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What’s the digital health of your city?

Business and Enterprise

Posted on November 20, 2017

4 min read

San Francisco, Berlin, Singapore and Seoul are known for their vibrant technology ecosystems. However, new research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) highlights business confidence in these cities doesn’t necessarily match their reputation for innovation.

As part of a new ‘Connecting Commerce’ report commissioned by Telstra, the EIU has released the first ever Digital Cities Barometer, a ranking of 45 cities around the world across five key categories relevant to business performance: innovation and entrepreneurship; the financial environment; people and skills; development of new technologies; and ICT infrastructure.

The rankings show mixed results not only for traditionally strong innovation hubs, but also the five Australian cities surveyed – Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. This is despite government support at the national level in the form of the National Innovation and Science Agenda and the state level, such as Innovation SA. Instead, confidence is high in emerging Asian cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Jakarta.

So what are some of the top performing cities doing that has led to high business confidence in the city’s digital environment, and what value can Australian cities derive from replicating some of this activity?

Grassroots activism and an entrepreneurial spirit

A vibrant digital ecosystem cannot be directed by government alone. A relatively intangible factor that needs to be considered is a city’s entrepreneurial spirit, which leads to activity being initiated at a grassroots level. Take for example the fact that 80 per cent of business executives in Bangalore and 74 per cent in Jakarta say their city’s ICT infrastructure is ineffective at meeting their companies’ digital transformation needs, as do more than 60 per cent of respondents in San Francisco. Yet all three cities are ranked in the top 10 for overall confidence. Raw entrepreneurial spirit is at the heart of many of the world’s cities with soaring digital confidence. For Australian cities, it highlights the importance of having a passionate appetite for digital transformation.

Tapping into digital ecosystems for support

More than 40 per cent of respondents in Shanghai (ranked 7th), Guangzhou (ranked 13th) and Singapore (ranked 14th) say innovation labs are helpful in addressing their digital challenges. All three US cities surveyed (New York, Chicago and San Francisco) also boast a plethora of formal and informal networks, communities and other support structures that can provide assistance. The Bay area, in San Francisco, is home to some of the oldest and largest accelerator networks, while in Shanghai the number of co-working spaces reportedly doubled in 2016 to nearly 500. Interestingly, survey respondents in four of the five Australian cities surveyed – the exception being Adelaide which cited innovation labs – point to more traditional structures, such as business associations, as the most helpful external sources of support for their digital initiatives. This suggests Australian cities might benefit by following the lead of confident cities and tapping into less traditional external resources, such as innovation labs.

Effective use of open government data

More than eight in 10 of the survey respondents (83%) say their firm makes at least occasional use of open government data provided by city agencies. The primary value of this data lies in leveraging it to provide new or improved services to customers, or identify new business opportunities. Start-ups in San Francisco, for example, have based their entire business models on the use of this data. One such example is BuildZoom, an online platform that matches homeowners looking to renovate their homes with local contractors. The platform catalogues licensing and building permit data made available by city governments across the US. Interestingly, 57 per cent of Australian executives surveyed said their city governments make poor use of the data collected.

Find out how business leaders rate the digital health of your city:

About the Economist Intelligence Unit Connecting Commerce report

The Connecting Commerce report includes the Digital Cities Barometer which is based on a survey of 2,620 executives in 45 cities conducted in June and July 2017. The list of cities includes 23 in Asia-Pacific, 19 in EMEA and three in North America. Eleven industries are represented, with the greatest numbers of respondents coming from professional services, financial services, manufacturing, retail and education. C-level respondents account for 42% of the survey sample, with the balance being other senior executives. 

Helping the data-less: Meet the Singaporean startup rebuilding trust assessments in the digital age

Business and Enterprise

Posted on November 16, 2017

3 min read

The booming Asia startup ecosystem has presented a lot of opportunities for technology startups in the region. With our startup accelerator muru-D in Singapore and venture capital arm, Telstra Ventures, Telstra has been fuelling this ecosystem and supporting these companies in building the blocks and expanding their reach. In the coming six weeks, you will hear from startups under the muru-D program and from our Ventures portfolio about their stories and how Telstra is helping them win the game.

My father used to run his own business. As a kid, I watched how he established mutual trust and longstanding relationships with customers and suppliers. I aspired to emulate his success, but I found myself starting my entrepreneurial journey in a different world, in a different time.

In any given day, as part of his business operations, my father would exchange credit amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. He wasn’t the only one. This is largely how business has been conducted throughout South East Asia, where both formal and informal lending relies heavily on trust built over time, validation from your social circle and gut feeling.

Today, there are untapped opportunities for people in South East Asia’s emerging digital economies. However, it can be challenging for organisations to trust those they’ve never met with valuable assets, especially if these individuals don’t have bank accounts, credit histories or any form of data to validate against potential defaults.

I’m passionate about helping to establish trust relationships, by building a solution that accommodates how locals have been accessing credit for decades.

