Tech and Innovation |

Innovation and technology are the foundation of Australia’s new normal

By Kim Krogh Andersen August 24, 2020

There’s no doubt technology has helped Australians address the changes that COVID-19 has brought on. From working, learning, socialising, shopping, eating, being informed and entertained, technology has been the foundation as we attempt to continue with our lives as much as possible. COVID-19 has swiftly forced the uptake of digitisation and changed our behaviour forever.

As a nation, we have collectively invested time and resources into learning how technology can help improve our lives in 2020, and we expect it to continue to play a vital role in the years to come.

Looking forward, COVID-19 will change the way we live and work forever. Just like other times of significant change and disruption, we need to learn the lessons, adapt to a new norm, and come out of it stronger. We cannot miss this chance to ensure the pandemic becomes a catalyst for innovation and growth in order of a better future.

In the home this year, we relied heavily on a stable and fast internet connection to support our working-and-learning from home environments during the day, while depending on it for seamless video streaming and gaming in the evenings. Furthermore, Australians have increasingly realised the benefits of shopping for goods and services online. Even when COVID-19 passes, we expect our newly-formed habits to remain, having a better appreciation of a fast, strong, and reliable internet and Wi-Fi connection.

Outside of the home, innovation was also being developed and deployed to keep us safe when we leave the front door.

The Government encouraged Australians to download and use the COVIDSafe app in order to provide an easier way to automate contact tracing to reduce further infections.

Telstra’s Track and Monitor asset-tracking platform was used by a healthcare industry customer as they swiftly deployed COVID-19 triage clinics across the east coast of Australia. This helped ensure there were no misplaced expensive and in-demand equipment, especially during a time of constant change.

We also saw the fragility and our dependency on delivery and supply chain systems, exposing the lack of end-to-end visibility. As an example, we are working with major suppliers to accelerate the development of Telstra’s Connected Supply Chain product and are also negotiating with transport companies to help increase supply chain visibility with domestic deliveries.

Quick, transparent and interactive communication was also very important. Victoria’s Department of Health & Human Services needed technology to help ensure compliance to the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period for close contacts of COVID-19 and chose Whispir’s mass communication platform to perform this function with great success.

It is more imperative than ever to ensure the country does not encounter a second wave of nation-wide infections and the respective lockdown as a result. If it were to happen, the OECD has said the Australian economy could decline by 6.3 per cent this year, which would take us back to where it was in 2016.

The technology pioneered to help manage the pandemic will continue to help us live in the ‘new normal’.

Travellers passing through Canberra Airport may notice new Temperature Screening solutions at the security check-in. This allows the airport to increase its protection against COVID-19 and includes thermal cameras to detect travellers with high temperatures. The key goal is to help reassure passengers transiting through public spaces like airports. We may see more of this type of technology installed at other public spaces like train stations, shopping centres, and maybe even at some workplaces where thousands of people pass through daily.

Traditional offices will also evolve as a result of COVID-19. Employees will demand to be allowed to continue working from home after the forced experiment pressured companies to change their flexible-working mindset and accelerate the required digitisation. This also meant the need to evolve the cyber security, technology processes, and communication and collaboration tools to enable successful remote working. The pandemic has pushed CIOs and IT departments (no matter what size) to finally modernise various procedures and systems.

Telstra’s Smart Building product already measures people’s movement through infrared sensor data to deliver insights on desk usage, meeting room usage and general occupancy levels. The product is now being expanded to measure social distancing and hygiene compliance, and will be highly relevant to all industries, especially retail, transport, health, and commercial offices.

Elsewhere, video analytics will be deployed to assist critical industries with real-time thermal scanning to ensure the ongoing safety of staff and the public. AI will help deliver insights such as people flow and count, movement analysis, alerts, and more.

There is also set to be a widespread acceleration of automation (as robots can’t contract COVID-19) which has several drivers. One of the interesting opportunities I’ve seen is robots that can clean, disinfect, help detect fever symptoms, and monitor mask and social distancing compliance.

In the home, we’ll see faster internet enabling more advanced entertainment and educational technologies. I expect further innovation in television, gaming, smart home, and communication devices will be front and centre in consumer electronics R&D in the next 12-24 months.

I have no doubt these examples of technology and innovation will be scaled even further.

