Sep 012016
 
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For the last two days Chinese network equipment vendor Huawei has been holding its first Huawei connect conference in Shanghai.

There’s alway plenty to announce at these conferences and Huawei had consultancy partnerships with both Accenture and Infosys, their IoT strategy and their big push into cloud computing.

Ken Hu, the company’s current CEO, even had a new word – cloudification – to describe how business processes are going onto the cloud. Although during the segment on their relationship with SAP, the Huawei executives were at pains to emphasise that in their view most enterprises are a long way from going to a public cloud and will be hosting their own services for some time yet.

Despite the clumsy buzzwords, Huawei does have an interesting selling point in the market with its tie up with telcos giving it both a strong sales channel and a unique selling point. How well they execute with telecommunications companies that are notoriously poor at selling these services remains to be seen.

Huawei’s internet of things services are a similar proposition. Being close to the carriers means the company is well positioned to compete in the market, particularly in M2M applications, but again that closeness to telcos could be a hindrance.

The big message from Huawei Connect is that Chinese companies are genuine competitors to European and North American companies like Ericsson and Cisco, something illustrated on Tuesday when Tencent previewed their new head office in Shenzhen that will act as a live R&D lab for their IoT offerings.

Overall Huawei Connect was a good example of the Chinese government’s efforts to shift the nation’s economy up the value chain.

Aug 302016
 
we need to treat chinese markets carefully

At the recend Autodesk University event in Sydney I had the opportunity to talk with Pat Williams, the company’s senior vice president for Asia Pacific.

Williams’ beat covers all of Asia and he’s based out of Shanghai where he’s been based for the last eight years and prior to that he spent a decade in Japan.

Having spent so much time in North East Asia, and heading to the PRC the following week myself, it was interesting to hear Williams’ views on how industry is changing in China and ther country’s attitude to American software companies.

“There’s a lot of noise that gets made in China about their local IP and the local vendors and what I say is ‘the Chinese companies are competing in a global market and they are under the same competitive pressures as everybody else in the world so when they find a better tool they use it. Despite all the noise, business is quite good there.”

For the Chinese economy, the aging and increasingly expensive workforce presents a problem, something addressed by the China Manufacturing 2025 plan which sees the country increasingly competing in high tech sectors such as aerospace, telecommunications and biotech fields.

“China’s kind of an anomaly,” says Williams of the country’s immense growth rates. “From a government perspective there’s a lot of horsepower behind the things that they do – China 2025, their manufacturing initiative, you’ve got what they’ve been doing with Building Information Modelling (BIM) and our architectural tools.”

They’ve really kind of spearheaded what we’ve been talking about on things like 3D printing of houses. China on its own is just this mushroom that’s happening.”

While the industrial shift in China and the rest of Asia is promising opportunities to companies like Autodesk, that change is affecting their workforce as well with the company announcing plans to lay off ten percent of their workforce earlier this year.

Those cutbacks are part of the adjustment to a new market reality says Williams, “it was part of right sizing the business.” He observed “we realised our margins were going to be compressed as we move to a subscription model.”

Autodesk’s shifts illustrate how the opportunities in the new economy don’t come without costs even for the companies that seem to be winners in a shifting marketplace.

In China, American companies are finding they have to a unique proposition – companies like Apple and Autodesk are good examples – and as the country moves its economy further up the value chain all foreign businesses are going to have to show how they add value.

Succeeding in a changing economy isn’t without uncertainty. And it certainly isn’t without risks.

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 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.

Jun 242016
 
Shoreditch-UK-Tech-City-Silicon-Roundabout

A few years ago I interviewed the boss of a US software company. At the end of the discussion he mentioned how his business had moved most of its development operations to London from San Francisco.

I was surprised at this – while San Francisco is one of the most expensive places in the world to do business, London is even pricier again.

“We can get labour in the UK,” explained the CEO. “In the US if I want to bring in some developers I’ll be tied up by immigration for months, if not years. In London, I can get on the phone and have a bunch of coders on the plane from Barcelona tomorrow.”

That ease of access is now threatened by the Brexit vote, should the UK leave the EU and give up on the free movement of workers across the continent then one of Britain’s core advantages is lost.

Brexit is a historic mistake by middle England that now threatens to see the UK disintegrate as Scotland leaves and the Northern Ireland conflict reignite, the tech industry though will probably be one of the first victims.

For the EU, this is a warning that reform of its institutions has to be a priority. One of the ironies of Britain’s vote is the monstering of Greece, Spain and Ireland following the 2008 global crisis that cost the EU much of its popular support was partly to protect London’s banks.

The bigger issue though is the British voters’ distrust of institutions and elites – something that’s driving Donald Trump’s rise in the US.

We live in interesting times.

Jun 222016
 
the economy of indonesia is growing and evolving

Can Indonesia create a startup tech culture? The 1,000 startups movement aims to try.

The movement looks to encourage tech startups across the island nation with workshops, incubators and hackathons.

Notably, the program isn’t being supported by the Indonesian government with any money, just an expression of support.

That in itself may not be a bad thing, a program run to meet the needs of communities and industry is much more likely to succeed than one being supported by bureaucrats meeting KPIs or political objectives.

A question though is how appropriate Silicon Valley’s ‘unicorn’ model for tech startups is for a developing nation like Indonesia. While the nation has a high level of mobile phone penetration and a young population, it doesn’t have the sophisticated investment community or financial markets that underpin the Bay Area’s or those of other technology hubs.

Indonesia, like most developing nations, needs to find its own model which may turn out to be very different to today’s Silicon Valley when it reaches maturity later this century.

That the 1,000 Startups Movement isn’t part of a government department gives it a chance to develop a unique Indonesian identity rather than trying to recreate an officially mandated copy of Silicon Valley. It will be fascinating to watch.