Sep 272016
 
Kennedy Nixon Presidential Debate 1960

As the 2016 US Presidential race enters its final stages, it’s interesting to see how data is being used by American political candidates and what this means for business.

During last week’s Oracle Open World in San Francisco a panel hosted by the company’s Political Action Committee featured Stephanie Cutter, who worked on Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and Mike Murphy, a Republican operative whose most recently worked on Jeb Bush’s primary effort against Donald Trump.

While the discussion mainly focused on the politics – “Crazy times seem to require crazy candidates” says Murphy – it was the technology aspect of modern elections that was notable.

Setting the data standard

The Obama campaign of 2008 set the standard for how modern political campaigns used social media and information, “we revolutionized how data analytics helps predict how people will vote and how they will persuade voters to turn out.” Cutter said.

“We put a big investment into it and Republicans have caught up,” she continued. “The key though was we relied on our own data and nothing that was out in the public domain. We didn’t rely on one piece of data, we had multiple sources. We had an analytics program where we were making 9,000 calls a night where we were predicting the votes.”

Murphy agreed with the political campaigns using data, “the kind of polling you see in the media has kind of vanished in campaigns where they have money to spend on research.” He said, “we don’t do telephone polling any more because we have so much data we can collect.”

Capturing everything

“We capture everything. We have about four hundred data points on the American voter and we’ll have five hundred in the next two years. We’ll be able to build massive data models without phone polling,” Murphy pointed out. “We’re waiting for the tech folk to get ahead on AI so we can predict what voters are going to do in two weeks.”

Despite the amount data collected by US political parties, the real key to success is the candidate’s organisation and management. Cutter made a strong point about the strength of Obama’s campaign team in both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

How the US political parties use data points to how businesses will be managing data in the future. Increasingly using information well is going to be the measure of successful organisations in both politics and industry.

Sep 082016
 
clovermoore_cityofsydney_july_2016_jacquiemanning_228

Leading the City of Sydney’s Lord Mayoral race is incumbent Clover Moore. Long a thorn in side of the state’s political and media establishments, the independent Moore has safely held the city’s Lord Mayorship since beating the seemingly unbeatable Labor candidate in 2004.

Since being elected, Moore has been focused on Sydney being a ‘living and sustainable city’ with the Sydney 2030 plan being the focus of her administration. This election’s platform builds on that scheme.

While acknowledged in the 2030 strategy paper, the tech sector really didn’t feature in that document – something that reflects how late all levels of Australian government have been in recognising the industry’s role in economic development.

However in recent years the council has been developing its programs, including the Startup Action Plan and on the Clover Moore team for this year’s election Jess Scully, director of  the annual Vivid Ideas festival and organiser of TEDxSydney, is the spokesperson for the campaign’s tech and cultural platforms.

“The crucial things are access to talent and space,” Scully told me when I interviewed her a few weeks ago. “There are reasons why people are attracted and drawn into the gravity of precincts in the heart of the city.”

Scully cites the city’s working with property developers to allocate space for startup hubs in new developments, the council’s support for various events and the support for infrastructure projects, not least the contentious bikepaths, to improve the city’s liveability.

Like the rest of the candidates’ teams, Jess provided the following answers to our questions.

What are your policies relating to encouraging tech startups?

“Clover has been very proactive in supporting the start-up sector and encouraging co-location, which we know amplifies the benefits of having a lot of bright minds working together. After consulting with the sector, the City adopted a Tech Start-Up Action Plan in March, which has the aim of building a robust start-up ecosystem by offering access to affordable space, promoting dense agglomeration and increasing access to funding and markets.

“Of course, it’s easy to say these things – but under Clover’s direction, the City of Sydney is already taking action – one major step has already been taken. We know Sydney can be an expensive place for start-ups to access affordable space, but in the future we want the knowledge economy well represented in the heart of our CBD. The City has negotiated a Voluntary Planning Agreement with Lend Lease to secure 3900 square metres on three floors in a prime spot on George Street at Circular Quay for tech start-ups.