COVID-19 has reinforced how critical technology is for our daily lives, specifically dependable and fast connectivity. The swift need for network reliability and resiliency when we first moved to working from home, was an early indication of how vital connectivity will be in the future.

The world is slowly exploring ultra-reliable low latency use cases like autonomous driving, remote surgery, robotics, smart cities and smart homes. 5G, Edge Computing, IoT and AI are critical technologies for us to enable these advanced scenarios, but we can’t forget security, privacy, customer experience, and operational excellence are equally as important when we embark on this journey. Because it’s people that will give purpose to technology.

COVID-19 has meant new cultural and workforce transformation for the better. We strongly believe technology plays a central role in these shifting and accelerating trends and will be the foundation in what the new normal looks like for Australians – in the home, at the office, and anywhere in between.

Business and Enterprise | Tech and Innovation |

Our journey to create ethical and inclusive Indigenous advertising

By Andy McFarlane August 18, 2020

When we decided to run an ad to promote our meaningful partnership with Indigital, our team made a commitment to make it a respectful process, creating work both Indigital and Telstra could be proud of. What they learned is that making an Indigenous ad ethically presented more challenges than you’d expect – and while understanding them could be uncomfortable, it could also be deeply rewarding.

Augmented reality Indigenous education with Indigital

Telstra Purple and Microsoft partnered in 2019 to support Indigital in spreading awareness of Australia’s Indigenous culture through the Indigital Mixed Reality platform.

Indigital is a start-up founded by Cabrogal Woman, Mikaela Jade from the Dharug-speaking Nations of Sydney in 2014. The Indigital app we partnered with Mikaela Jade on is dedicated to conserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture by creating culturally-led digital skills and language learning programs for students.

With many aspects of Indigenous culture and history including language at risk of loss, there is a responsibility to protect this heritage for future generations.

Telstra Purple and Microsoft worked with Indigital to re-platform the Indigital Mixed Reality application to make it more broadly applicable for Indigenous students (K-12) across Australia.

Together, we worked with Indigital to re-platform the Indigital App to modern augmented reality (AR) infrastructure technology, being cross-platform (Windows, iOS/Android), using Azure-based content workflow process along with AI services for data identification (image classification and identification) and in the AR detection to recognise the image of a student’s hand (so the animal or object can be rendered there).

Indigital is one plank of a wider platform of work we do to partner with and support Indigenous Australia. From our annual NATSIAA awards through to IDX and more, we’re long-time supporters of the Indigenous community.

Indigital is an important initiative, and one you can hear Mikaela Jade talk about in an interview with Adam Spencer for our Behind the Mic podcast series.

Advertising ethically

To get the message out about Indigital’s app, the team wanted to produce a print ad featuring Indigenous voices.

But producing a respectful piece of advertising for this initiative was immediately challenging due to underrepresentation and the industry’s misunderstanding of how to collaborate ethically with the Indigenous community.

We were challenged right out of the gate and immediately needed to think differently about how to produce the content.

When we looked to use stock imagery for the ad, we realised there were no guarantees that the work had been produced ethically. There was no guarantee that the talent in the photographs had been paid for their appearance, or that the images were captured by an Indigenous photographer.

Stock imagery also meant we couldn’t guarantee that the sites captured were done so with the permission of local Indigenous groups. And ultimately, much of the “Indigenous”-themed stock imagery available played on degrading stereotypes.

We needed to source other imagery, but this presented more challenges. Producing a tokenistic piece of iconography to promote the app – such as a “traditional” Indigenous dot painting, for example – would have been deeply offensive. These paintings go far beyond mere visual appeal, bearing deep meaning and often serving to convey stories and messages. Only certain artists are able to produce dot paintings, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Laws prevent others from doing so.

Instead, we sought to be as ethical as possible, and engage an Indigenous photographer to produce new imagery, while ensuring that the ad would be produced with respect to the requirements of Indigenous culture. Ultimately, we were unable to find an Indigenous photographer, as none are represented inside the existing advertising system.

Even seeking to pay Indigenous creators for their time and works presented cultural challenges, as many Aboriginal businesses are set up not purely for profit, but to benefit the community around them. We approached this project accordingly, looking to represent the Indigenous community responsibly and respectfully for the benefit of the community.

