Apr 272017
 
Can overinflated job titles affect a business

“In 30 years, a robot will likely be on the cover of Time Magazine as the best CEO,” Alibaba founder Jack Ma said told a technology conference in Zengzhou, China, last weekend.

One of the things underestimated about this wave of automation is how AI will be applied to management, Knowledge Management expert Euan Semple makes an important point how being supervised by a bot could be a lot fairer and transparent than human managers.

In the normal course of work many people don’t see much of their manager. Too often the experience is frustrating and unhelpful. The predictability and transparency of automated systems could potentially be fairer and more effective than an incompetent, prejudiced, or bullying manager.

The news for those looking at climbing the greasy management pole through getting professional qualifications isn’t good either, reports the BBC.

For the last fifty years, getting an accounting or law degree, often supplemented by an MBA, was the best path for a management position but shifting work patterns and technology is devaluing those qualifications while it’s appearing there will be less management positions anyway.

Tomorrow’s workplace is going to look very different to that of the past half century. Those of us currently in the workforce, as well today’s kids, need to be looking closely at the skills they have for a very different world.

Mar 182017
 
How are magazines and newspapers surviving in a digital world?

Could schools help combat the scourge of ‘fake news’? The OECD’s education director, Andreas Schleicher, believes so.

Schleicher runs the organisation’s PISA international comparison of educational standards that will introduce tests in 2018 on global competency alongside the existing measures of literacy and numeracy.

The questions of what fake news is and who it affects are relevant to the discussion of dealing with propaganda, slanted reporting and the internet’s echo chambers.

I’ll be discussing this shortly on BBC5’s Up All Night. It should be an interesting discussion.

Feb 282017
 

What does the future of work really look like? Management consultant Rob Gaunt has some bad new for those looking forward to a future of leisure.

In his book Eliminate, Automate, Offshore; Gaunt looks at how the modern workplace is changing and the priorities of managements and boards in a competitive, globalised world.

Gaunt, who describes himself as a ‘corporate axe man’ warns the reader “you may not approve or like what I do, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.”

To start the book, Gaunt gives a potted history of automation in the workforce and how processes can be improved by better management and new technology. He cites his local council garbage collection service which not so long ago would have required eight or nine workers per truck now only needing two.

This trend is coming to the rest of the workforce, Gaunt warns, adding that many of those jobs that can’t be automated can be outsourced.

“When I walk into an open plan office, I look and listen to the activity; if the overwhelming noise is of keyboard strokes rather than human voices, it’s a good clue that much of the functions being performed aren’t location dependent.”

Gaunt goes on to describe how effective outsourcing works with an emphasis on the client having to document their processes before shifting functions or departments to outside contractors as well as the importance of properly scoping and understanding an agreement.

Towards the end of the book, Gaunt examines what roles are likely to survive in higher cost economies along with the skills today’s children are going to need if they are going to avoid being ‘digital roadkill’ in an automated society.

Overall the book is a good read to understand the direction of today’s workforce and the factors driving it. It isn’t a pretty tale.

If anything; Eliminate, Automate, Offshore may be somewhat optimistic about the effects on the skilled trades, professional and managerial sectors as Gaunt probably underestimates how robotics and artificial intelligence are advancing.

Should you read the book, you may want to give your kids – and their teachers – a good talking too. The axe man is ruthless and he’s coming for many of our jobs.

Feb 222017
 

In the tropical north of Australia, one university is looking at using the Internet of Things to expand the reach of its research and open new opportunities for the local economy.

On Monday James Cook University opened Australia’s first university IoT lab in Australia.

Based at the Cairns campus in Far North Queensland, the lab is part of the university’s new Internet of Things engineering degree and is supported by Chinese telco vendor Huawei.

The university, which also has campuses in Townsville and Singapore, boasts expertise in areas such as marine sciences, tropical ecology and tropical medicine, all of which are relevant to the IoT and made more relevant by Cairns being the main service centre for much of Australia’s remote Top End and the Torres Strait.