“This new development will put tomorrow’s tech and start-up leaders right in the centre of the action, closer to potential clients and partners in the corporate world. This new CBD tech hub will provide affordable space for businesses at different stages of development, co-working spaces and community space.”

What do you see as Sydney’s strengths in this sector?

“Sydney benefits from its own gravity – we’re home to over two thirds of Australia’s start-up community – we’re the natural home for businesses that want to scale up and go global from the outset. We’re a global city that’s attractive for talent, and we’re the base for the creative industries, finance and services sectors, so being located here allows you connect with potential collaborators, clients and investors. Other regions have to offer more incentives to overcome the natural advantages that Sydney offers start-ups.”

What are we not doing well at the moment?

“We’re still young: Sydney has a relatively new tech start-up ecosystem and we’re struggling with two challenges: skill shortages in ICT, and in attracting capital to scale-up.”

What are we doing well?

“I think our start-up ecosystem in Sydney is one of the most supportive and collaborative in the world: I’m so impressed by the generosity and knowledge sharing that goes on in places like Fishburners, Stone & Chalk, Blue Chilli.

“It’s also fantastic to see how engaged our start-up success stories – the founders behind Atlassian, Spreets, Freelancer, and the incredible team at Blackbird – and how committed they are to leading the next generation, being present and offering support, to raising the tide and growing the sector here. I have been fortunate to work with Blackbird Ventures for the last two years on The Sunrise, a conference they fund and drive to get students, aspiring entrepreneurs and emerging founders to connect with new thinking and with each other. Their work and their investment fund are going to be transformative.

“From my observations around the world, this generosity and level of support is just remarkable – they’re leading the way in helping Sydney deliver on our potential to be a global start-up and tech hub.”

How do you see the City’s relations with state and Federal government affecting current efforts?

“The City has differences with other levels of government on some issues but tech start-ups is not one of them – we have a good relationship with other levels of government on tech start-ups.  In particular, we are working closely with the NSW Government on innovation and new initiatives.”

Currently Victoria and Queensland are doing better at attracting businesses. Should we do anything to counter that and, if so, what?

“The City of Sydney is the nation’s tech start-up hub with two thirds of Australian start-ups. The City of Sydney’s economy also grew at 4.5 per cent per annum in the last term – outstripping the national growth rate. Other states use incentives to try and attract businesses to counteract the fundamental strengths of Sydney as the nation’s global city. Our ecosystem is 6 times larger than Brisbane and 55% bigger than Melbourne.

“Working on the fundamentals that underpin the strength of a tech start-up ecosystem is the key for a successful ecosystem in Sydney – not picking winners.”

How can Sydney compete globally against cities like Singapore, Shanghai and even Wellington?

“Sydney is consistently ranked as one of the leading global cities – we are one of the Asia-Pacific’s finance hubs and host high-quality ICT, professional and business services, educational institutions and creative sectors. Sydney also has high liveability which is important for attracting and retaining talent.

“In addition to improving the capacity of our tech start-ups ecosystem to support local, innovative companies become global companies, we need to address some of the other issues affecting the functioning of our economy and society such as the affordable housing crisis.”

The Clover Moore team comes with the advantage of incumbency despite the hostility of Macquarie Street and the performance of the City of Sydney and the growth of the tech community under Moore’s administration has been remarkable.

How much of this is attributable to Moore’s leadership is another question, however her policies are similar to those of other successful tech cities like San Francisco, London, New York, Wellington and Singapore.

Singapore and Wellington probably illustrate the weakness of Moore’s leadership in that both the island state and New Zealand don’t have a level of provincial government whose parties are hostile to independent administrations as is the case where successive Labor and Liberal governments have interfered in the City of Sydney’s operations.

