Tech and Innovation |

Navigating our brave new virtual world

By Michael Ebeid AM July 7, 2020

Many sectors, from professional services to education and even the arts, have discovered a brave new virtual world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether working or learning from home for the first time, seeing your doctor, accountant, fitness instructor or vet on a video conference or attending a virtual performance. As restrictions begin to ease, how will people work, learn and live in this new world?

Since March 2020 organisations across Australia have realised that not only can their employees work from home but that productivity need not suffer as a result. In fact, many are finding the opposite is true.

The upsides of a flexible work policy are well-documented, particularly for an increase in employee attraction, retention and diversity but also to reduce congestion, strain on public transport infrastructure and pollution in the environment.

Virtual services, here to stay

Dad and child working from home on laptop

The video conferencing technology boom has heralded a new era for the services sector, where we saw a rate of digitisation in just a few weeks that we were expecting over the next five years.

Banks have transitioned to remote sales and service teams and launched digital outreach to customers to make flexible payment arrangements for loans and mortgages.

While telemedicine got a massive boost during the pandemic, we also saw the advent of virtual vet consultations and even virtual babysitters, to help Mum and Dad out when they needed an hour of peace and quiet to get some work done while school was out.

It’s not only professional workers who worked from home. Contact centre workers were set up with ‘agent at home’ solutions – spun up almost overnight – opening up employment opportunities all over Australia like never before. The implications of ‘work from anywhere’ are especially significant for urban planning and makes the dream of sea- and tree-changers much closer to a reality.

And while people are working from home, unable to pop to the bank at lunch, or worried about sitting in a GP’s waiting room, they’ve also wanted the convenience of accessing services from home.

This sizable shift in customer behaviour shows many prefer digital interactions when accessing services. KPMG’s recent research found that 75 percent of people using digital channels for the first time indicate that they will continue to use them when things return to “normal.”

When we emerge post-COVID, the services industry will not instantly revert to pre-pandemic operations. For many, they will continue to operate dual operations – physical and virtual – and for others, physical services may never return to pre-pandemic levels.

Remote education for all ages

According to the World Economic Forum, 1.5 billion students across the world were unable to physically attend school as a result of the pandemic. Fortunately for most, it was not the end of learning, only the beginning of remote learning, thanks again to technology.

While home-schooling certainly wasn’t for everyone and has led to a renewed appreciation of teachers, the ability to continue learning despite the challenges, was critical.

Telstra worked with Education Departments all over Australia to rapidly upgrade their networks to establish remote learning hubs. In South Australia we helped create virtual classrooms via WebEx for all public schools, allowing teachers to create their own individual online learning space to deliver live video lessons and learning content for their classes.

In the Higher Education sector, where the sudden departure of International students wreaked havoc, we connected many Chinese and Korean students to Australian universities. We developed an online solution for approximately 4,000 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) students who were stuck overseas due to COVID-19 restrictions, allowing them to access educational resources and course content material.

These digital environments need not disappear post-pandemic. If education institutions can harness the digital tools they implemented during COVID-19, they will reap benefits not only of international education but the coming boom in micro-credentialing.

A new ING Future Focus Report shows that 3.3 million Australian adults are rethinking their career path because of the COVID-19 pandemic impact. It’s made many Aussies re-think their work choice with some questioning whether their existing skills will always be needed, while others have spent time dreaming about a change in career direction. To address this internally, we announced last week that we’re partnering with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to upskill a number of Telstra employees in the areas of data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning to meet the demands of a rapidly changing jobs market and digitising economy.

Being able to upskill in this rapidly changing world is an economic imperative and education has an important role to play.

Ensuring inclusivity

For those without access to the right digital tools, devices and connectivity, life in lockdown would have been very difficult – creating a wider digital divide than ever before.

The 2019 Australian Digital Inclusion Index found that the affordability gap for internet access between high and low-income households is at the same level it was in 2014. The nbn™ network is making connectivity easier but there’s a long way to go to close this gap.

When COVID-19 forced the move to remote learning, it really highlighted just how critical digital inclusion is. Working with state, territory, independent and catholic education departments we provided 30,000 free sim cards to disadvantaged students – not so they could watch Netflix or access social media – but so they could attend school and learn with their peers.

