Mar 262014

On Networked Globe I have an interview with Sense-T’s director, Ros Harvey.

Sense-T is a project to connect the entire state to the internet of things using a sensor network monitoring soil, water and other environmental conditions to help the state’s agriculture and business communities.

Harvey’s ambitions for the project are high where she sees Sense-T even having the potential of rekindling the interest of the state’s students in science and technology courses.

It’s a brave project that means a lot to a state that’s doing it tough.

Mar 132014

Yesterday I posted piece on Business Spectator about Australia’s new privacy regulations, little did I know that the European Union Parliament was about to release its own.

The EU regulations look interesting and certainly seem on  first look to be far more comprehensive than Australia’s effort that I describe as a toothless, box ticking exercise.

A notable aspect of the EU’s announcement of the new rules is its claim that the updated regulations are expected to generate €2.3 billion in economic benefits each year.

Whether the EU’s rules prove to be an economic cost – as Australia’s effort will almost certainly turn out to be – or a competitive advantage remains to be seen, however the European Parliament is certainly making a case for data security and privacy protection as being an important selling point in a highly competitive digital world.

The competitive advantages between countries and continents in the 21st Century will be vary different to those that determined the economic winners of the previous two centuries.

Mar 122014

“Consulting companies are a blight on our industry” declares Adrian DiMarco, CEO of Technology One.

A quick way to rile DiMarco is by asking him about IT outsourcing as I learned during an interview at Technology One’s annual Evolve conference on the Gold Coast last month.

The 1600 enterprise clients attending this year’s Evolve conference illustrate Technology One’s growth since it was founded in 1987 out of DiMarco’s frustration with the multinational outsourcing companies.

“I used to work for multinational technology companies and as a young person I really used to want to work for them, I found it very attractive and I expected they’d be very attractive and cutting edge.”

The reality DiMarco found was very different; “I worked for them for years and found the opposite, just how bad and inefficient they were.”

“I really didn’t like what I was working with, the software we were using and stuff and I thought we can do it much better here in Australia. The idea was to build enterprise software.”

Moving to the cloud

Having built that enterprise software company DiMarco now sees his Technology One’s future lying in cloud services and empahises the importance of learning from the industry’s leaders.

“We looked at companies like Google, Salesforce, Facebook and Dropbox. These companies are the undisputed leaders in the cloud.

“One thing that we noticed was that you can’t get Google, Salesforce, Facebook from a hosted provider; you can’t get it from IBM or Accenture.

“The leaders in the cloud build it themselves so they are deeply committed to it, they run the software for their customers and they invest millions of dollars each year in making the experience better.”

“It is clearly what the cloud has always meant to be.”

DiMarco though sees problems ahead as vendors look to rebrand their products and warns businesses need to be careful about cloud services.

“It is the next big goldrush in the IT industry. IT companies, particularly service companies have over the last few years seen revenues decline so in order to find new sources of growth they are all targeting the cloud.”

Accountability and the cloud

The lesson DiMarco learned in the early days of cloud computing was that accountability is necessary when you’re trusting services to other providers.

“We had early customers that went to the cloud; we said ‘look, it’s a great idea and we think it’s the future’. They wanted to go with hosting providers and we thought it was a sensible decision and we saw a train smash, it was a train smash of epic proportions”

“They were running data centres overseas in Europe that had latency issues, performance issues and the customers were paying money after money after money.”

“The customer was getting a terrible performance and there was no accountability.”

“We couldn’t fix it because we had lost control over the customers.”

This lack of accountability is one of the reason why so many IT projects fail DiMarco believes, citing the notorious Queensland Health payroll project.

“Queensland Health again used this fragmented model; the party that built the software, which is SAP, used a third party which was IBM to implement it which meant no accountablity.

:That would never have happened If SAP had signed the contract, if SAP had implemented the software, which they won’t do, they would have known the risks that were being taken and they would have stopped that project and fixed it up.??“That’s the difference between our model and the competitors model.”

“They take no responsibility, they implement these systems, they charge a fee-for-service and they have open ended contracts – that’s how they get to be a billion dollars – and do you know who suffers? It’s the customers.”

Shifting away from consultants

DiMarco sees governments moving away from the consultant driven model that’s proved so disappointing for agencies like Queensland Health which creates opportunities for Technology One and other Australian companies.

“For the last fifteen years we’ve not been able to sell software to the state government. It’s just changing, we’re getting in there now, but it was a terrible problem for us.”

The shift from big consultants is a view endorsed by Sugar CRM co-founder Clint Oram who described how the software business is changing when he spoke to Decoding the New Economy last week.

Oram sees the software market challenging established giants like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft; “in the past it was ‘here’s my software, goodbye and good luck. Maybe we’ll see you next year.”

“If you look at those names, the competitors we see on a day-to-day basis, several of them are very much challenged in making the shift from perpetual software licensing.” Oram says, “it’s been a challenge that I don’t think all of them will work their way through, their business models are too entrenched.”

“Software companies really have to stay focused on continuous innovation to their customers.”

DiMarco agrees with this view, citing the constant investment cloud computing companies make in their products as being one of the advantages in the business model.

Building the Australian software industry

For Australia to succeed in the software industry, DiMarco believes the nation has to encourage and celebrate the industry’s successes.

“It’s about getting people to believe in Australian software. I think the Aussie tech industry needs a lot more successes we can point to,” DiMarco observes. “I think that will create enthusiasm, excitement and a hub for the rest of the community to get around.”

“We gotta get some big scale companies with some high visibility and get them successful.”

For the future of Technology One, DiMarco sees international expansion as offering the best prospects with the company having recently announced a UK management team as part of its push into the British local government market.

Hopefully DiMarco’s UK management team won’t have to deal with the local management and IT consultants as they try to sell into British councils.