That however hasn’t stopped Moore from investing in the city’s infrastructure and making it a place attractive to startups and tech businesses. Making the city a better place to live and work may be Moore’s biggest attraction for the startup sector.

Sep 072016
 
Councillor Christine Forster – Liberal Party edited

Of all the contenders in the City of Sydney elections, the Liberal Party’s Christine Forster seems the candidate with the best chance of beating incumbent Clover Moore. For the city’s tech industry and startup communities, the Liberals have made a strong pitch.

At the last council election in 2012, the Liberal Party’s Edward Mandla – who has since defected to the Sydney Matters group – was the second placed candidate with 16% of the popular vote after incumbent Clover Moore’s 51%. With the voting rules changed this year to allow business owners to vote alongside residents, Forster is expected to pick up a substantially bigger proportion of the poll

Like Sydney Matters’ Angela Vithoulkas, Christine Forster sees Brisbane as being the example Sydney should be following in encouraging startups. In her detailed tech policy Forster laid out what is probably the most ambitious agenda of the major candidates.

The Liberal policy paper points out Sydney is home to nearly two thirds of the Australian startup community but doesn’t rate well internationally. She proposes addressing that through establishing a Sydney Emerging Entrerpeneurs Program to provide support and small grants.

Forster promises an incubator offering affordable office space based on ‘The Capital’ in Brisbane setting up a working hub to address the crippling commercial rental costs and establishing global ‘launching pads’ for local entrepreneurs in key overseas centres.

“To help promote Sydney to US companies wanting to establish an outpost to expand into Asia, we will establish an office in San Francisco, and investigate further offices in Guangzhou and Singapore,” Councillor Forster is quoted in the policy’s media release as saying.

Of the standard questions we asked the four major candidates, Cr Forster’s team answered them in bullet points;

What are your policies relating to encouraging tech startups?

  • I will commit to Council providing affordable office space for start-ups
  • I plan to establish an Incubator, similar to The Capital’ in Brisbane
  • I will establish a ‘Sydney Emerging Entrepreneurs Program’ providing practical support and small grants to the city’s best emerging start-ups. (One of these already exists in Brisbane.)
  • Appoint a Digital Director for the City of Sydney
  • Set up a ‘City of Sydney Digi-Challenge’ to help solve local council issues though digital leadership
  • Have clear goals for digital policy achievement benchmarked against globally accepted measures.

What do you see as Sydney’s strengths in this sector?

  • Sydney is Australia’s most visible global city. People and businesses want to come here to live and work.
  • Sydney is home to an educated, technically literate population and three world class universities.
  • Sydney already has a strongly entrepreneurial culture and outstanding local success stories – think of Atlassian and Freelancer.com.

What are we not doing well at the moment?

  • Lord Mayor Clover Moore doesn’t intuitively see business as part of the community – she treats business as the enemy
  • Council has not embraced new technologies, it is not business-friendly and dealing with it is notoriously bureaucratic, expensive and time-consuming
  • Clover has mishandled opportunities for the community because she doesn’t understand what businesses need. One notable example is Council’s failure to secure an anchor tenant for its Oxford St properties
  • Business contributes around 80% of rates to the City of Sydney but the Council has not been living up to its own KPIs.

What are we doing well?

  • Not a lot. We’re trading on our name and on the fact that Sydney is physically beautiful and well located.

How do you see the City’s relations with state and Federal government affecting current efforts?

  • Any relationship needs to be more collegial than it has been. There are situations where I disagree with tech and innovation policies at the State and Federal levels but where these arise, I prefer to negotiate to achieve a solution. Clover has made much of “taking the fight up” to other levels of government – I don’t believe it’s a fight, it has to be a negotiation.

Currently Victoria and Queensland are doing better at attracting businesses. Should we do anything to counter that and, if so, what?

