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 | Telstra Careers |

Three behaviours all great leaders possess

By Aaliah Eggins-Bryson November 18, 2019

Leaders lead by example. They set the pace by actioning the behaviours they want to see from their teams, stakeholders, and anyone else they have influence over.

In my time at Telstra, I have worked closely with several leaders who have had an enormous influence on the company culture. They’ve made complex things simple to understand and helped me find my courage by showing that they care.

As a leader, I try to show the right behaviour to drive a great culture for my team and try to replicate what I’ve seen excellent leaders do. Here’s what I believe are the most important and impactful behaviours great leaders possess.

Having real conversations

Great leaders have real conversations with the people they work with. Having a human connection with your team influences their productivity and produces great results. Instead of letting things go back and forth over email, you can pick up the phone and easily resolve the issue at hand.

When things aren’t going right, it’s your responsibility as a leader to give constructive feedback to your members and have difficult conversations to get things running again. It’s important to use these conversations to understand your team’s motivations and any underlying issues they may have. This will let you effectively influence your team to achieve the priorities and outcomes you’ve set for them.

Trusting teams to deliver

The very best leaders have trust in their teams and their teams trust them to lead. You may have excellent strategies or an amazing work ethic, but without trust, it will be challenging to achieve results through your team. At Telstra, we want our teams to be able to work quickly and effectively, which is why we empower them to use their expertise to make and act on decisions. It is only through clear communication and connection that your team will feel liberated to voice their opinions and perform to the best of their ability.

As leaders, we have to trust our people to make decisions. Sometimes they might not be right, but you can use it as an opportunity to coach or provide a learning experience in the future. By empowering people and improving their experience as an employee, it repurposes their energy and focus to drive outcomes.

Promoting a fun and energetic work environment

Lastly, leaders need to facilitate a fun and energetic work environment where people genuinely enjoy working together. Telstra is by far the most supportive and inclusive workplace that I have ever worked in. The senior leaders help the team members contribute in their unique way to make the organisation an energetic environment of progress and learning. We encourage people to live our company values and support each other through every moment. Having this culture of support and inclusivity allows our people to grow their careers while being their most authentic selves.

Interested in joining a genuinely supportive and inclusive work culture? Check out our latest job opportunities.

muru-D |

Can startups start outside Silicon Valley?

By Ben Sand October 20, 2016

Drawing on his extensive experience in both places, muru-D’s new Entrepreneur-in-Residence Ben Sand shares his thoughts on building successful startups in Australia vs. Silicon Valley.

Startups are groups of people building new things, and the way all large companies start out. As the dynamics of work change I think working in startups and developing new ventures may be the most common form of work environment within 10-20 years. Given this scenario, I am very motivated to help people become good at building startups.

Over the last 15 years I have helped build a number of startups in Australia and Silicon Valley. The most successful is Meta, which I cofounded. In the last 3.5 years it has grown to 150 people and raised about AU$100M. Prior to Meta I led an education company called Brainworth.

When starting a company, a fair question is: Where is the best place to start?

It’s a popular myth that building tech companies can only be done well in Silicon Valley. The truth is a bit more nuanced.

It is very hard to grow a tech company outside of Silicon Valley, but it is almost impossible to start one in Silicon Valley.

An engineer out of college will typically earn AU$150,000-$200,000/year + stock options. And people with 5-10 years’ experience will earn 3-5 times that much or more.

Attracting and retaining talent in Silicon Valley is extremely challenging and expensive, and it is hard to be competitive if you have raised less than AU$10-$20 million in capital.

In fact even Google co-founder Sergey Brin has encouraged people to consider starting companies outside Silicon Valley for this very reason[1].

People have noticed a downturn in tech company valuations recently, but employee salaries continue to rise. The reason for this apparent paradox is that tech is actually getting stronger, but it was slightly overvalued for a short period.

A large group of investors from other sectors came in to join the tech boom. They paid a bit too much per share as they did not understand the business fundamentals as well as more seasoned investors. They have mostly written down their investments and made a slight retreat. We are now back to business as usual.

During that time, good quality companies continued to grow, tech workers continued to flock to San Francisco and San Francisco housing prices continued to rise.

For anyone who thinks Sydney prices are unreasonable, please take a moment to consider people working 80 hours a week in the San Francisco Bay Area. To live close to work, means a 1 bedroom city apartment. The median rent in San Francisco is about A$1200-$1500/week.

