Feb 182015

Yesterday Australian incumbent telco Telstra took the media on a tour of its showpiece  Customer Insights Centre in downtown Sydney.

The company is justifiably proud of the facility that includes  a 300 person auditorium, broadcast quality TV studio, a restaurant, workshop and collaboration spaces.

Welcoming visitors is the centre’s Insight Ring, a nine metre circle-shaped platform that surrounds guests with digital insights mined from Telstra’s information services. Leading off the reception area are a range of displays showcasing the company’s products and capabilities including wearable technologies, 3D printing and Ged The Robot.

Marking the centre as a modern facility the display spaces where Telstra and its partners can show off technologies to industry bodies and prospective clients.

Ged, the Telstra robot

Ged, the Telstra robot

The previous space two floors higher in the building was beginning to show its age after seven years and the fixed displays of technology in the older facility dated the centre, something that’s a disadvantage in an industry changing as quickly as telecommunications.

In the new centre, the demonstration facility is largely screen based so displays can quickly be adapted to show off the technologies aimed at whichever industry they are pitching.

The fast moving technology world

The software driven demonstration centre


Andy Bateman, Director of Segment Marketing at Telstra, who lead the tour was proud to show off the current display that had been set up to showcase the company’s banking products.


Bateman described how the facility can be quickly altered to suit the needs of specific demonstrations, this was a degree of flexibility missing in the PayPal innovation center in San Jose, which is more comprehensive in its displays but requires a major fit out to change anything.

Venture capital investor Marc Andreessen stated that software will eat the world, Telstra’s Customer Insights Centre illustrates this starkly.

However software doesn’t always have the upper hand, just opposite the Telstra centre is the Sydney City Apple Store. In some ways, the two facilities opposite each other illustrate one of the big technological and market battles of this decade.

View of the Apple Store from the Telstra Centre

View of the Apple Store from the Telstra Centre

For most businesses, software will define the future way of working but for the smart hardware vendors will still be making good money.

Feb 142015

In 1977 NASA’s Voyager mission launched from Cape Canaveral to explore the outer solar system, included on the vessel in case it encountered other civilisations were a plaque and a golden record describing life on Earth.

The record was, is, “a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.” It containing images,  a variety of natural sounds, musical selections from different cultures and spoken greetings in fifty-five languages.

Most American households in 1977 could have listened to the sounds on Voyager’s golden disk but were the spaceship to return today it would be difficult to find the technology to read the record.

This is the concern of Google Fellow and internet pioneer Vint Cerf who told the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Jose this week we are “facing a forgotten century” as today’s technologies are superseded rendering documents unreadable.

A good example of ‘bit rot’ is the floppy disk – the icon used by most programs to illustrate saving files is long redundant and few organisations, let alone households, have the ability to read a floppy disk.

For corporations the problem of dealing with data stored on tape is an even greater problem as proprietary hardware and software from long vanished corporations becomes harder to find or engineer.

As the Internet of Things rolls out and data becomes more critical to business operations, the need for compatible and readable formats will become even more important for companies and historical information may well become a valuable asset.

With libraries, museums and government archives having digitised historic information, this issue of accessing data in superseded formats becomes even more pressing.

It may be that important documents need to be kept on paper – although there’s still the problem of paper deteriorating  – to make sure the 21st Century doesn’t become the digital dark ages and our golden records remain unread.

Jan 192015

Last weekend Uber founder Travis Kalanick told a tech conference in Munich, Germany how his company wants to take 400,000 cars off Europe’s road by the end of the year.

On Monday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the nation’s car sales were at best flat, a trend that’s been apparent for two years and one being repeated around the world as younger adults turn away from automobiles.

The technology that defined the Twentieth Century was the motor car; it reshaped our cities, changed our lifestyles and drove the consumer economy.

Now that economy is changing and the motor car, and consumerism in general, is in decline.

Which leads to the thought of what our communities will look like if the motor car isn’t the defining feature?

A challenge for governments

One obvious answer is we won’t need as many roads and carparks so governments will have to shift their priorities towards public transit and shared car services.

Governments are also faced with voters wanting more services closer to centres as the 1950s model of dad driving an hour to work or the 1970s model of the family driving to the shopping mall are no longer valid. This has serious ramifications for communities were land use has been zoned based upon twentieth century assumptions, not to mention their taxation bases.

That zoning problem has ramifications for property developers as well, it’s possible to argue this is already happening as pressures mount to turn over more inner city areas to high rise buildings.

