Jan 282015
 
old farm equipment

Last week’s events in Canberra shows business can’t wait for the government to lead industry change. If you want to keep up with technology, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis many of my business clients were in trouble as banks tightened their lines of credit and consumers slammed their wallets shut. After a decade of running businesses, it was time to get a job.

The job I found was with the small business division of the New South Wales Government’s then Department of State and Regional Development where I quickly discovered how many companies and ‘entrepreneurs’ came looking to the government for money and leadership.

While there were some state government support programs available for exporting, high-tech and biotech businesses almost all of those approaching the Department were hopelessly unqualified for the assistance that was at best only involved marginal amounts of money.

The toughest part of my job was gently turning those people away without upsetting them too much. Often I failed and part of the reason for that was that many of those believed the government would take leadership in a changing digital world and fund ideas that would help the state’s and nation’s competitiveness.

I was reminded of my brief period as a public servant and the futile attempt for  with last week’s disasters for the Australian tech sector; the Prime Minister’s claim that social media is little more than digital graffiti and the still born announcement of a Chief Transformation Officer.

Last week’s announcement of Chief Transformation Officer who happens to have no budget – the UK office the local initiative is based upon received more than a hundred million dollars in the Brits’ last budget –  is probably the best indication of how far behind the ball Australian governments, particularly the Federal level, are in dealing with a changing economy.

A Chief Transformation, or Digital, Officer can be an important catalyst for change but to achieve that they have to have the support of the organisation’s leadership; if the CEO or minister isn’t on board then the CTO or CDO is doomed to irrelevance.

The Prime Minister’s blithe dismissal of social media as being digital graffiti over the weekend shows just how little support an office charged with managing the Australian government’s transition to digital services will get from the executive. The sad thing is none of the likely alternatives – on either side of politics – to the current Prime Minister seem to be any more across the changes facing governments in a connected century.

One good example of the profound changes we’re seeing is in agriculture; this feature on farming robots shows just how technology and automation is changing life on the land. These applications of robotics are going to affect every industry, including government.

As we’ve discussed before, if you want digital leadership then you’re going to have to provide it yourself . If you’re going to wait for the government, then times are going to overtake you. How are you facing the changes to your business and marketplace?

Jan 262015
 
management-sending-email-on-computer

As the scale of technological change facing organisations becomes apparent, managements are appointing Chief Digital Officers to deal with the adjustment. Is this a good idea or just window dressing?

Last week the Australian Federal government became the latest  administration to announce they will appoint an executive to manage the process.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Digital Transformation Office will be charged to co-ordinate the adoption of online services across agencies and state governments.

“The DTO will comprise a small team of developers, designers, researchers and content specialists working across government to develop and coordinate the delivery of digital services,” the Minister’s announcement stated. “The DTO will operate more like a start-up than a traditional government agency, focussing on end-user needs in developing digital services. ”

Minister Turnbull hopes to emulate the UK Office of the Chief Technology Officer which was launched with the intention of delivering streamlined sign ons, simplified government websites and easier access to online services in Britain; although the experience has not been a great success so far.

What’s notable about the UK experience is the CTO came with high level support within cabinet, which gave the agency a mandate within the public service to drive change.

A job without a budget

That the Australian CTO has no budget – its UK equivalent has over £58 million this year – indicates it will not have a similar mandate and will struggle to be little more than a letterhead.

When Digital Officer do have the support of senior executives and ministers, it’s possible to achieve substantial returns. Vivek Kundra, former Chief Information Officer in the Obama administration described to me in an interview two years ago how his office had created a dashboard to monitor government IT projects.

Kundra learned this lesson from his time as the US Government’s CIO where he built an IT Dashboard that gave projects a green, yellow or red light depending upon their status.

Some of these government projects were ten years late and way over budget, the dashboard gave the Obama administration the information required to identify and cut over $3 billion worth of poorly performing contracts in six months.

This is low hanging fruit that a well resourced group with the support of senior management can drive.

Looking beyond end users

A concern though with these CIO positions is they are only looking at part of the problem with the UK, US and Australian teams all focusing on end-users.

While no-one should discount the need for easy to use online services for customers or government users; digital transformation has far greater effects on private and public sector organisations with all aspects of business being dramatically changed.

In Germany a survey last year by management consultants PwC found eighty percent of manufacturers expected their supply chains would be fully digitised by the end of the decade, almost every industry can expect a similar degree of change.

The risk for CTOs focused on how well websites work is they may find the digital transformation within their organisations turns out to be the greater challenge.

Indeed it may well be the whole concept of Chief Transformation, or Digital, Officers is flawed as digital transformation is pervasive; it affects all aspect of business through HR and procurement to management itself.

Passing the buck

The great risk for organisations appointing a CTO or CDO is that other c-level executives may then believe those individuals are responsible for the effects of digital transformation on their divisions.

While Chief Digital, or Transformation, Officers can have an important role in keeping an organisation’s board or a government aware of the opportunities and challenges in a rapidly changing world, they can’t assume the responsibilities of adapting diverse businesses or government agencies to a digital economy.

Done well with proper resources and management buy in, a good CTO could genuinely transform a business and be a catalyst for change.

Regardless of the responsibilities a CTO or CDO assumes within an organisation, for the role to be effective the position needs the full support of senior management and adequate resources.

If a company or government wants to pay more than lip service to digital transformation then a poorly resourced figurehead is needed to drive change.

Jan 192015
 
v8-supercars-launceston-truck-fleet

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?

Jan 182015
 
churchill-stalin-roosevelt-potsdam

Today’s links include a look at the complexities of the Charlie Hebdo discussion, how Lithuania intends a passive aggressive response to a Russian invasion and how Winston Churchill was not always Britain’s most admired figure.