The digital economy will be a boon for many industries but we must ensure no one is left behind.

Many businesses thought they could never work remotely, but have quickly discovered that with the right technology, anything is possible. We are witnessing what will surely be remembered as a historic deployment of remote work and digitisation across almost every domain.

Regional | Telstra News |

Giving back to our regions

By Dr Ben Gursansky June 26, 2020

Telstra’s executive regularly travels to regional areas to meet with rural and regional customers and stakeholders in their communities to get a firsthand sense of the issues that matter most to them. While this hasn’t been physically possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t stopped us from keeping a strong focus on connecting with and supporting regional Australia.

We care deeply about keeping communities connected, which is why our purpose is to create a connected future where everyone can thrive. It is also why we’re working to help foster digital inclusion and provide support to community organisations. In more recent times that is especially so for those that have been impacted by the various crises experienced right across our country, from bushfires, drought, floods and now COVID-19.

We’ve identified a range of essential services – not-for-profit, and cause-related organisations – that are on the frontline of helping disadvantaged groups and impacted communities, and we’re working closely to help them with various philanthropic endeavours and initiatives. Many of these organisations we already partner with through our business, and this donation is an extension of that support to further enable their important work continuing through technology.

This includes organisations like the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School (MITS), where COVID-19 affected students’ ability to stay connected to the school during the ongoing lockdown.

It was critical that students remained connected with the school and each other during the lockdown. MITS staff had to ensure they were able to continue their academic growth when away from Melbourne, which means a heavy reliance on technology. Technology that isn’t as accessible in remote Indigenous communities.

We helped to keep students connected to their schooling with a donation of mobile broadband devices delivered safely and contactlessly into Indigenous communities to ensure classes could continue remotely. Schoolwork is now completed at a distance via virtual software applications each day. The children are able to connect in real-time and discuss their work via online learning.

We remain committed to supporting regional Australia. As restrictions lift, we are looking forward to getting back out across our beautiful and vast country to hear from our customers, and continue to provide assistance in the future to organisations that are helping to improve the lives for all Australians.

Tech and Innovation | Telstra News |

Growing Australia’s digital economy out of COVID-19

By Andrew Penn June 26, 2020

When COVID-19 made many of us shut our doors, something happened. Digital doors opened in their place. We embraced technology like never before to keep businesses running, people working, kids learning and ourselves entertained.

We now have a growing digital economy – something I recently highlighted as a significant opportunity we as a nation should seize. With businesses reopening and social restrictions relaxing, (albeit with some constraints given the risk of increased infections), we should stop thinking about post-COVID-19 as only a “recovery”, but as an opportunity to grow the economy in the long term and put us in a better global position.

From the Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression, profound disruption has brought opportunities to be bold, to re-think conventional wisdom, and seek out new economic and social opportunities to help build a stronger future for everyone.

COVID-19 has proved change can be made and embraced quickly. During the height of the pandemic we saw a huge acceleration in digitisation – from telehealth to online learning, remote working and e-commerce – and the fast-tracking of numerous policy and regulatory changes to break down long-standing digital roadblocks.

As a nation we have achieved in a few months what might have taken us years to progress, and it is important that we now do not lose that momentum.

However, a single company, a single organisation or a single government cannot achieve this on its own. Through coalitions across the public and private sectors, we can affect change by removing barriers and incentivising growth so it is faster and more pervasive.

Over the past few weeks I have been Chairing the Business Council of Australia (BCA) Digital Economy and Telecommunications working group, and this is exactly our aim: to map out tangible ways we can put Australia at the forefront of a digital future – paperless, cashless and virtual – so we can come out of this stronger as a nation, not just bounce back.

This requires reform in five key areas: 

  1. Digital transition 
  2. Infrastructure 
  3. Regulation 
  4. Cyber Security 
  5. Skills  

1. Digital transition

Australia’s local businesses and enterprises pivoted quickly to ensure they could keep running – from working from home, to medical practitioners delivering telehealth consultations, we even saw interactive online cheese tasting sessions!

Technology was at the core of many businesses that adapted well. That said, a range of recent studies found that Australia’s small-to-medium enterprise sector could be substantially enhanced by a greater investment in digitising their internal processes and developing an effective web presence. Xero’s September 2019 Small Business insights indicate that businesses that boost technology spending the most grow revenue three times faster than those with the weakest technology spend.

