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.

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.

Advice | Business and Enterprise | T22 | Tech and Innovation |

Rethinking your learning and career development

By Alex Badenoch February 3, 2020

On Friday I spoke at a CEDA event about the human value in the future of work. This is an important discussion to have as we often hear about digitisation and automation taking away jobs, when in fact it’s not so clear-cut. Because automation is also causing a shift to more complex and value-add work. And as technology evolves, new roles – some you’ve probably never heard of yet – are being created.

What is often left out of the conversation about the future of work is that human skill and capability will become more valuable than ever. What now needs to change is our approach to learning and career development.

The currency of the future and why you need to invest in it

Skills and capabilities are fast becoming the currency of the future. To be a well-rounded worker of the future it won’t be enough to have skills in technology – however basic they may be. You’ll also need to be intellectually curious, and use design-thinking, creativity, and communication skills to bring innovations to life. And you’ll need to be collaborative and highly adaptive as the way we work evolves.

Learning mostly used to be ‘set-and-forget.’ Once you got a degree or diploma you would enter the workforce for a lifelong career in the same industry or profession. But as technology and ways of working evolve so too does the need for lifelong learning. Complacency will not be rewarded.

Significant skills development will be needed every 3 – 5 years. Of course, it’s not feasible to step out of the workforce to undertake a traditional degree. So we need to shift our mindset to continuous learning – and doing so in bite-sized chunks will be critical to ensure our skills remain relevant.

Individuals certainly have a responsibility for investing in their development and ensuring their skills remain competitive, but so too do employers.

What we’re doing at Telstra to develop our people’s skills for the future

In this financial year alone we’ll invest more than $25 million in training, with more than 3,000 people picking up a new skill. That’s more than 10% of our workforce. This training covers three key areas: technical skills, customer skills and professional skills.

This builds on the significant investment we made in training during the first year of our T22 strategy to transform Telstra. This included an Agile Essentials program for around 15,000 employees to understand the fundamentals of Agile at Telstra, and was followed by more in-depth training for specific Agile roles. We also put our people leaders through a one day program so they’re better equipped to lead their teams in different ways.

Some of this training we’re running in-house. But we’re also partnering with universities to co-design and run micro-credentials in critical technology areas such as data analytics, cyber security and software defined networking. These 6-8 week programs are recognised externally and are designed to upskill our people in areas complementary to their current jobs so they’re better equipped as the skills needed for those roles evolve.

Beyond these formal programs we’re also helping our people understand the concept of continuous learning and providing easy access to short ‘just in time’ online learning modules they can access at any time as part of their regular development.

Rethinking what a ‘successful’ career looks like

Like many people I started my career in a world where I saw progression as moving up through the hierarchy in my chosen field. But as workplaces transform, the way we think about career progression – and our expectations of what a ‘successful’ career looks like – also needs to change.

Alex Badenoch spoke at a CEDA event about the part human value will play in the future of work.

The traditional, linear career path where one works their way up the ‘corporate ladder’ will still be available. But this will no longer be the norm as organisations become flatter and new ways of working like Agile are adopted.

Career progression will become more about broadening your skills and experience through lateral moves, and increasing your ability to take on work with higher complexity and impact.

A Mobile Network Engineer, for example, might move into a Mobile Product Design and Development team to deepen their understanding of what drives value for customers and help them build the commercial insight that’s so critical in strategic technology decisions.

This will not be an easy mindset shift for many who view success through their level and title in an organisation – and we’re very mindful of this.

So we’re focusing on creating a clear and compelling view of what a career at Telstra can look like and helping leaders work with their teams to tailor development plans and build the necessary skills and capabilities we need into the future.

In the short term this will involve redefining job descriptions so they’re less about a role’s span of accountability and control, and more about complexity and the level of expertise and skill.

Longer-term, we’re looking at using technology to help us make internal mobility simpler and more transparent.

All of this is to say your skills and capability will become more valuable than ever as technology evolves. It’s up to us as individuals to understand what this means and invest in our career success through continuous learning and taking advantage of opportunities to broaden our experience through increasingly more complex and impactful roles.