Indigital Ad

Download our ad.

Producing this content challenged us to think differently about how to engage ethically with Indigenous communities. By producing the ad in the same-old way would have disrespectfully run roughshod over tens of thousands of years of culture.

We urge all of our industry colleagues to join us in thinking differently about producing this sort of content in the future to ensure that Australia’s First Nations people are accorded the treatment and respect they deserve.

Working with Telstra on the advertising campaign was a fantastic experience for the Indigital team. We were able to learn about the process involved in national advertising campaigns, and felt very supported by the Telstra marketing team in providing advice and suggestions to provide authenticity to the campaign. It was a learning experience for both companies and a collegiate approach that I would encourage other organisations to achieve. 

– Mikaela Jade, Founder & CEO of Indigital

Telstra News |

We’re adding 2500 more roles

By Alex Badenoch April 8, 2020

Today we announced we’re adding 2500 temporary roles to help better serve our customers and play a part in supporting employment in Australia during this unprecedented time. This is on top of the 1000 people we’re already recruiting, as well as other ways we’re mobilising our workforce to support our customer needs.

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A few weeks ago we said we would recruit 1000 temporary contact centre roles across six sites in Australia, including in some regional centres. We knew there would be demand, but we didn’t anticipate having more than 19,000 people apply. This shows there’s plenty of talent in the market and we’ve started to welcome some new team members with more to join us over the coming weeks.

Now, we’ll bring on another 2500 people and in more locations. Some of these roles will be directly employed by Telstra and others by our partners in Australia so we can get people on board as quickly as possible for our customers.

These new jobs will be a mix of contact centre and back of house specialist roles covering a range of activity like customer service, order provisioning and testing, as well as team leaders. In addition to the locations already advertised, we’re also looking for people in Newcastle, Perth and Sydney. But a lot of these roles will be flexible as many of our new recruits will be working from home so we’re absolutely open to having more people in regional Australia.

We’re also reaching out to our Alumni network who have some of the specific technical skills we need at this time, such as network engineering, software engineering, data and analytics.

To help us meet our customer service needs, we’re also redistributing work around our business where we can. For example, many of our stores are quieter than usual as Australians ‘stay home.’ So these teams are helping other customers when they’re quieter by interacting with customers through our digital messaging service, processing digital orders and checking in with our small business customers to see if they need our help with connectivity or service at this challenging time. Similarly, some of our techs are stepping out of the field and into our contact centres.

Using technology to recruit and train new team members

Processing and interviewing 19,000 applicants and making offers to the first group within two weeks has been possible through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the algorithm we’ve programmed specifically for these roles. All candidates complete two steps as part of the process:

  1. Record a video interview based on a series of behavioural questions. Our AI software converts the candidate’s spoken responses to text and reviews all answers against the required skills for these roles.
  2. A game-based cognitive test that measures candidates against the skills needed for the role.

The AI takes the information provided in the video interview and the cognitive skills game and categorises candidates based on an assessment score. Those in the top-tier progress directly to hiring managers for review, without the need to involve a recruiter. While those in the tier below go to a recruiter for further assessment.

This approach allows our hiring managers to review candidates at a time that suits them so they can continue to focus on delivering for our customers at this busy time.

Speed is only one of the benefits we’re realising from AI-aided recruitment. This process assesses the candidates in a standardised fashion, so any bias or subjectivity is removed from the process upfront. We’ve also seen a high satisfaction rate from candidates who prefer the simplicity and flexibility of the new process. They can complete the interview and assessment at a time that suits them, on a device that suits them.

Supporting our customers and the broader community

We want to be there for our customers and keep them connected as we all manage through this global pandemic. Expanding our team is one way we’re doing this, but it will take time for all our new recruits to be on board and fully trained. We appreciate your continued patience as we work to improve our call wait times and better help you with your enquiries.

Creating new jobs in a time where many businesses are standing employees down is an important way we can play our part in ensuring Australia’s economy comes through this pandemic as strongly as possible.

Tech and Innovation |

Telcos at the heart of distributed superpowers

By Sami Makelainen March 9, 2020

Every year, the tech industry likes to make predictions for the next year. That can be tricky as technology trends rarely align with the calendar year. For identifying broader trends and more fundamental changes in the landscape beyond just individual cool new products, it, therefore, makes sense to take a longer view.