Some options we are exploring include potential incentives and assistance to help the small business sector access the benefits of greater digitisation of business processes and an improved online presence.

2. Infrastructure

Connectivity is what powered many workers and businesses during the crisis, ensuring they could continue running.

For Australians to effectively participate in the digital economy, they need access to affordable, fast and reliable telecommunications services.

Telstra announced $500 million of capital expenditure planned for the second half of FY21 would be brought forward into the calendar year 2020, to increase capacity in our network, accelerate our roll-out of 5G, power more people with connectivity as well as provide a much needed economic boost.

With the completion of the nbn rollout nearing, there is now an opportunity for the Australian Government to develop its future vision for Australia’s digital economy and the telecommunications industry for the next decade – a vision that is technology agnostic and provides an environment that is pro-investment and pro-innovation.

3. Regulation

Governments and regulators play a significant role in enabling a digital nation, as well as ensuring as many Australians as possible can take advantage of the opportunity.

They took significant steps forward during the pandemic, including measures to help provide better access to telehealth, virtual AGMs, electronic execution of documents, and national electronic pharmacy scripts.

In the spirit of those last two initiatives, the BCA will be recommending a systematic review of regulation from federal to state to local, to eliminate barriers to a virtual and paperless society and a cashless economy.

4. Cyber Security

Last week was a timely reminder about the importance of strong cyber security, with the Prime Minister highlighting major cyber-attacks that are putting pressure on critical infrastructure and public services.

Cyber security is a large and growing area of risk for the security of the nation, and COVID-19 has increased that risk with so many people working and studying from home, away from traditional security measures.

Separately, I have been working with the Government chairing its industry advisory panel on the development of the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy. This will contain a number of significant initiatives to strengthen our collective cyber defences.

5. Skills

It was inspiring to see the flexible and innovative mindset many businesses adopted during the pandemic. This mindset needs to be deeply ingrained in Australian culture and to do this we need to invest in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) skills.

We have partnered with five Australian universities to jointly develop critical skills and capabilities in areas such as network and software engineering, cyber security and data analytics. But we also need more people entering technology courses, and particularly more diverse talent, including female and Indigenous students.

We are also working on a suite of proposed improvements to the way industry and the education system collaborate, to ensure Australia’s school leavers have the foundation skills needed to succeed in the modern digital economy.

Australia’s opportunity to lead

The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has left many businesses and families doing it tough and we need to do everything we can to build a stronger economy in the longer term in response.

Australia has been a world leader when it comes to protecting the nation’s health and economy during COVID-19, and now we can lead again. It will be important in so doing that this includes success for all of our communities.

I recently posed the question What type of historical moment will this turn out to be?. As life slowly begins to return to some type of normal, we are approaching a sliding doors moment.

We can go back to the way things were, or we can build on the innovative, can-do mindset that drove so many positive changes during the most significant disruption to daily life in a generation.

Telstra Foundation | Telstra News |

Silver linings: a step change for youth mental health

By Jackie Coates June 17, 2020

Silver linings can be found in unexpected places. While the current global health crisis has created additional uncertainty and genuine anxiety for many young people it has also been a catalyst for a step change to transform youth mental health support services.

There is no question that the pandemic has driven unprecedented demand for digital mental health services. However, it has also surfaced the limitations of our current mental health system – namely, its historical reliance on face-to-face care and the untapped opportunity to integrate digital technologies into clinical services, at scale.

With so many young people doing it tough and the wider acceptance that digital can play a role in the successful treatment of youth mental health issues, leading mental health innovators are seizing their opportunity to scale and enhance their tested, evidenced-based, digital solutions.

That’s why we’re providing a new $2M mental health relief package to longstanding Telstra Foundation partners ReachOut and Orygen Digital to fast track and enhance online mental health support for young people across Australia – during and beyond COVID-19.

Our partners are world leaders in the design and digital delivery of youth mental health services and care, going well beyond standard video conferencing to provide solutions that transform the way both clinical services and support resources tools are delivered in the short and long term.