In 2014, Uber was launched in Malaysia. The company experienced strong rider demand and wanted to incentivise and attract more drivers through credit advances on car leases. I worked with Uber to create a manual process for data collection that was anchored by psychometrics. This lent credibility to thousands of unbanked individuals and allowed them to lease cars from Uber and improve their livelihoods.

In January 2016, I founded Hafta – a company that collects psychometric data and creates a basis for trust, by improving risk assessments for companies and individuals. We then joined muru-D Singapore, which gave us the tools and high-growth mindset to evolve our manual process into a software-based solution.

Serial TED Talk speaker and trust expert Rachel Botsman said this: “… now we have millions of people staying on Airbnb every night – trusting each other with their homes, their whole lives, really. And it’s only in 0.01 per cent of bookings where something goes badly wrong. I think that’s a very optimistic story.”

Trust lies intimately between the perceptions two parties have of each other. Our goal is to inform these perceptions for companies – big and small – and create opportunities for individuals across the world. I believe psychometrics can be a great trust equaliser, especially in today’s digital and sharing economy.


Hafta is an alumnus from muru-D’s second cohort in Singapore. The program, currently into its third cohort, is supporting 11 Singapore-based startups.

Charles Duhigg podcast: Productivity is about staying in control through the chaos

Telstra Vantage™

Posted on October 18, 2017

4 min read

It turns out there’s a science to productivity, and it can be boiled down to three key attributes — innovative thinking, focus, and motivation — that we can master, according to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and best-selling author Charles Duhigg, by forming habits that make us feel in control.

Duhigg dedicated the majority of his closing keynote address at Telstra Vantage 2017 to explaining and illustrating this idea.

He pointed out that we are in the midst of a technological and economic revolution as profound as the agrarian and industrial revolutions. The world is changing quickly and fundamentally, and it’s easy to feel powerless against this wave of change — the rise of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, machine learning, big data, virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, nanotechnology, and more, all occurring at the same time, reshaping every facet of society and business.

But Duhigg said that if you look at the most productive people throughout history — people who changed the world like Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and so on — you’ll see that they were anxious all the time. Many of the greatest innovators, Duhigg explained, were anxious that they didn’t understand the change coming.

The difference with these great innovators, however, is that they found habits to keep them in control, which in turn kept them motivated, while they openly questioned everything and they went to great lengths to find the connections between seemingly disparate ideas or things.

Innovation as a way of thinking

Duhigg told the story of how West Side Story was created by three ambitious young men who wanted to transform theatre, but who nearly missed the mark. Their script was too radical with its street gangs uttering made-up words like “cracko jacko”, at least until choreographer Jerome Robbins made it more relatable at the last minute by incorporating classical dance clichés and familiar ballet routines into the performance of these teenage street thugs — thereby grounding it with a careful blend of the old and new, the familiar and the unexpected.

Duhigg also offered a more tech-driven example: a design firm spent two years in the 1980s trying and failing to create a new kind of helmet that could protect kids on bicycles, then a boat builder hired as a favour made a suggestion. Boats start with ribs and everything goes off those so that when the boat hits a rock it remains stable. The same principle birthed the modern bike helmet.

The key to thinking differently like these innovators, Duhigg explained, is to form habits that force your brain to make the connections. Innovative thinking comes from this mental labour.

Focus comes from visualising what ought to happen

Duhigg also considers habits critical to focus. The modern office is nothing but distractions that push you into a cognitive tunnel, he said. When you are in a cognitive tunnel, you don’t think; you react.

When a pilot safely landed the plane with a hole in one of the wings, uncontained engine failure, and 12 key systems down, he did it by recognising that he was losing control of the situation and he told himself a story that made it feel like he was in control. He changed his mental model of the situation and pretended he was flying a Cessna rather than an Airbus A380 because then he could focus on what needed to be done. Then he could make decisions.

The takeaway here, Duhigg argued, is that you need to both visualise what ought to happen and also find ways to constantly challenge those stories inside your head.

Productivity is about staying in control through the chaos

The most productive people — innovators like Jobs and Ford and Jerome Robbins, and other people like the pilot — find ways to be in control in a world where everything is constantly changing, Duhigg said.

“This conference is a testament to how quickly everything is changing around us,” he concluded. “And it’s easy to feel terrified and anxious, and all of us do… But we also know now how to build the patterns, the cognitive routines, the habits of our lives, that put us back into control.”

And that, he argued, boils down to telling ourselves the stories that matter so that we can focus on innovating and “making the world an amazing place.”

Anousheh Ansari podcast: Let our choices reflect our hope — and not our fear

Telstra Vantage™

Posted on October 13, 2017

4 min read

When engineer and businesswoman Anousheh Ansari was a little girl, growing up in Iran in the 1970s, she loved to sleep outside and stare at the sky wondering, “What’s out there?” Could it be that somewhere, on a distant planet, there’s another girl looking up at the sky thinking about the same thing?