Taking a longer view is what foresight work is all about.

When it comes to foresight, it is essential to look at the world with as broad a perspective as possible. That is why Telstra partners with the leading futures think tank in the world, IFTF. The Institute for the Future is a Palo Alto-based non-profit that has been around for half a century after being spun off from the RAND Corporation and typically considers the future with a 10-year horizon.

What the IFTF calls this decade is The Age of Distributed Superpowers.

As the world has become more connected and complex, as technologies and ubiquitous connectivity permeate our lives, corporations and individuals alike have seen a new set of powers come to their disposal – powers that can create impact faster and with more reach than ever before.

The Internet is enabling us to shift the public narrative seemingly overnight; rapid technological transformation is creating pressure for regulatory overhauls, altering the rules; markets are being re-invented almost overnight; data-centric tech companies pose an urgent competitive threat to many incumbent organisations that have enjoyed decades of relative stability.

We have already witnessed some early examples of these superpowers in action.

We see them in the remarkably fast creation of new or disruptive business models, from the rise of Uber to the electric scooters taking over cities globally; the latter went from being nowhere a couple of years ago to being practically everywhere today.

It’s not all awesome, of course.

Wind turbine farm over the water

Disruption inevitably has downsides as well, and the same powers that drive growth and innovation can be harnessed for other purposes. Not only do they enable quickly capturing opportunities, but vulnerabilities in our systems are also discovered and then exploited at breathtaking speeds and at massive scale, leaving critical infrastructure from hospitals to the power grid vulnerable to attacks.

What has enabled this state that is simultaneously scary and exciting, brimming with potential but also fraught with systemic risk?

Much of it has to do with connectivity – both the digital and the physical kind.

Humanity can look at the result with some pride – physically connecting the world has enabled a plethora of good things, such as aid to be delivered to disaster areas, and food to be transported to countries struggling with famine. Countless lives have been saved, and countless others enriched through industries like tourism.

Digital connectivity has an equally impressive list of good outcomes; it has enabled much more efficient operations of almost everything. From sectors like agricultural production to entertainment and connecting people globally, technology has had a transformative impact over the past decades.

However, there is a flip side to every coin. Especially in recent years, we have come to appreciate that not everything that happens online can stand the light of day – sometimes, we know the technological communities we have built are swarming with roaches, but we’re scared to turn the lights on. Unintended consequences often cast a shadow on even the best of intentions.

Using the superpowers responsibly

Recognizing the likelihood of unintended consequences, and as we enter deeper into the age of distributed superpowers over this decade, we need to do so with a sense of humility, and a sense of positive purpose.

It behooves us to consider Kranzberg’s First Law of Technology:

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

What he meant with that is the all technical developments have environmental, social and human consequences that go far beyond the immediate intended use of the technology – and the same technology can result in radically different outcomes when introduced in different contexts and circumstances.

This is why we – as a nation, as organizations, as communities, as individuals – need to approach the future with eyes wide open, acknowledging the potential for our tools to produce unintended consequences, and deploy them in a thoughtful, considerate manner.

What can we expect in the 2020s, then?

We can expect more markets to be re-invented and more rules to be re-written: by 2030, for example, it seems likely we might routinely be BBQing beef patties that come not from slaughtered beef, but either from lab meat or plant-based alternatives.

In futures thinking, it’s common practice to think of the future in terms of three cones expanding from today: possible futures, being all the possible ways the world could turn out to be – obviously, a vast range of scenarios. Then we have the probable futures, which are the scenarios the world seems to be heading towards currently. Finally, we have the preferable futures – for the lack of a better word, the utopias we would all like to happen.

What the emerging superpowers are doing is expanding the cone of probable futures.

Technologies like connectivity, communication, data processing, storage and artificial intelligence remain at the core of most future scenarios, so it’s our moral duty to do everything in our power to try to shift the window of probable futures to overlap as much as possible with the preferable futures.

In other words, to the best of our abilities, use the new superpowers for good.