The mental health relief package will be used to support ReachOut’s innovation program to provide personalised digital mental health support for young people. In the first five weeks following the introduction of social distancing measures, ReachOut saw an almost 50 per cent increase in visitors to their relevant support services online for COVID-related support.

The high demand continued along with the lockdown, with almost 10 people every minute accessing ReachOut’s services since mid-March. With this funding, ReachOut will be able to include targeted support to those at risk of suicide and a new best-practice digital peer support experience to meet young people’s needs and expectations.

Orygen Digital, meanwhile, is on a mission to offer young people outstanding therapeutic care and experiences to dramatically improve the accessibility and impact of mental health care through technology. It’s working with both young people and clinicians to make all mental health services in this country digitally-enhanced and enabled by 2024.

Funding will be allocated over a two-year period, with Orygen Digital and ReachOut receiving $1m and $800K respectively. The Telstra Foundation is also offering $200K worth of in-kind support and access to data scientists and agile coaches to help reduce admin burden and to upskill, coach and support all of its partners during this period of uncertainty and beyond.

It’s exciting to see how innovative non-profits are harnessing technology to pivot and future-proof their service models to help more young people. We’re keen to shape both a strategic and compassionate response to youth mental health service delivery – from therapy to prevention – and one that can leave a lasting legacy well beyond this current crisis.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Advice | Telstra Careers |

My advice for female techies looking to grow their career

By Skye Wu June 8, 2020

In recent decades, women in the tech industry have made great strides in overcoming biases in the workplace and in hiring practices.

Like many industries today, the tech sector is providing more and more opportunities for women to build their own careers. My own journey at Telstra is a testament to that.

Overcoming personal and professional challenges 

My main personal challenge is one I was unfortunately born with: self-doubt, self-defeat and self-sabotage. This continued on through high school, university and long afterward where I would sometimes turn down opportunities and say no unless I was completely sure I could do a job. I would put myself down believing it was a sign of modesty.

But this internal dialogue was also mirrored in my surroundings. At university, I was discouraged from pursuing a career in tech specialising in digital forensics as it’s a very male-dominated industry.

To be taken seriously and accepted as an equal to my male counterparts in the same role has been a long, hard road. But the moments where I took a leap and dove into the unknown was where I experienced the most personal development and growth.

It really took a great leader to recognise my abilities. They were able to prod me in the right way, get me to move out of my comfort zone and believe in myself.

My advice for women in tech 

It’s really important to build yourself a solid support network, seek out industry events and join industry groups. There is the Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN) and the Australian Women in Security Network Cadets (AWSN Cadets). There are many experienced men and women who are supportive of new talent entering the industry. Networking will help you connect.

Be open to new opportunities, even if people, or your own inner voice, are telling you “no.” A very wise industry influencer once told me, “if you’re feeling challenged, it means you are growing!”

Know who you are and your values as an individual. Write them down on post-it notes and put them somewhere to view when you need to remember your strengths. Even though there is far more support for women working in and seeking out career opportunities in the tech industry, you still have to be your own best friend. 

A sign saying difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations

What Telstra is doing

My team at Telstra sits within the Threat Research and Intelligence group led by Chris Mohan. Chris is an industry-recognised champion of change and an active supporter of women in cyber security. He has actively encouraged me to become more visible in the industry and work with other organisations in cyber security, such as the Australian Women in Security Network.

He has pushed me and other female colleagues out of our comfort zones to speak publicly and is a supporter of diversity in thinking and skills, not just gender.

Telstra also supports its people with memberships so we can attend industry events with organisations such as the Australian Information Security Association and conferences such as CyberCon. Some Telstra teams also have industry partnerships with sponsorship that offers us opportunities to attend conferences and networking events aimed exclusively at women, such as FitT (Female in IT and Telecommunications). There is also the option of free training via LinkedIn Learning for all employees to access and improve their skills.

As the largest telecommunications and technology company in Australia, Telstra offers many different career opportunities for diverse skill sets. It encourages and supports flexible working, and there are internal support groups for women such as Brilliant Connected Women (BCW) — a group that supports and champions gender equality. This group is open to all Telstra people and creates opportunities within the organisation for women across the company.

If you want to learn about why Telstra is passionate about diversity and inclusion, you can find out here.

If you’re interested in bringing your skills to a company that champions diversity, take a look at our latest job opportunities.