Mar 112014

Last year I interviewed the CEO of London and Partners, Gordon Innes, on how Britain’s capital is making a bid to become Europe’s Silicon Valley.

At the opening of CeBIT last night, UK Prime Minister David Cameron increased the country’s bid with a plan on building Britain’s capability in the digital industries.

Cameron portrayed the moves as being a partnership with Germany. This may be partly because he was being gracious towards his host and also because the Brits might not see Germany as being a competitor in these fields.

The fields that Cameron highlighted are deploying 5G networks, more efficient use of spectrum and increasing research into the Internet of Things.

A research boost is a notable as it may give the Brits a foothold in an area that’s evolving rapidly as the Internet of Things raises a whole range of security, privacy and governance issues.

While there’s still a sniff of Harold Wilson’s 1963 White Heat of Technology speech in the Cameron government’s policies, at least the British government is articulating policies for the 21st Century.

It may well be that Cameron’s digital revolution will be no more successful than Wilson’s technological revolution fifty years ago, but at least it will be a brave attempt.

Mar 052014

Madrid have renamed a subway station to Vodafone Sol and plan to rename an entire metro line as part of a corporate sponsorship deal.

Personally I think renaming places changes the culture of place; something well understood by dictators but possibly not so well by corporate marketing people.

Do you think this is a good idea?

Picture of Madrid Sol station courtesy of Zaqarbal through Wikimedia

Feb 202014
Demonstrating the benefits of the national broadband network

I swore – mainly for my own sanity – that I wouldn’t discuss Australia’s National Broadband Network on this site anymore, today though the topic raised an interesting point about business leadership and project management that can’t be ignored.

Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today released the Broadband Availability and Quality Report (PDF) along with the accompanying My Broadband website that identifies the nation’s telecommunications blackspots.

“It is extraordinary that in six years of Labor talking about Australians having inadequate broadband they never bothered to do the work of actually identifying where services were good, bad or indifferent,” said the minister at the announcement.

Turnbull’s comments are correct, although the criticism is just as valid of previous Liberal and Labor governments who’d made incredibly poor decisions in the telecommunications portfolio without considering what was actually happening outside the ministers’ offices.

A bigger lesson though is that before commissioning a project the size of the NBN – estimates have put its cost anywhere between twenty and eighty billion US dollars – it’s a good idea to know where you are are and where you want to go.

Big Hairy Audacious Goals

To put the comments that follow into perspective, I was a supporter of the NBN concept although I thought it was a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

In the shadow of the Global Financial Crisis the NBN project ticked all the boxes; it put cash into the economy, it employed an army of workers and upgraded Australia’s telecommunications network that had been neglected by thirty years of incompetent government policies mixed with incumbent telco greed.

Australia could have afforded ten NBNs during the mining boom of the 2000s; it was an opportunity to rebuild the nation’s ports, roads, railways, schools and tax system that all needed reinvestment and reinvention to meet the needs of the 21st Century.

Building a middle class welfare nanny state

Rather than reform the economy or build modern infrastructure, the Howard Liberal government decided to spend the mining boom’s proceeds on building a middle class welfare state.

Keen students of Australian politics crack a wry smile that the recently elected Abbott Liberal government, of which Turnbull is a member, proposes a paid parental scheme that will complete John Howard’s grand vision of a Middle Class Welfare Nanny State.

One of the tragedies of the populist and cowardly Gillard and Rudd Labor governments that succeeded Howard was neither had the courage to dismantle the Liberal party’s middle class welfare state.

At least though both Rudd and Gillard were prepared to make some big infrastructure investments, even if they weren’t fully thought through and chronically underfunded.

Failing to think through the needs, scope and costs of the project meant the National Broadband Network project quickly collapsed into a managerial mess exacerbated by the dribbling incompetence of the company’s executives, government officials and contractors, which bought us to Turnbull’s announcement today.

A project in search of a scope

The project’s failure is a worrying commentary on the abilities of Australia’s management elites in both the private and public sector, however the lesson for the entire world is understanding both where you are and where you want to go to is essential for a project’s success.

Spending on well planned and necessary infrastructure is good, but to avoid disasters like Australia’s NBN it’s good to start with understanding the problems you want to fix and a project scope that clearly identifies the work that needs to be done.

Unfortunately too many governments and businesses don’t know where they are or where their plans will take them.

Feb 122014
how can governments tax the internet?

I’m burning the midnight oil tonight pulling together a story for Business Spectator on reforming Australia’s tax treatment of employee option schemes.

This is a fraught subject as Australia bucked the global trend in 2009 after it became obvious the corporate sector was abusing the existing tax rules that were largely in line with most OECD nations.

In a clumsy, poorly thought out reaction – which is sadly the mark of modern Australian governments of all shades –  the then Rudd Labor government radically changed the rules governing employee schemes that made it difficult for any business to offer stock to their staff.

Last week I spoke to Sydney business intelligence company Encompass and after the video the founders told me about the importance of their share scheme, it illustrated exactly the problem facing Australian startups.

Five years on and it’s apparent the strict rules are working against Australian business and various industry associations, accounting groups and startups are lobbying for reform.

One of the lobbying initiatives is Deloitte’s Retaining Talent project that has some fairly modest proposals in bringing fairer rules back for smaller and younger startups.

The story’s particularly interesting for me in that I’m bringing together a number of previous posts citing how other countries and cities like San Francisco and the United Kingdom have changed their rules on option schemes.

For Australia, the closure of the country’s car manufacturing industry and the struggles of the agricultural sector are bringing home to voters and the government just how seriously the country squandered the massive mining boom of the last decade.

While reforming startup option schemes is a useful start, it’s hard not to think it’s way too little and way too late for the country to begin planning for the post mining boom economy.