But more broadly, businesses, education providers and government also need to work together to develop technology talent for the future. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we’re trying to take simple, tangible steps to build a talent pipeline for our benefit – and the benefit of Australia. We all need to test and learn together – because if we’re idle or wait for a perfect solution it will be too late.


Read more about Telstra’s university partnerships to develop future technology talent.

Technology For Kids | Telstra Foundation |

Transforming the life of sheds – and the local community

By Bettina Richter May 30, 2019

In North West Tasmania, a unique music event held in farm sheds is enabling young disadvantaged teens to learn life skills along with new digital abilities.

There is something quite extraordinary happening in North West Tasmania. A music festival held in farm sheds is equipping young people with confidence, capability and digital tech know-how. In March this year, 35 young women aged 14-16 from Big hART’s Project O initiative, helped produce Acoustic Life of Sheds, which saw over 1200 people enjoy musical performances in farm sheds along the stunning North West Tasmania coast.

The event ran for four days as part of the Ten Days on the Island festival, with 51 performances at five sheds. For these young people, who come from a community which struggles with literacy, employment, family violence, poverty, isolation and school retention, the event built not only a renewed sense of community but also developed self-confidence, agency, leadership and digital skills.

At Acoustic Life of Sheds, young people were acknowledged and welcomed by the community, made friends with farm owners, spoke to the media, joined in with the crew and cast and were an integral part of the event. They were no longer invisible or on the outer – they were strong, capable and inspiring; they had a voice and we heard their story.

At the Potato Shed, we stood transfixed as young women performed percussion with professional vibraphone artist Maggie Abraham, and listened to a spellbinding audio experience where young people talk about their favourite local place and what it meant to them. At another shed we saw teenagers assisting with digital filmmaking, photographing, sound engineering, stage management and creating posts and video content for social media.

Local entrepreneur and former policewoman Andy Jackman has mentored the young women of ProjectO through her family business Red Cow Organics, which specialises in organic artisan cheese created with sustainable farming practices. “I grew up in a really stable household”, she said. “Mum and Dad were there, my siblings were there. Normal life was family life. A lot of the girls we’ve worked with, that’s not normal for them.”

Young people from the program assisted Andy at her food stall at one of the sheds, learning catering and hospitality skills. “The progress that a lot of these girls have made, it’s amazing”, said Andy. “You can see the transformation from when they first start the program to when they graduate in Year 10. I can see the power in that and I love it.”

In the weeks leading up, ProjectO participants from Wynyard and Smithton learnt digital podcasting, audio craft and storytelling skills with Helene Thomas, of mobile recording studio The Wayfinder, creating immersive audio stories that audiences listened to at Acoustic Life of Sheds.

“As someone who was born and raised on the North West Coast of Tasmania it was such an honour and privilege to be invited to mentor young women in the art of audio storytelling. These Year 9 and 10 girls have profoundly strong voices with powerful messages”, Helene told us.

One young woman Helene worked with was 15-year-old Trinity from Wynyard. “Trinity took me to her special place, spoke about why she liked to go there and how it made her feel. She captured sounds of the water and birdlife so beautifully. It’s heartening to know organisations such as BighART are committed to engaging with young rural women to help build personal agency, skills and employment pathways.”

You can listen to Trinity’s story here.

Over at cattle property Gumhill, where a woodworking shed has been turned into a performance venue, farm owner Devon Cruickshank also talked about the community that Acoustic Life of Sheds has created. The young women linger between shows in her kitchen, lapping up her homemade cakes and sharing recipes. Unofficially, Devon has also become a mentor and friend of the young women, someone who will look out for them in the community. “It brings the community together. The experience for the girls is lovely, to see how warm everyone can be and support them”.

Northwest Tasmania is an area marked by lower levels of digital inclusion, according to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index. Arming these young women with digital skills is important to foster capability and confidence in an increasingly digital world. But it is more than that, as digital inclusion specialist Robert Morsillo from Telstra says. “Digital inclusion is vital to social inclusion. To have a sense of connectedness is to have a sense of community and hope.”