Should we hang Mr Churchill?

The New Statesman has delved into its archives to find its articles on Winston Churchill, it’s an interesting article that shows the complexities of the Churchill myth and legend.

Lithuania’s plan of passive resistance

Having the Russians occupy your country is a living memory in Lithuania. With the troubles in the Ukraine, the Lithuanian authorities are planning for a future invasion. Their advice is to be passive aggressive.

The world’s highest cost living

Which countries are the most expensive for a British expat to live in? Switzerland and Norway top Movehub’s list with the UK coming in tenth, New Zealand seventh and Australia sixth.

No, I am not Charlie

A British cartoonist’s view on the Charlie Hebdo murders illustrates the complexities beyond the facile soundbites.

The popping of the tech startup seed bubble

Has the tech startup mania peaked? The funds being invested into startups at seed stage seems to falling away, which may not be a bad thing suggest Alex Wilhelm.

What’s your password?

The Jimmy Kimmel show went onto the streets asking people what their passwords are. The results, sadly, are not surprising.

Jan 152015
 
project-ara-google-phone

The scale of the carnage Boko Haram has inflicted on remote parts of Nigeria is becoming more apparent every day and satellite imagery shows just how much damage the insurgent group is doing to communities in its territories.

Closer to home, Google’s Project ARA gets another outing, we look at how economies can deal with the jobless future, what a terrible aunt Ayn Rand was and how the IoT is going to sea.

The IoT goes to sea

At the CES show two weeks ago Ericsson launched their new maritime cloud service that promises to connect ocean going ships to the same services available on land

Google unveils more about Project Ara

Project Ara is Google’s attempt to reinvent the smartphone, the project came a little closer to completion with the company showing off some of its progress

Creating the innovation state

What do we do in a world where most people’s jobs have gone? Create an innovation state rather than a welfare state could be an answer suggests one economist.

The extent of Boko Haram’s massacres

Words fail to describe the horrors being visited on the people of Nigeria.

Ayn Rand was a terrible Aunty

What happened when one of Ayn Rand’s nieces asked aunty for a $25 loan?

Jan 112015
 
639px-East_Palo_Alto_PA_Airport_Moffett_Field_P1190059

Being a Sunday some long reads; an interview with American cartoonist Robert Crumb on his reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders, life in the Nicaragua markets and the other side of Silicon Valley.

East of Silicon Valley’s Eden

Silicon Valley is one of the world’s most affluent regions but it has it’s poor areas, across the road from Facebook’s head office sits one of the area’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. East of Palo Alto’s Eden tells the story of segregation and disadvantage that has left East Palo Alto behind the rest of Silicon Valley.

Robert Crumb on Charlie Hebdo

‘I thought, I gotta do it. They asked me. I gotta do it…Otherwise, everybody’s going to think: “Where’s Crumb? Why doesn’t he come forward? What the hell’s the matter with him?”’

Legendary US cartoonist Frank Crumb, now resident in France, gives his views on the Charlie Hebdo murders.

How a family survives on $4.50 a day

A good story on the tough life of Nicaraguan market traders who live on half the national minimum wage.

“East Palo Alto PA Airport Moffett Field P1190059″ by David.Monniaux – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Dec 072014
 
commonwealth-bank-in-lockart-nsw

On Sunday the Murray Report into the Australian Financial System was handed down with a range of recommendations on ensuring the stability and future of the nation’s banking and finance institutions.

Choosing David Murray, the former CEO of the nation’s biggest bank, was controversial but it turns out he and his team have delivered a sensible overview of the opportunities, risks and challenges facing Australia’s financial sector and economy. Many of the recommendations though require a change in both the culture of banks and that of the country’s population towards investment and savings.

A key part of the review is identifying the lessons learned from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 in an attempt to reduce the country’s vulnerability to external economic shocks and limit the taxpayers’ exposure to any consequential bank failures.

In proposing ways of strengthening the nation’s banks against similar future shocks The report identifies a cultural problem in the finance industry.

Culture of financial firms

Since the GFC, a persistent theme of international political and regulatory discourse has been the breakdown in financial firms’ behaviour in failing to balance risk and reward appropriately and in treating their customers unfairly. Without a culture supporting appropriate risk-taking and the fair treatment of consumers, financial firms will continue to fall short of community expectations. This may lead to ongoing political pressure for additional financial system regulation and the undermining of confidence and trust in the financial system.

Interestingly, exactly this sentiment is echoed by last week’s World Of Business on BBC Four where host Peter Day reported from the recent Drucker Forum spoke to various economists, bankers and market commentators.

Breaking the debt culture

A key point raised in Day’s story was best expressed by Gary Hamel, Management expert and professor at The London Business School who said; “I think what the global financial crisis revealed — in addition to a lot of mendacious bankers who had lost touch with their social role — was the fact we’d been sustaining living standards through debt. I think that overhang is still there.”

The Global Financial Crisis was a warning the late Twentieth century model of using debt to sustain living standards was coming to an end, of all the western countries Australians had been one of the most enthusiastic nations about using debt to underpin consumption and that debt obsession had allowed the nation to skirt the worst of the GFCs effects.

With personal debt still at astronomically high levels it’s unlikely Australia will be able to avoid the next global financial shock and part of Murray’s recommendations are aimed at making both the economy and the banking sector more resilient to those shocks.

A fall in income

For the bankers this means lending less money and stricter financial controls; it almost certainly will mean their incomes will fall and it will be harder for millions of Australians to borrow money for easy speculation in the property market.

Creating a more resilient economy will take a culture shift in more than just highly paid bank staff, it will require a change in the way all of us think.