Redefining retail

For retailers, it means the end of suburban big box stores and more focus on smaller stores with delivery services – a trend we’re already seeing in larger cities.

The finance industry as well is affected by the shift away from personal ownership of cars as automobile loans and leases have been a lucrative business for the last fifty years. If people are no longer fussed about owning a car then then there’s little demand for easy payment plans.

With the motor car not being as important to people, we start to see a society with very different economic underpinnings to that we became used to in the late Twentieth Century. How do you think our communities and businesses will look in a world without cars?

Dec 292014
geeky glasses for IT workers and social media experts

It’s becoming harder to be an expert warns Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham.

What’s worse, Graham suggests being locked in the way things currently are is the biggest risk for today’s experts as change accelerates across society.

This climate of change makes it tough for investors like Graham to identify the next big things for them to stake money on; when the experts are often wrong it’s hard to figure out whose right in picking what business or technology will be successful in a few years time.

Graham suggests betting on people, particularly the “earnest, energetic, and independent-minded” is a better way of finding the next wave of successful businesses and his views are a useful reminder that   ultimately its people who find ways to implement and profit from technology.

The paradox with the changes we’re facing is that the technology is the easy part, it’s the human and social consequences which will surprise us.

Which is why Paul Graham is right about our having to think outside the boundaries of our own expertise.

Nov 282014
Digital bus stop

Last Thursday in Sydney a group of industry groups, telcos and local councils launched their 2030 Communications Visions initiative; a project “to shape a digital vision and set of goals for Australia to achieve global digital age leadership”.

The project is a worthy one, particularly given the failure of Australia’s National Broadband Network, which I’m writing about early next week in Technology Spectator however one thing that bugs me is what exactly is ‘digital age leadership’.

If we look at the rollout of technologies like the motor car, electricity or telephone through the Twentieth Century it was a mix of private companies, community groups and governments that championed the development of roads, mains power and phone systems. People either demanded their towns became connected or raised the capital to do it themselves.

So on one level, the champions need to be us. We have to lead our communities and industries by using the technologies and showing what can be done, that also makes our businesses more likely to succeed in the future.

On another level, we need to consider the genuine leaders of the ‘electrical age’ or ‘motor car age'; people like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford built businesses that led the world and still exist today.

For countries, it’s no coincidence that the United States is the richest nation on the planet after having most of the leading business in their industries over the last hundred years.

That latter point is really what the Digital Visions project is about; do Australians want to remain a wealthy nation in the Twenty First Century?

Governments have a role in this, as the UK is showing, and political leaders need to be encouraged to take the digital economy however governments can only do so much and successes like Silicon Valley are more a fortunate by product of spending rather than the consequence of strategic policy.

Ultimately, leadership starts with us — we can’t afford to wait for governments, big business or someone else to take the reigns.

Nov 262014
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

If you missed the program it’s available from the Soundcloud site.

Paul Wallbank joins Tony Delroy on ABC Nightlife across Australia from 10pm Australian Eastern time on Thursday, November 27 to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

Last week a US company showed off its robotic security guard, with the boast it costs less than half the wages of a human officer. It isn’t just security guards, baristas or taxi drivers, many knowledge based jobs — from call centre workers to lawyers — can be done by computer programs, or algorithms.

Even the building industry isn’t immune from the robots as 3D printing moves into making houses by squeezing concrete out of computer controlled nozzles.

In almost every occupation technology is changing the way we work and reducing the number of workers needed to do a job. So where next for employment in the Twenty-first Century?

Meet the K-5 robot security guard

For this month’s Nightlife we’ll be discussing how the robots and algorithms are taking over the workplace and what this means for our communities and businesses.

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.

Oct 122014

A  cute little story appeared on the BBC website today about the Teatreneu club, a comedy venue in Barcelona using facial recognition technology to charge for laughs.

In a related story, the Wall Street Journal reports on how marketers are scanning online pictures to identify the people engaging with their brands and the context they’re being used.

With the advances in recognition technology and deeper, faster analytics it’s now becoming feasible that anything you do that’s posted online or being monitored by things like CCTV is now quite possibly recognise you, the products your using and the place you’re using them in.

Throw all of the data gathered by these technologies into the stew of information that marketers, companies and governments are already collecting and there a myriad of  good and bad applications which could be used.

What both stories show is that technology is moving fast, certainly faster than regulatory agencies and the bulk of the public realise. This is going to present challenges in the near future, not least with privacy issues.

For the Teatreneu club, the experiment should be interesting given rich people tend to laugh less; they may find the folk who laugh the most are the people least able to pay 3o Euro cents a giggle.