  • I don’t believe we should think in adversarial terms – I want Australia to attract more business.
  • But that doesn’t mean Sydney has nothing to learn from Brisbane or Melbourne.
  • I want to set up a ‘Revive Oxford St’ taskforce bringing together residents, business, local and state government representatives to build a strategy – at the moment I’m thinking a QVB-style development in which we offer organisations with experience reviving retail precincts an opportunity to tender on how they could sensitively revive this important cultural precinct
  • I want to establish a dedicated office in our sister-city of San Francisco to promote Sydney’s potential as a stepping-stone for tech companies interested in expanding into Asia. The office will provide advice on establishing an office in Sydney.
  • I will also improve Council’s online services. I’ve got costings to show that with 10% of services moving to digital we could cut costs by $5-$10m p.a. That money could then be reallocated to community projects in each of the eight villages.

How can Sydney compete globally against cities like Singapore, Shanghai and even Wellington?

  • By making it easier to do business for a start, but also improving the city’s amenity. One of my policies is a simple but important one – increase the number of bins and make recycling easier in public areas to get rubbish off the streets.
  • Facilitate the establishment of a ‘SydneyOne’ ticket that covers all local arts, culture and tourism destinations. If Singapore and London can do this – and make it available online – so can Sydney.
  • We are also investigating ways of delivering free Wi-Fi in public areas.

How does your tech industry policy fit in with other key Sydney employment sectors like the creative industries, financial services and education?

  • I want it to cease to be a ‘poor relation’. Sydney has a global reputation in finance, the arts and education. Walk through Martin Place and look up; walk through Sydney University or UTS and look around you; go to the Opera House. These activities are so obvious as to be stereotypical. I want people to think of our tech sector in the same way. I want there to be 10 Freelancer.coms, not one.


Christine Forster and the Liberal Party have an ambitious program to place Sydney as global centre and, given the Liberals also hold government at state and Federal level, their platform does hold the promise of improved relations between the city council and other layers of government.

However the state government has been very slow in identifying the tech sector as being important to the regional economy and its focus on property development makes one wonder what the priorities would be if every level of government was dominated by the Liberals – the decision to sell the Australian Technology Park over the protests of the tech community speaks volumes on Macquarie Street’s attitude towards the sector.

At the Federal level, the innovation agenda seems stalled and confused with little likelihood of any reforms to address the causes of Sydney’s high property prices being addressed or further changes to the tax system to encourage investment in new technologies and businesses.

If anything, the declining fortunes of the Liberal Party at a state and Federal level may well damage Forster’s local campaign and detract from her message. The message though does flag an understanding at the local government level of the importance of the tech community to the city.

Sep 062016
 
Councillor Angela Vithoulkas – Sydney Matters Independent Team

In the second of our series on the tech policies of the Lord Mayoral candidates for the upcoming City of Sydney elections, we look at the policies of the Sydney Matters team, the independent business focused group.

Sydney Matters is led by Angela Vithoulkas, who’s operated a central Sydney coffee shop with her brother for 25 years. Angela, who is a friend of this writer, ran as a Lord Mayoral candidate in 2012 and won election as a councillor.

Angela’s team includes the founder and editor of Startup Daily, Mat Beeche, as well as Edward Mandla who was elected to council as a Liberal candidate but defected from the party earlier this year.

The Sydney Matters platform is the only one that has a specific tech policy which reflects both Angela’s and Mat’s backgrounds and interests in technology and how it affects the business sector.

What are your policies relating to encouraging tech startups?

As Lord Mayor I will work with Tech Sydney, Startup Aus, FinTech Australia and other key players. I would like to explore concepts like having a Chief Entrepreneur in Residence program at Town Hall – similar to what Advance Queensland recently announced.

What do you see as Sydney’s strengths in this sector?

“The People, in 2011 the startup scene we have in Sydney didn’t exist in the same way it does today – and it exists today because passionate people said I am going to change things.”

What are we not doing well at the moment?

