Oct 012015

“It’s a kid in a candy store opportunity,” says Telstra CTO Vish Nandlall on being asked what excites him about the telecommunications industry.

Nandlall was talking to Decoding the New Economy about the challenges facing telcos in an industry facing massive change as the once immensely profitable voice and text services are being displaced by less lucrative data products.

Previously we’ve spoken to Nandlall about the future of Australia’s incumbent telco in a competitive market and this interview was an opportunity to explore some of the broader opportunities in a radically changing market.

A data business

“While our business sounds complicated, we actually only do three things.” Nandlall observes about telecommunications companies, “we move data, we store data and we compete on data.”

“In the course of my lifetime in telecoms any two of those coming together meant a major shift. Today all three are converging.”

That convergence creates a range of challenges and opportunities, Nandlall believes. “When I look at what we see on the consumer side, I see the Internet of Things which really does promise a golden age of convenience.”

“Underpinning it all is going to be a massive transformation around data, the data insights suddenly become the thing that we’re going to need to differentiate our businesses from competitors in the industry.”

Differentiation through data

The differentiation of telecoms companies is going to lie in the software and data services being offered, Nandlall believes. “I don’t think telcos need to replicate Over The Top services,” he says in reference to services like Facebook or WhatsApp or Skype.

Nandlall sees the value for telcos in providing the next level of services in areas such as API management, content delivery and security. “We need to have new digital delivery systems,” he says, flagging software defined systems as being key to delivering to the new generation of telco services, “we can’t be restricted to fixed lines.”

Facing the skills shortage

The challenge facing telcos and all businesses is finding skilled workers, Nandlall observes. “Because change has been so rapid there has been a pipeline of students or workers being readily available.”

Nandlall sees initiatives like Cloud Foundry and Hadoop offering a means to address the skills shortage by standardising processes, reducing complexity and automating many of the tasks occupying today’s developers and technology workers.

This change also promises to speed up business as well and, combined with cloud services, changing the operating models of entire industries.

A new competitive advantage

For businesses without the scale of Telstra Nandlall has an important message, “I think we’ve hit a point in industry is where the competitive advantage is not just through some sustained differentiation,” he observes. “Today it’s about your ability to rapidly adopt new things.”

That rapid adoption is only going to accelerate, Nandlall believes, as the Internet of Things and wearable devices bring a whole new range of ways to collect and display information. For a kid fascinated with data, that’s a big candy store.

Sep 292015

Management is going to become flatter and organisations more transparent as the physical and the digital start to become start to merge  says Splunk’s CTO Snehal Antani.

Antani, who was appointed the company’s CTO in May was previously CIO for multiple divisions of GE Capital and before that numerous IT strategy and technology roles at IBM. He spoke to Decoding the New Economy at last week’s Splunk.conf in Las Vegas.

“It’s an opportunity to change organisational structure,” Antani says in regards to how data analytics is changing business. “Transparency across managers allows me to see quantitatively and qualitatively”

An age of transparent data

“Everyone has access to the data so the question becomes ‘what decision do we need to make?“ He claims, “transparency really transforms the management style and culture of an organisation. It gets rid of middle managers trying to massage the message and allows me to be the leader.”

While at GE, Antani put this transparency into action with a serious of real time indicators to hold staff and contractors to account. “I was tired, as a CIO, of middle managers showing me status reports with every box was green.”

“For my software development process I’d built a fully instrumented continuous delivery process. When a developer checks in code, I run a fully automated set off steps and a developer would get immediate feedback. In real time I could tell you who were the best developers.”

“I could pit my vendors up against each other,” “the cute thing there was transparency. Everyone had access to that data so we got out of Powerpoint into real time dashboards.”

Moving IT from the back office

That access to technology changes the role of the IT department, Atani believes. “We’ve evolved IT from a being a back office function to being a core part of the value they deliver to their customers,” he says. “In the past, when IT walked into the room people assumed they were there to fix the projector.

This changing role is where he sees opportunities for his current company, “one of the really cool things about Splunk is that it’s a very versatile technology platform. So we were never prescriptive about up front about we were never going to solve a healthcare problem or we were going to solve a financial services problem. Our customers discovered they could apply Splunk to solve these problems”

“We’re equally amazed as we never envisioned how the product would be used. We’re seeing really amazing use cases across health care, financial services and it’s really interesting to see how partners’ uses have evolved over the last few years.”