Devices | Smart Home | Tech and Innovation |

A tour of your futuristic smart home at CES 2020

By Luke Hopewell February 14, 2020

2020 is the year that tech takes over your house. From the front door to the bathroom and every room in-between, tech titans are bringing the latest gadgets home for your convenience. Step inside for a look at your smart home of the future.

Welcome home, reader.

You’ve just stepped into the home of the future through a front door that features smart, NFC keys. It’s a comfortable two-bedroom in the suburbs, and thanks to the major tech manufacturers at 2020’s Consumer Electronics Show, it now has all the latest gadgets. From smart fridges to clever household robots that pick up your dog’s business (seriously).

Fancy a tour?

The kitchen

The fridge is more than just a fancy gadget. It’s helped you cut down on food waste dramatically, and has saved you so much time going to the supermarket to pick up groceries. It’s a Samsung unit with built-in Artificial Intelligence that can recognise your food.

It lets you know what you’re running out of, makes suggestions based on what you have and helps you reorder stuff when you’re out thanks to the big screen on the front. You don’t even need to add stuff to your shopping list anymore!

Speaking of food, you’re about to be treated to a dinner designed specifically for you, down to the molecular level. DnaNudge is a new service you’re using that recommends the food you should and shouldn’t be eating based on your genes.

Because you’re the type of person who retains too much salt after eating it, you’ll find nothing too salty in that new smart fridge of yours. They know everything about what’s good for you after doing a cheek swab and sending it back.

When you do have stuff you need to throw away, it’s easier than ever thanks to the Townew trashcan that automatically seals your trashbags for you for more considerate disposal without the unwanted smells.

The sink is fitted with a smart tap that you can speak to via Amazon Alexa. You can ask it to pour you a specific measure of water at a specific temperature for perfect portion control while preparing recipes, and also for cutting-down on wastage.

The bedroom

When you lie your head down at night, you won’t have to worry about your sleep apnoea or keeping your partner awake with annoying snoring. Not since you got the second-generation MOTION Pillow that is. With airbag technology, it intelligently repositions you throughout the night, so your breathing isn’t inhibited. Your phone even charges wirelessly as part of the pillow too so you can see your sleep habits as soon as you wake up.

Of course, before you go to sleep, you want to watch some stuff, and control your content without losing a smart remote in the bed sheets. That’s why you’ve got the Hachi Infinite Projector installed: a short-throw projector that turns your bedroom wall into a touchscreen.

The bathroom

Yep, there’s even tech in here for making your life easier and more connected.

The Moxie Showerhead is from Kohler, and in addition to spitting out water, it spits out tunes and the latest news thanks to an Amazon Alexa integration.

There are touchscreens inside the bathroom mirror so you can keep binge-watching your latest show while brushing with your smart toothbrush, and your lipstick shade can change daily thanks to L’Oreal’s new Perso gadget that mixes you a new shade each day based on what your favourite influencers are wearing. And your skin glows each day thanks to Neutrogena’s new Skin360 app which delivers personalised skincare for your exact needs.

But be careful on your way out: the cat’s smart litter box that analyses its stool for health problems before intelligently cleaning it up is in the corner over there.

The lounge room

Every surface in your living room – from the coffee table to the arms of the chairs – allow for your phone to be charged wirelessly in here. After all, everything in your house is controlled from your smartphone, so why risk it running low?

Plus, all your content and smart home tech is controlled via the phone as it connects to the superfast new Wi-Fi 6 modem router with intelligent cybersecurity controls built-in so the bad guys can’t easily hack your house. You can pair that with the updates to Google’s voice Assistant, which can now schedule actions, read you an article or start a call for you.

“But where’s the TV?”, your visitors might ask in puzzlement. “Oh,” you can respond modestly, “it’s integrated into the ceiling”. At the push of a button, LG’s latest rollable OLED TV unfurls from the ceiling like a projector screen without the projector to deliver dazzling colour and deep blacks.

When buying the TV, there were a lot of considerations in mind. You had to consider whether you wanted either LG’s Real 8K TV, or Samsung’s portrait-oriented Sero TV. Perhaps you even wanted to pair a TCL TV with its new sound-reflecting technology for better Dolby Atmos sound immersion. In the end, however, you decided that technology shouldn’t be the focal point of a room. Rather, it should disappear out of sight when not being used.

All in all, your new home of the future isn’t a bad place to put your feet up.