“We are fragmented, we need closer connections – physical hubs where tech startups can collaborate, meet serendipitously, make it easier for them to do business with each other – proximity can be helped by the city looking at smarter real estate opportunities for the tech sector.”

What is Sydney doing well? 

The City of Sydney’s Tech StartUps action plan is a step in the right direction but we need to build on this and work in collaboration with other levels of Government to drive our tech startup industry forward.”

How do you see the City’s relations with state and Federal government affecting current efforts? 

“To make inroads we all need to be on the same page and collaborating for the interest of the sector.”

Currently Victoria and Queensland are doing better at attracting businesses. Should we do anything to counter that and, if so, what?

“When I sat down with Mat Beeche who is on my ticket and asked that very same question, I was surprised by his answer – The stats show that NSW is actually performing a lot better than the media would have you believe.

“Sydney has attracted some huge tech companies to Sydney including data and analytics startup Qualtrics, valued at $1 billion that chose Sydney for its APAC operations.

“Fintech startup Acorns is in Sydney, HealthTech startup ClassPass is in Sydney, Dropbox chose Sydney, Market Research startup SurveyMonkey chose Sydney and most recently Social Media Snapchat chose Sydney to set up their sales operations office for the region.

“Our problem is that we perhaps are not being as vocal about the achievements of the NSW government who put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes to have these organisations choose our city as their destination of choice for expansion.

“What the City of Sydney needs to do is work closer with Macquarie street from a PR and Media perspective to change this perception.”

How can Sydney compete globally against cities like Singapore, Shanghai and even Wellington?

“By being more proactive and being an exemplar – Wellington does a great job of that.”

How does your tech industry policy fit in with other key Sydney employment sectors like the creative industries, financial services and education?

“Tech Startups sit across all industries including creative industries, financial services and education – so our policy is about them as well.”

Of the four candidates we interviewed, the Sydney Matters team probably has the most comprehensive tech strategy. It’s notable how they’ve paid attention to what other Australian cities – particularly Brisbane – have been cultivating their startup and tech communities.

Councillor Vithoulkas’ point about Sydney not marketing itself well is a fair point and that probably reflects more on the cultural differences between the harbour city and its interstate counterparts where Sydneysiders are far less likely to be cheerleaders for their cities than their Melbourne or Brisbane counterparts.

In many ways their strategy is not greatly different from existing council policy which in some ways is probably good for continuity for the business community.

Sep 052016
 
Linda_Scott_Labor_City_of_Sydney_Mayor_candidate

A few weeks back I wrote about how the tech sector had become an issue in the Sydney Lord Mayoral election to be held on September 10.

Following that post, I approached the four major candidates to get their policies on how Sydney can do better in attracting tech startups to the city. The idea was to get an overview published in one the major newspapers but sadly my pitches were ignored.

However the issues raised are important to Sydney so over of the next few days I’ll publish each of the candidates’ responses to my questions along with any other conversations I’ve had with their teams.

The first candidate we look at is Linda Scott, the Australian Labor Party candidate. Councillor Scott was elected to the City of Sydney Council in 2012 and is a researcher at The University of Sydney and lives in the inner city suburb of Newtown with her husband and two young children.

“As a Labor Councillor, I moved that the City conduct a feasibility study into the possibilities for implementation of smart technologies for City infrastructure and services. The current Lord Mayor and her team voted against it, defeating the measure.

I’ve also held a start up Roundtable for City of Sydney start ups with Labor Ministers Chris Bowen and Ed Husic to hear ideas for how every level of government can improve our support for the start up communities.”

What are your policies relating to encouraging tech  startups?

“As a Labor candidate for Lord Mayor, my Labor  team and I are committed to  delivering smart technology to the City’s infrastructure and services for the future.

“From more efficient watering of our parks to parking to better planned traffic flows, the Internet of Things has the potential to revolutionise our City – and it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

“We are committed to working with our start ups and universities to support  the continuation and creation of Tech  Startup  precincts, and will ensure planning policies foster these precincts.