Data changing management

For companies though this means a change in the way of doing business, which can challenge management, “In order for an organization to move at market speed you have to be able to respond fast and transparency is absolutely critical to management.”

A flatter, more transparent workplace means a radical change to the way many companies manage their organisation. It’s one of the challenges facing the modern business as we enter an age of almost unlimited data.

Paul travelled to Splunk.conf in San Francisco as a guest of Splunk

Sep 252015

How do companies analyse the data coming off wearable devices? At the Las Vegas Splunk.Conf, the developers of wearable communications device Onyx showed off how they use data to enhance their business.

A lightweight push to talk device that can be clipped to a shirt, jacket or bag strap the Onyx is designed for teams to easily communicate. The device has a microphone, speaker and GPS that tethers with a smartphone, which in turn connects to Orion’s cloud network and communicates with groups defined by the user.

“Our goal and mission at Orion is to make this as easy and seamless at possible,” says Dan Phung, the company’s software engineer. “Technology is something you shouldn’t have to deal with.”

Some of the data Orion collects are the battery levels in the devices, time spent on conversations and volume levels that gives the company insights into useage patterns. One of the big benefits they’ve found as a startup is in tracking what operating systems are being used, enabling them to carry out what Phung calls “data driven engineering decisions”

As a startup with a team of 35, they managed to get the Onyx to market in a year, having that ‘operational intelligence’ has allowed the startup to focus its scarce resources in the areas where the device is being used and not waste time developing for systems that are less popular.

The Orion Onyx is a good example of how a business can get valuable information from a limited data set from a relatively simple device, their use of Splunk also shows the value of being able to analyse that data quickly.

Paul travelled to Splunk.conf in Las Vegas as a guest of Splunk

Sep 232015

“We’re early in the marathon but making good progress”, opened Godfrey Sullivan, the CEO of Splunk, as he opened the company’s annual conference in Las Vegas today.

Helping businesses understand their data has proved lucrative for Splunk with the analytics company seeing a 46% increase in year on year revenue to $148 million for the last quarter with the organisation narrowing its losses over the same period.

As with all tech conferences, the focus in the opening keynote is on new product announcements. For Splunk, the main release is its latest enterprise version of Splunk Enterprise 6.3 billed as delivering faster results, better analytics and tying into the masses of machine data being collected from the Internet of Things.

Machine data as a cornerstone

That IoT data is a key part of Sullivan’s strategy of “making machine data more accessible usable and valuable to everyone.” The company also highlights their alliances with IoT data consolidator services such as Xively and Octoblu.

Security is another focus of Splunk with the launch of  Splunk User Behavior Analytics (UBA) that analyses usage patterns on networks to identify risky or suspicious activity and a version upgrade of their their Enterprise Security.

The original business of Splunk was to monitor server log files and that IT focus remains with their new IT Service Intelligence (ITSI), an improved IT monitoring and analytics service.

Sullivan’s key message was that IT departments can be offering ‘operational intelligence’ as they gather and analyse data from all aspects of a business. “IT departments have to earn a seat at the table”, as Splunk’s CTO Snehal Antani says and providing rich data analytics, in his view, enable this.

Surprising a bank

Antani cited one of his previous clients, a bank which would ordinarily would deal with ten million dollars of deposits a day so an alarm had been set for when less than half of that had been received by midday.

One day that alarm sounded, and the IT department assumed there was a problem with the bank’s systems. After checking, they found everything was running normally so flagged deposits were unusually low to senior management.

It turned out to be a competitor had launched a successful campaign to open new accounts which had caught the bank by surprise. “The CMO acted as if he’d been hacked,” Antani recalls.

Antani’s anecdote illustrates how business data is no longer just the concern of the IT department and a small group of geeky business analysts, with real time information every part of an organisation can improve its performance.

For Splunk, using data to improve all aspects of business its key message to the market and one it hopes to drive its business forward although it’s highly unlikely they’ll achieve Antani’s hopes of “making IT sexy again.” That would take much more than a marathon.

Paul travelled to the Splunk.conf in Las Vegas as a guest of Splunk


Sep 172015

One of the world’s biggest tech events – if not the biggest of the vendor shows – is Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual spectacular that this this year attracted a 150,000 attendees to San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

Every year sees the company – which now holds the title of the world’s fourth biggest software company – and its CEO, Marc Benioff, defining the direction of the company in the face of a rapidly changing market. Despite being a pioneer in cloud computing, the company is as vulnerable to disruption as anyone else in a rapidly changing marketplace.