A few weeks later, nine ProjectO young women took Acoustic Life of Sheds on the road to the Huon Valley in southern Tasmania, as part of a special community recovery weekend after the intense bushfires that affected the area. The young women took over the ProjectO Facebook page, posting pics and stories during the weekend. Shania says, “We have had an amazing experience with the whole project and we are so proud of ourselves.”

Project O is an initiative of Big hART and proudly supported by Telstra. For more information visit www.bighart.org

T22 | Telstra News |

Building the skills Australia needs for the future

By Alex Badenoch January 31, 2019

We’re working to partner with the tertiary sector to address skills shortages in areas that Telstra – and Australia – needs for the future.

Discussion on the future of work often turns negative with concern that robots and automation will take away most jobs. While this shouldn’t be downplayed as technology will adversely impact some types of jobs, the scale of technological change is also bringing with it huge demand for skilled jobs in areas such as software and network engineering, cyber security and data analytics. Demand in Australia is far outweighing the number of people available with these skills – and the number of graduates is simply not enough to stem the growing skills gap.

To put this into perspective, Australia produced around 1,200 new software engineers in the last 12 months, compared to 44,000 in India.

When we look at the deep domain technical skills that we need now – and into the future – there are not enough people with these skills available in Australia.

But this is not only a challenge for Telstra. Competitive advantage is becoming increasingly tied to an organisation’s – and a country’s – technical capabilities. So developing a skilled workforce is critical to our future economic success.

So what’s the solution?

A multifaceted approach is needed to develop the right core skills to set up Australia with a population ready and able to work productively in the innovative workplaces of the future. A major component of this involves collective and progressive action between business, government and the education sector to shape how we build these skills.

As a major employer in Australia, we want to play a role in making this happen.

As part of our T22 strategy we are retraining our people in areas our business needs. For example, we recently trained some of our existing store team members as small business specialists so that we have more people dedicated to supporting this customer segment. We are also training some people to be Agile Coaches to help our teams adapt to our new work practices.

Beyond this, we have contributed to developing the next-generation of workers over a number of years. For example, we have long-running Graduate, Summer Vacation and Traineeship programs to develop early business and technology talent, and we’ve also been involved in the Australian Government’s P-TECH program for high school students. Parts of our business have also taken a leading role in developing specific technology skills, such as sponsoring the Australian Government’s Cyber Security Challenge Australia hacking competition which provides a practical application of the skills students learn in university and TAFE.

But we’re now stepping up this activity by taking a more holistic approach as an organisation and will be establishing formal partnerships with additional tertiary providers to develop the critical skills we need.

Building strong partnerships with tertiary providers

We recently started to partner with the University of Wollongong on their Global Leaders Development Program and have taken our first of their Big Data students as an intern (one of 80 students from around Australia who have been working with us over the summer).

We intend to expand this approach in the months ahead to include additional tertiary institutions with a focus on critical skills like software-defined networking and machine learning.

Adapting our Graduate program to develop the right technology skills

These partnerships will be supported by a new-look Graduate program for our next cohort starting in 2020. This group will go through a 12-month program that will include two in-depth rotations and three learning and experience accelerators to develop specific technology-based capability.

Graduates will be recruited in areas such as software and network engineering, information and cyber security, data analytics and management, product and service design, as well as finance and Human Resources.

In line with demand, we will increase our intake in Australia to around 190 for our 2020 program – up from 150 this year. Applications will open in March for Australian-based positions.

We will continue to access talent and skills where we need to, particularly in areas where there are skills shortages. This means we’ll expand our international Graduate program, which has run in our Hong Kong and Singapore hubs over the past few years, to include software engineering graduates in India who will be based at our new Innovation and Capability Centre in Bangalore.

This is just part of what we’re doing to develop future technology talent. We are committed to ongoing partnerships – with the government, the education sector and other corporates – to address the critical skills shortages in this country and set up Australia for future success.