“Labor will also deliver a dedicated, City-owned work space to form part of a Tech  Startup  precinct and open up City spaces for tech startup networking events and will host an annual festival to promote Sydney as an international tech  startup  hub.

“If elected, we will explore establishing dedicated innovation and commercialisation ‘landing pads’  with our sister cities, and neighbouring and regional councils here in New South Wales.

“Labor  will also work to support the continuation and expansion of existing university-based hubs and accelerators in  the City of Sydney along with hosting an annual festival to promote coding among young people. “

What do you see as Sydney’s strengths in this sector?

“Our people. Sydney is a great global city, and rightly is the first port of call for international trade and investment. Many of our nation’s and the world’s major firms have their Australian headquarters based in Sydney.

“We  have the critical mass  of creativity,  capital  and access to services  to provide fertile ground for tech startups.”

What is Sydney not doing well at the moment?

“The Lord Mayor has rejected Labor’s moves to embrace smart technology.  It’s time for change at the City of Sydney.

“We also need more affordable space for start ups, and Labor is committed to delivering this.

What are we doing well?

“Sydney has great  hubs and accelerators that  Labor  will continue and expand where possible.”

How do you see the City’s relations with state and Federal government affecting current efforts?

“As a Labor Councillor, I already work closely with my state and federal colleagues and governments to ensure I secure what’s best for the City of Sydney. The state and federal governments have the financial strength and capabilities to assist the City in delivering its tech  startup strategies.

“For example, a federal Labor  Government committed to create a 500 million dollar Smart Investment Fund and a nine million National Coding in Schools program – both measures I will continue to secure for the future.”

Currently Victoria and Queensland are doing better at attracting businesses.  Should we do anything to counter that and, if so, what?

“Sydney’s strength and appeal as a tech  startup  hub should be the size and diversity of creativity, capital and access services it can achieve.

“With all the measures listed above, and working with stakeholders, Labor is committed to doing better for the future of our start ups.”

How can Sydney compete globally against cities like Singapore, Shanghai and even Wellington?

“Our City needs to continuously increase its exposure to new challenges and new ideas from around the world as well as at home.

“Exploring opportunities for establishing innovation and commercialisation landing pads with sister cities around the world as well as neighbouring and regional councils  will be an important first step in that effort.

“Most importantly, increasing the availability of affordable work space in the City of Sydney will also be critical, and attracting angel investors to Labor’s annual showcase event in the City.

How does your tech industry policy fit in with other key Sydney employment sectors like the creative industries, financial services and education?

“Labor is committed to the creation of a fun, fair, affordable and sustainable City for the future for all businesses and residents. “

It’s hard to see the Labor Party getting a great deal of traction in the council elections, Scott herself only received ten percent of the mayoral vote when she ran for the 2012 election and was the only ALP councillor elected.

The benefit though of the Labor ticket is that Scott’s positions fit nicely with her party’s state and Federal. However, given the party will remain in opposition at both levels for at least two and a half years – although nothing is certain in the farce that Australian Federal Politics has become, that co-ordination means little for the City of Sydney.

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 272016
 
Kennedy Nixon Presidential Debate 1960

Brexit, the rise of Trump and the unrelenting negativity of the Australian election campaign underscore the consequences of playing a negative game in politics.

For thirty years, the pattern in western democracies has been to belittle your opponent and demonise relatively powerless minorities such as welfare recipients, immigrants and refugees.

The rise of Donald Trump and the Brexit are symptoms of large segments of society losing confidence in their political leaders, something that isn’t surprising after thirty years of constant negativity from the political classes.

Exacerbating that distrust of the political establishment is the working and lower middle classes wore the brunt of the economic changes of the 1980s and 90s with their work prospects never really recovering. A reality that has not been acknowledged by political leaders.

As we enter another period of dramatic technological change that’s going to have massive effects on the workforce, we’re going to need better leaders.