Part of a central mission

“The Internet of Things is based on something that is central to our mission in the Tropics: building greater connectivity between people, place and technology,” said the university’s Vice Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding.

JCU’s IoT degree, the first of its kind in Australia, combines the study of electronic engineering with internet technologies, wireless communications, sensor device, industrial design and cloud computing.

Currently the IoT faculty has 57 first year students, which the university hopes to grow to over 200. The head of the IoT faculty, Professor Wei Xiang, explained why the university decided to offer this course.

Economic drivers

“Primarily it’s driven by the economy, Australia is transitioning from a mining boom to a knowledge and innovation driven economy. So in the middle of 2015, JCU decided to offer an engineering degree in Cairns.”

“The IoT places nicely into traditional strengths at JCU in fields like marine science, marine biology and remote medicine, for example we can use the IoT for reef condition monitoring and our Daintree Rainforest project.”

An electronics Engineer himself, Professor Xiang sees the IoT as the future of industry and leapt at the chance to lead a course when the opportunity arose.

“In the middle of 2015 I thought, ‘this is what I want to do as this is where the future is.'”

Smartcity opportunities

Along with the remote health, marine science and agricultural aspects the City of Cairns itself offers smartcity opportunities. As a moderate sized town of 142,000 relatively isolated from the rest of Australia, Cairns has large tourist traffic coupled with weather extremes – the city gets nearly two meters (80 inches) of rain every summer. Making it a good test bed for new city technologies.

“Cairns Regional Council is very interested in smartcities, I’ve been working very closely with the city council and its innovation team,” says Professor Xiang. “We are also rolling out our smart campus.”

Part of the smart campus initiative is the university installing a NarrowBand-IoT base station provided by its program supporter, Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

Huawei’s NB-IoT base station

Along with supporting the IoT lab, Huawei also plans to offer JCU IoT students the opportunity to travel to Huawei’s global headquarters in China and its Australian headquarters in Sydney as part of its Seeds for the Future program.

“It gives our students and staff an experimental platform that conforms to the latest IoT international standard,” Professor Xiang said. “It means that as we design devices and sensor networks we can test and configure them using that standard.”

The university’s Vice Chancellor, Sandra Harding shares Professor Xiang’s enthusiasm. “From designing smarter cities, to growing precision agricultural systems, monitoring natural environments in real-time, and creating clever health solutions that work in remote communities,” she says. “We don’t want to be just a part of that future, we want to lead it.”

Paul travelled to James Cook University’s Cairns campus as a guest of Huawei.

Jul 262016
 

“We’ve been completely blown away,” says Quberider founder Solange Cunin about the interest in the startup that looks to put science experiments into space.

The company that was established by Cunin, a fifth year aeronautical engineering student, and her co-founder Sebastian Chaoui in early 2015 to provide school students with the opportunity to conduct experiments in space.

“Quebrider is a company that focuses on teaching core STEM skills that the current curriculum doesn’t focus on,” Cunin explained about the company. “Things like coding, data analysis and problem solving – all of those things industry needs. We do that in the context of students building their own space mission.”

The Quberider package starts starts at a cost of $5000 and includes a type of nanosatellite called a cubesat – a cube the size of a large coffee mug that contains ten sensors – along with teaching resources and a slot on one of the International space station launches. The program runs for three terms and integrates into the New South Wales high school science curriculum.

“Students end up creating their own software experiments and they sent it up on their own space mission,” explains Cunin. “They get that big bang and their own awesome feeling of being on something big and hopefully that gets them motivated to be involved in science a tech.”

In all, forty NSW high schools have prepared 60 projects ranging from one using the gathered information to create ‘space music’ through to an experiment measuring Einstein’s theory of relativity and time dilation to on the initial launch scheduled for the end of the month.

“Because it’s space it captures their imagination,” Cunin says of the program designed for years 9 and 10 students (14 and 15 year olds) but they have participants ranging from year 5 up to undergraduate level.