Ansari dreamed of going to space, and it was that dream — and those moments when she watched the stars at night — that gave her peace as her country underwent a revolution she couldn’t yet comprehend and then entered war with neighbouring Iraq. During a keynote presentation at the Telstra Vantage 2017 conference, Ansari said that her imagination saved her during those terrifying moments.

She called imagination “one of the most precious gifts we have as human beings,” as it allows us to change what we don’t like in our lives and to think about things that don’t exist — then make them real. It starts with the spark of an idea. For her, that spark was space travel. She drew pictures of herself visiting alien worlds in rockets. The adults around her thought it was an unrealistic dream and a phase she’d eventually grow out of and forget. But her stubbornness prevailed.

When Ansari moved to the US in the mid-1980s and saw, with some disappointment, that Star Trek had not become reality, she refused to let her dream end. She became an engineer and built up a successful career in telecommunications and technology, and in 2001 she sold her company.

A few years later she met engineer Peter Diamandis, who had since 1995 been seeking funding for his XPRIZE concept — a competition for non-government organisations to build a reusable vehicle capable of flying a pilot to the edge of space. He’d been turned down, repeatedly, but Ansari and her brother-in-law were impressed by his passion and decided to underwrite the competition. It became the Ansari XPRIZE in May 2004, with participation from 26 teams from 7 countries. The first US$10 million winner was a rocket-powered aircraft called SpaceShipOne.

Richard Branson and Virgin subsequently partnered with SpaceShipOne makers Scaled Composites to design and build rocket planes based on that concept to provide suborbital spaceflights to tourists.

Ansari said the prize helped spur innovation in an area where it had been sorely lacking. She noted that private space technology is now a $100 billion industry, and that it’s now even possible to build and launch low-cost nanosatellites for special communications and research purposes.

Ansari achieved her dream in 2006, aged 40, after training as a backup for a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station, when Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto was disqualified for medical reasons. She became the first woman and first Iranian (and fourth overall) private space explorer, and she lived aboard the ISS for eight days — during which time she conducted experiments for the European Space Agency and published the first ever blog from space.

Ansari said that she’s excited about the future, but the pace of change is now so fast — and new technologies have become so intertwined — that it’s hard to predict what lies ahead. She likened it to taking 20 steps on the stage. If they were linear steps, she might reach the end of the stage or a little beyond there. But it would be hard for anyone to imagine 20 exponential steps, which would actually send her around the Earth 125 times.

She argued that it’s important to be prepared for change and to be ready to adapt. To prepare, we can look at the trends: she said 3D printing may transform food, medicine, textiles, and more, and it will make it possible to build habitats on the Moon and Mars; gene editing may cure diseases or grant us new abilities; and augmentation will enable us to regain capabilities lost or to gain entirely new ones.

“Technology is just a tool,” she said, “and how we use it and what we use it for will determine if it’s a good technology or it will actually be a harmful technology.”

The most important thing, Ansari said, is that we let our choices reflect our hope — and not our fear. The future is what we imagine it to be, she concluded, so she implored everyone to “march into the future armed with our hopes and positivity.”

Andy Penn’s top three insights on technology and transformation

Telstra Vantage™

Posted on October 10, 2017

2 min read

The world is changing rapidly and business needs to adapt in order thrive. At Telstra’s landmark Vantage conference, CEO Andy Penn laid out the company’s vision for the future, and the strategy to achieve it. Here are the top three insights that he shared:

A history of innovation

Telstra has always been a company of technology optimists, with a belief that technology can bring tremendous benefits for businesses, society and the nation. For 100 years, that optimism has driven investment and innovation.

Whether it was building the first trunk telephone connections between Sydney and Melbourne; laying the first coaxial cables to carry telephone, TV, and satellite transmissions; launching the first mobile phones in Australia; or launching the first gigabit per second mobile device and the fastest in the world – Telstra has been at the cutting edge.

But the technology innovation seen to date is nothing compared to that which we can expect over the next decades, which is which is why Telstra, like other businesses, must transform to meet the challenges of the digital age.

Services of the future

There is no tech innovation today that’s not intended to be connected, from drones to driverless cars, cloud computing to online banking, ecommerce to IoT. These applications and services rely on a high-quality, fast, reliable and secure telecommunications networks.

Many of the applications and services leveraging Telstra’s networks today are disrupting traditional ways of doing business. In the process, new companies and competitors are capturing the increasing value technology is delivering across a range of industries.

Despite telecommunications companies around the wold investing tens of billions of dollars in networks to cope with increased demand, in some ways the industry has failed to capture the real value from this. Telstra sees this as an opportunity, not a threat, and remains a technology optimist.

A strategy for success

Two years ago, Telstra unveiled a vision to become a world class technology company that empowers people to connect.

Telstra’s success in this new age is not only good for shareholders and customers, it also helps underpin the success of other businesses across Australia’s economy.

In order to succeed Telstra needs to transform to become Australia's leading technology company with global reach, global capabilities and global partners.

We look forward to sharing this transformation, and the success it bring, with you.