This explains why high salaries are required, and why starting a company in San Francisco is very hard right now.

In summary, starting in Silicon Valley is very hard. Australia is a great place to build a tech company.

Applications are now open for the muru-D #SYD4 class. For more information or to apply visit: https://muru-d.com/

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/sergey-brin-on-starting-a-company-in-silicon-valley-2016-6

Telstra Vantage™ |

The grassroots revolution that’s transforming education

By Sir Ken Robinson September 6, 2016

Called one of the world’s elite thinkers by Fast Company Magazine, Sir Ken Robinson works with governments and education systems around the world, with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies and some of the world’s leading cultural organisations. We’re thrilled to have him as a headline speaker at Telstra Vantage 2016.

In 2006, I gave a talk at the TED conference in California, called “Do Schools Kill Creativity.” It’s proved to be the most watched talk in the history of TED and has been viewed online over 40 million times (you can see some of my other talks here.) I know they’re not Beyoncé numbers, but I don’t twerk.  My argument was that we’re all born with immense natural talents, but by the time we’ve been through education too many of us have lost touch with them. That was always a problem but it’s made much worse by the political pressures of testing and standardisation that have been sweeping through education almost everywhere. In my latest book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, I argue that the consequences are disastrous for individuals and for the health of our communities.

Since I gave that first TED talk, I’ve heard from students, parents and educators from around the world, who say how exasperated they are by the deadening effects of standards and testing on them, their children, or their friends. They include the high levels of stress and depression among students and their teachers, the alarming rates of non-graduation and the rising levels of unemployment among graduates and non-graduates alike.

Politicians often scratch their heads over these problems. Sometimes, they punish schools for not making the grade. Sometimes, they fund remedial programs to get them back on track. But the problems persist and in many ways they’re getting worse. The reason is that many of these problems are being caused by the system itself.

When I was in my twenties in Liverpool, I made a visit to an abattoir. (I don’t remember why now. I was probably on a date.) Abattoirs are designed to kill animals. And they work. Very few escape and form survivors’ clubs. As we came to the end, we passed a door that was marked “veterinarian.” I imagined this person was fairly depressed at the end of an average day, and I asked the guide why the abattoir had a veterinarian. Wasn’t it a bit late for that? He said that the veterinarian came in periodically to conduct random autopsies. I thought, he must’ve seen a pattern by now.

If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does. If you run an education system based on standardisation and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does. The issue in a nutshell is this: Most developed countries did not have mass systems of public education much before the middle of the nineteenth century. These systems were developed in large part to meet the labour needs of the Industrial Revolution and they are organised on the principles of mass production. They are inherently unsuited to the wholly different circumstances of the twenty-first century. Making them even more standardised is the exact opposite of what our children, communities and economies really need.

I’m not suggesting that all schools are terrible or that the whole system is a mess. Public education has benefited millions of people in all sorts of ways, including me. I could not have had the life I’ve had but for the free public education I received in England. Growing up in a large working-class family in 1950s Liverpool, my life could have gone in a completely different direction. Education opened my mind to the world around me and gave me the foundations on which I’ve created my life. But far too many have not benefitted as they should from the long years of public education. The success of those who do well in the system comes at a high price for the many who do not.

The need for radical change in how schools work – and in national education policies to support them – really is urgent. In the last forty years, the population of the world has doubled from less than three billion to more than seven billion. We are the largest population of human beings ever to be on Earth at the same time, and we’re heading for nine billion by the middle of the century. At the same time, digital technologies are transforming how we all work, play, think, feel, and relate to each other. The old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind. Trying to improve them through more testing and competition doesn’t and won’t work.

The revolution I’m advocating is based on different principles from those of the standards movement. It is based on a belief in the great diversity of human intelligence, talent and creativity; in the value of the individual, in the right to self-determination, and in the importance of civic responsibility and respect for others.

The good news is that all around the world, there are many great schools, wonderful teachers, and inspiring leaders who are working creatively to provide students with the kinds of personalised, compassionate, and community-oriented education they need. There are entire school districts and even national systems that are moving in the same direction. People at all levels of these systems are pressing for the changes I’m arguing for. The challenge is to connect and empower them to make these changes spread, and the clock is ticking.

H.G. Wells once said that civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe. He was right. But we no longer need the old style industrial education, which was designed to meet the needs of the past. To meet the challenges that we, and our children face now, we need a transformed system of education that cultivates the many talents that lie deep within us all.