“We’re solving such an important pain point for many different people – getting students involved is a big problem for teachers and education and skills are a big problem for industry,” Cunin says.

The project developed out of Cunin and Chaoui’s joint passion for space projects and they came together when working as interns at another space startup.

While they are looking at a small amount of seed funding later this year, most of the startup’s capital has come from program fees and the support of the University of New South Wales where Cunin is a student and the University of Technology Sydney where Chaou studies. Quebrider is also part of Telstra’s Muru-D startup incubator program.

“We’re quite aware we have a lot to learn,” says Cunin about the Muru-D program. “Signing up to this with a good mentor program is important. The big value for us is the mentorship, we meet our advisory board once a fortnight and they’ve become part of the family.”

Ultimately Solange Cunin would like to see their program spread across the country. “What I’d really love to see is nationwide every single student that goes through year nine or ten has a space mission. They get to be part of something bigger and that inspires them and shows that science isn’t something nerdy and is cool.”

As the price of loading payloads onto satellites falls, it’s almost certain these experiments will become more accessible for schools and students.

Jun 182016
 

17 year old Giorgio Doueihi had a problem, his school had just rolled out a student diary app that was unusable. So Doueihi, who’d started coding at 13, decided he’d write a new one.

“I’d been dabbling with a bunch of projects at high school and I’d taught myself how to code,” Giorgio told Decoding the New Economy at Telstra’s Sydney Muru-D incubator.

That app was quickly adopted by his high school which had spent $100,000 developing the unusable system. Giorgio finished school, started university and Backpack, as his app became known, was accepted into Sydney University’s student INCUBATE startup program.

“I found out about INCUBATE and thought ‘I might just pitch this idea I had at high school’ then it kind of took a turn.”

Backpack became Fluid Education and Giorgio was accepted onto the Muru-D program, the product was doing well in the market and gaining customers when he decided to shut it down and move to a new product.

“Sales cycle was a large part of the pivot,” he explains. “Another part was that it had changed from a student orientated app to something more enterprise focused, something we were uncomfortable doing.”

So Fluid Education pivoted and is now a service for matching tutors to students and managing their appointment with the new platform about to come out of beta, “We’ve gone back to our roots,” Giorgio explains.

In many ways Giorgio Doueihi story is straight out of the startup textbook, he’s passionate, has identified a problem to solve and was agile enough to change the business’ course when he was unhappy with the direction.

Fluid education and Giorgio will be a very interesting story to follow over the next few years.

Dec 262015
 
Shopping centres and large corporations are starting to use social media and local search

Yesterday we posted on how a lack of education is contributing to the decline of America’s middle class. An article on Bloomberg’s Gadfly website illustrates the direct effects of this change in comparing the fortunes of two different shopping malls.

It’s not news that America’s malls are dying in the face of changing demographics, consumer tastes and economics but some centres continue to thrive.

Bloomberg’s Shelly Banjo and Rani Molla put the success of some malls down to the affluence of their customers. A centre that boasts Tesla, Apple and Louis Vuitton stores such as Atlanta’s Lenox Square thrives and charges high rents to its tenants.

Just the presence of an Apple Store boosts a centre’s rents by 13% claim the authors.

Eight miles away from Lenox Square is Northlake Mall which only attracts a quarter of the rents on a per square foot (psf) basis and doesn’t boast the high quality names but rather a range of fading chains and department stores.

Northlake’s woes lie in demographics with its shoppers scoring poorly compared to Lenox Square’s on all measures.

atlanta-mall-comparison

The key points are per capita income and the education level with only just over half of Northlake’s customers having a college degree or better with the result earning only 2/3rds of that of Lenox Square’s shoppers.

Northlake’s lagging educational and income levels isn’t unusual as this is exactly the problem facing most of the lower middle classes as their earnings fall as their skills are left behind by an increasingly technological society.

The decline of Northlake, and most of America’s malls, illustrates the effects of an undereducated workforce on the local economy. Making sure the population has the skills to compete in the 21st Century is more than just a problem for the individuals affected.