This year, the focus is on analytics and automation along with a strong leaning towards the Internet of Things and app development on the Lightning platform they announced last year.

With the Thunder platform, Salesforce is offering a service that allows businesses to connect devices onto their platform where users can build up rules based business automation. One notable part of this is the integration with Microsoft Office 365, another example of Microsoft’s reaching out to previously hostile companies.

For Automation, Salesforce is building upon its RelateIQ acquisition from last year, now branded as SalesforceIQ. The company says “Relationship Intelligence technology that utilizes advanced data science to analyze company relationships and drive actions.”

The Wave analytics service, which was also announced at last year’s Dreamforce, is a key part of the the business automation and IoT services in providing the insights into the data being collected. In many respect, Wave is going to be the glue that holds most of the products being announced this year.

Complementing the Wave, Thunder and SalesforceIQ products is the Lightning platform, again announced last year, that allows users to use the company’s AppCloud to quickly build business applications.

For Salesforce, the direction being laid out from this Dreamforce conference is in making helping customers deal with the masses of data coming into the enterprise. As Tod Neilsen, the company’s Executive Vice President of the App Cloud says, “we’re look at making the data usuable for spreadsheet users.”

As businesses struggle to manage and understand the masses of data flowing into their organisations, this may well be a powerful selling point for Salesforce.

Paul travelled to Dreamforce 2015 in San Francisco as a guest of Salesforce

Aug 282015
Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300

Possibly the holy grail of business is to find a product that your customers will pay almost anything for.

In flight Wi-Fi service provider GoGo may be close to achieving that with a product that business customers depend upon. The New York Times describes how the company has found it can use dynamic pricing to customise its prices for each flight.

One of the limitations GoGo faces is the connections between the aircraft and the ground stations is narrow so a plane full of bandwidth hungry travellers will quickly bring everyone’s service to a crawl.

To overcome this – and to make more money – the service has developed algorithms to anticipate the demand on each flight and then customise the charges to suit.

In many respects what we’re seeing with GoGo is similar to services like Uber where fast, intelligent systems can analyse traffic patterns and use the predicted demand to set prices. It’s the ultimate demand driven economy.

Over time, this model is going to flow out across many industries – the airline industry leads the way in pricing around demand management – and consumers need to get used to the idea of a fixed price tag being a quaint memory.


Aug 242015
Accountants and bookkeeping ledger

The accounting and professional services industries are uniquely positioned as the economy goes digital, while their own sectors are undergoing radical change so too are their clients.

Given the changes facing the accounting industry, the invitation to host last week’s CPA Australia Technology Accounting Forum‘s second day in Sydney was a good opportunity to see how the profession and its clients are dealing with major shifts in their industry.

The accounting profession has been one of the big winners of the Twentieth Century’s shift to a services economy. Last week’s story on how the workforce has been changing illustrates this with a chart showing how the occupation has grown over the past 140 years.


In many respects accountants should be well placed to benefit in a data driven economy given the training and skills they posses. The big challenge for existing practitioners is to shift with the times.

The transition from what’s been lucrative work in the past will be a challenge for some in the profession. Many of the manual tasks accountants previously did are now being automated with direct data links increasingly seeing operations like reconciliations and filing financial returns being done in real time without the need for any human intervention.

In private practice, the shift to cloud computing and direct APIs has stripped out more revenues with useful earners like selling boxed software petering away as services like Xero and Saasu arrived and established players like Intuit, Sage and MYOB moved to online models.

Shifting to the cloud

That shift has already happened with the presenter in one breakout session asking the audience how many practitioners used exclusively desktop software, purely cloud service or a hybrid of the two. Of the twenty in the room, the vast majority were using a combination with three being purely online and one sole operator still stuck with a desktop system.

For accountants the message from all of the sessions was clear; the future is online and businesses based around paper based models are doomed. The question though for them is how will they make the transition to being professional advisers.

Strangely, the big challenge for accountants in private practice may be their clients. A number of panel participants pointed out small business owners are slow to adopt new technologies and this holds both them and their service providers back. Divorcing tardy customers may be one of the more difficult tasks facing professional advisors.

The Technology, Accounting and Finance Forum showed the potential for accountants and professional services providers to be the trusted advisors in an online world, the task now is for practitioners and their clients to learn and understand those tools.