?
  • Samsung showed off a new folding phone last week. What exactly is it?
  • When will we see it on the market?
  • The Annual CommsDay conference was held last week in Sydney. Is there any good news for Aussie consumers?
  • Is the National Broadband Network looking any better?
  • How is the global telecommunications industry looking, can we expect anything exciting?

Join us

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Australian Eastern Summer time or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

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.

Apr 072016
 
how can governments tax the internet?

Governments are struggling with the new channels of communication and the structures that will manage our societies are far from certain.

Last night the University of New South Wales’ School of Computer Science and Engineering in Sydney held a panel discussion about Digital citizens and the future of government. The group looked at how the open government movement is progressing and how public servants and politicians are dealing with a data driven world.

The panel featured Dominic Campbell, the founder of the UK’s FutureGov who are currently advising the Australian Digital Transformation office; Penny Webb-Smart, the Executive Director of Service Reform for the NSW Government’s clumsily named Department of Finance, Services and Innovation and Amelia Loye, a social scientist who worked on Australia’s first Action Plan for Open Government.

Centralising decision making

One key question for the panel was how governments use data which gives rise to two views. The prevalent view is information systems tend to centralise power – something that has been a feature of the last two centuries – while access to information is a democratising forces that hands control back to individuals and local communities.

Amelia made the point in some respects we’re already at the point where individuals can take control, “the tools for participatory government are already available, we have to start looking at – and talking about – how to use them,” she said.

That conversation certainly isn’t happening at the moment despite the odd blurting of fine words from ministers and public servants and while in some areas government data is being freed up, in others it’s increasingly being hoarded for political purposes or due to ill thought out privatisations.

Commercial in confidence

Private sector data is another problem for the open data movement as many of the functions carried out by governments are outsourced to companies which generally reluctant to share information with the public. This leaves communities with an incomplete picture of the data affecting them.

The main unanswered question in the discussion was the relationship between local and central governments, the panel’s consensus was central government would become more dominant and in the Australian context the states would become irrelevant. This however may not be true.

Centralised government is by no means a given, as the prevailing corporatist ideologies of Western governments strive to cut services it’s likely communities are going to increasingly find ways of delivering those services independent of national bureaucracies and politicians in capital cities.

Cumbersome central governments

Another unspoken aspect was the increasing cumbersome nature of central government. In fast moving economies it’s hard for the decision making structures based in capital cities to quickly react to societal and political changes. National governments may simply be too big to manage the data flows coming into them.

The main conclusion out of the evening’s discussion is there is great uncertainty about the structure of government in the digital era.

Uncertainty over how governments will be shaped by today’s changes isn’t surprising, increased communications and the change in public finances radically altered the role of government last century – the wars and economic downturns of the first third of the century saw the introduction of central government income taxes which central power in capital cities.

Changing communications

Similarly mass media communications, the radio and television, dramatically changed the politician’s role and how citizens interacted with government.

One great mistake today is many of our political, public service and business leaders think the current models are inviolate and fixed when in actual fact they are dynamic systems which are evolving with technology.

Governments are a reflection of the societies and economies they lead. Just as both the economy and society are changing so too will the structures of the public service and politics. We may not recognise some of those changes until well after they’ve happened.