Select Page
This article excerpt, by James Dunn, originally appeared here:
Australians have a well-deserved reputation as enthusiastic early adopters of new technology. From smartphones to internet banking, Airbnb to Uber, Facebook and Skype to the latest wearable technology, Australians are always up for new gadgets and apps.
This means that the Australian market is highly exposed to disruption. But does it follow that Australian business is ready for disruption?
Because Australians embrace technology quickly, Australian business is “not afraid of disruption,” and is ready to embrace it, says Kate Burleigh, managing director of Intel Australia – but not at all levels of business. It is not enough to have the latest technology, she says: if a small business is not using it to its fullest potential, they can still be caught out.
Speaking at a recent Age of Disruption roundtable co-hosted by The Australian Financial Review and Telstra, Burleigh commented that while we may have all the bright, shiny objects, are we using them to their fullest potential?
“That’s where I think Australia seems a little bit slower than some other markets on the uptake, and can thus be more confronted by disruption,” Burleigh says. “There are just so many different directions that they can go in that maybe it ends up being like inertia, that they get stuck wondering which way to go, or waiting too long to look for best practice, instead of just jumping in.”
But Burleigh says the relatively quick adoption of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications such as the Xero and MYOB accounting software shows that Australian small business is generally getting more comfortable with technology. “Small businesses really embraced that technology very fast in Australia, and to me that feels like the single biggest catalyst that will help small business to say, ‘That wasn’t too painful, what else is there I can use.'”
Ullrich Loeffler, managing director, Australia/New Zealand at technology market intelligence firm IDC, cautions that it’s not enough simply to use a technology like SaaS to make a task such as accounting more efficient. It is a big leap to use it strategically, to move away from transactional value to looking at the value of the data, and how it can drive the business.
“I was talking to Dr. Peter Wilton, who is a lecturer at the Haas School of Business [at the University of California, Berkeley], and he said there is a train coming of disruption, and you’ve got three choices. You can jump in the driver’s seat and drive the disruption, you can jump on the back of the train and arrive along with it, or you can jump out of the way and miss the train. And I think in Australia you see more and more organisations jumping on the back of it, but there’s only a very few who are in the driver’s seat.”
The key is making optimal use of the data that the technology gives you, Loeffler says.
The next challenge for Australian business is to identify the “new opportunities for disruption,” says Jess Scully, director of the Vivid Ideas Festival, Sydney. Some of these require lateral thinking, she says.      
“I think we’re seeing a lot of copycatting, and people saying, ‘Oh well, we know that the labour market is being disrupted so let’s all work in that space.’ But actually there is a whole other world of opportunity in services, or sectors, that haven’t been disrupted.”
Scully cites the example of TuShare, a platform that intends to be the world’s largest community of sharers. “TuShare is a gifting platform: think of it as kind of an eBay for gifting. It was founded by a very interesting guy, Dr. James Moody, who has already built Sendle, a delivery business that has disrupted the postal industry. He built that to reduce the friction of actually getting these free goods from place to place, and now he can transport anything under 10 kilograms around Australia for $10.
“That’s what I think we’re lacking at the moment – the mindset to learn how to relook at the world and see that everything is up for grabs, and it’s not just a question of being another Airbnb or another Airtasker,” Scully says.
And from the perspective of the person who delivers the internet, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Vish Nandlall, chief technology officer at Telstra, says we are on the verge of a “Cambrian explosion” in connected devices over the next five to 10 years, as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a reality. And the eyes of the world will be on Australia to see how this boom is adopted and used.
In as little as five years, Nandlall says, internet-enabled devices such as “smart wearables” – which he describes as “the next smartphone” – and appliances and machines will be consuming more data on Telstra’s mobile and broadband networks than people using the web, helped by the nation’s swift uptake of the latest broadband wireless technology.
IoT is considered another technology revolution, with microprocessors in machines swapping and processing information in real time – effectively monitoring each other – and computer-connected humans observing, analysing and acting on the resulting ‘big data’ explosion. “I think Australia is really regarded as a bit of a canary in the coal mine in regard to where the Internet of Things is going to go,” Nandlall says.
As many businesses have geographically widespread operations and high labour costs, he says Australia has the perfect storm of conditions to use machine-to-machine (M2M) IoT capability, to put information into the cloud and analyse it, and to optimise business capabilities. “Australia is really a bit of a leader in that, and the world will be watching to see how it goes,” Nandlall says.