Author Archives: disruptdigital

Is “deciphering deception” the talent skill of the future?

By Sharna Wiblen, The University of Wollongong

This year’s DISRUPT.SYDNEY includes the Australian launch of Digital Mike – a real-time rendered photo-realistic avatar, and in light of my interest in the intersection between talent management and technology, I’m both excited and apprehensive about the role of avatars in the future of work. Numerous questions, queries, concerns and comments arise upon critical reflection of all of the talk about avatars and the implications of these technological innovations for talent management, and more specifically, the skills and capabilities valued in the talent of the future.

Talent management, from a foundational perspective, is a judgement-orientated activity where humans make judgments about other humans. While personal views of “talent” influence strategies, policies and processes, so to do technological innovations. The influence of technological advances on our understanding of the skills and capabilities deemed valuable within operational and strategic contexts is not a new phenomenon. The transition away from proprietary systems to human resource and talent management modules of larger vendor designed enterprise systems led to the reshaping of organisation’s understanding of talent skills whereby technical, rather than contextual, knowledge increased in value.

We have witnessed significant changes in how organisations attract talent since the advent of LinkedIn and are now appreciating the importance of digital footprints and online reputations (https://thesocialindex.com/). Consequently, there is greater value attributed to skills associated with marketing and personal branding. Transitions to digital workplaces enhance the imperative need for talent with requisite digital and social skills because digital disruption not only influences where and when we work but also the skills required.

Westworld, the TV series,  incited personal and professional reflection about “who” and “what” is talent within the show’s context. Which skill set is more valuable and therefore imperative for talent? Is it the individual’s that “turn on” and/or “fix” the android hosts or those individual’s that possess the skills to shut down and “turn off” the hosts when they go rogue?

While the embodied cognitive agents shown in Westworld are pre-programmed, and “guests” are (largely) aware of their technical status, what if avatars advance to where we are unable to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake?

Digital Mike affords a glimpse into the future, where such judgments about reality may blur.  While I am amazed and impressed by the avatar demonstrated in Digital Mike’s invitation to DISRUPT.SYDNEY, I also start to ponder the extent to which society can accurately distinguish, in real-time, whether the face they see is real or an individual’s avatar.

And this invokes numerous (exciting and daunting) questions about the intersection between this technological innovation and talent management: Will organisations value individuals who create real-time, life-like, computer generated avatars? Will organisations of the future be searching for talent that are to recognise what’s real and what’s fake? Will the ability to decipher deception, such as the use of undeclared real-time and life-like avatars, be a key talent of the future?

Lastly, can we imagine a future where we pronounce that “It’s not what you know – but whether you know that who you know is fake or real?”

If you’re similarly intrigued by technological innovations, sources of disruption, and the changing face of talent management, then join us on Friday 22nd September 2017 in Sydney.

Dr Sharna Wiblen, a foundation DDRG member, researches and advises on the intersection between talent management and technology. Follow Sharna on Twitter: @SharnaWiblen

Reimagining the Digital Workplace

by Natalie Hardwicke

Imagine you want to open the best research and education institution in your city, such as a University. You’ve noticed that existing learning environments do not cater for teacher or student needs in the digital age. As a result, you decide to design and build the most innovative of all office and teaching spaces; one that promotes collaboration using the latest in digital innovation and teaching technology. You outsource to various vendors who will build the institution and its IT infrastructure on your behalf, whilst you get busy hiring academic and non-academic staff and advertise to potential students. Once everything has been built – the faculty offices, lounges, lecture theatres, tutorial rooms, eating locations and learning spaces – you officially ‘open’ the doors to your new facility.

You start enrolling students and the academic faculty start designing courses. At the start of semester, you sit in your office and look down at the institution you have created. You see the students coming and going but soon enough, you start to notice something. The students do not seem to be using the multimillion-dollar collaboration space you built especially for them. Instead, they’re working out of the café across the road. You also notice that your academic staff travel frequently for the partnered research projects they have with industry sponsors, causing you to worry that your school’s knowledge is running out the door free of charge. You see the arts students working at different hours to the business school students, and even though your facilities offer the latest in Apple products, everyone seems to be bringing their own devices. Overall, you realise that the students and teachers are not using your facilities ‘as intended’, so you talk to your administration to discuss what you can do to ‘fix’ this issue. Perhaps you need to train people for how and why to use your facilities, or maybe even introduce a policy in an attempt to get people to use the facilities in specific ways.

What has essentially happened in this scenario is that technically, and theoretically, you achieved your vision of creating the best teaching and learning environment in the city. Strategically and pragmatically, however, you have failed. In your desire to create something you saw as valuable, you forgot one main ingredient: the people. It is the social and cultural aspects of your institution, not merely its technological environment, for which your vision would ultimately derive its meaning. The technology itself – whether digital or material based – was never going to dictate how and why people worked. As stated by the philosopher Alan Watts:

There is a ‘constant’ called the University in which nothing stays put: students, faculty, administrators, and even buildings come and go, leaving the university itself only as a continuing process, a pattern of behaviour.

Both technology and people change alongside one another, so to favour one element, the technology, is to disregard the other element that both creates and consumes the first. The University analogy is the same for the Digital Workplace in which we expect IT to be used in a specific way which means we often forget to ask basic questions such as ‘How do people use technology?’ or ‘Where does technology come from?’ We can use a self-driving car as an example to illustrate this point. Someone has to program the car to decide whether or not in an accident the car saves the life of the person on the street or the lives of the people inside the car. It is not technology determining this moral dilemma, it is the programmer of the car itself.

When technology ‘works’, we also tend to forget about it as we go about living our lives. When we need an Uber ride, we do not consciously think of ourselves as reaching for a piece of hardware (our phones) and engaging with software. When we go home and watch our favourite TV show on Netflix, we do not tell ourselves we are streaming content from the internet. With Uber, we are trying to get from A to B and with Netflix, we just want something to watch whilst we eat dinner. Technology in both scenarios is seamless and unobtrusive. This is how people engage with technology in the world – it is a somewhat hand-in-glove relationship. We live in buildings, wear clothes, drive cars and cook food in our kitchens. We cannot do any of these everyday tasks without technology, and yet we seldom realise that we are engaging with technology throughout these processes. The same is true for the digital workplace and how employees work.

If organisational decision makers do not understand the unity between people and technology in their workplace, they will continue to experience the unrealised potential of both their employees and their IT. Instead of abiding by the traditional ‘build it and they will come’ mantra, decision makers need to reflect on how they themselves interact with technology in the world. The digital workplace is calling out for more empathy in this regard, so that instead of imposing a world of work on employees, we try and cater for how employees prefer to work, and IT is one solution for this type of accommodation.

For more information about the role of people in the digital workplace, come along to the Ripple Effect Group’s workshop on “The NEW Digital Disruption: Where people matter more than technology”.

Exploring why and what digital means for a company board

by Paul Galland, GAICD

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) recently published an article entitled, “4 questions directors must ask to lead their organisations through the digital age”. These questions discuss how to define and measure disruptive change, how to fuel the transformation change of the organisation, shifting leadership mindsets, and how to pre-empt the next big change that occurs. Taken together, these questions primarily address the how and what for directors to become more effective in addressing their digital value.

No doubt these questions are of high value to ask any board. However, they assume a fundamental aspect; that directors collectively understand and appreciate the value that digital offers in their organisation. I would like to add a fifth qualifying question: “Why should your board become more active in the digital discussion, and what is the board members doing to educate themselves on the disruptive forces impacting their own industry and society as a whole?”

In my work in strategy, I often meet senior executives and board members who like to jump right into a detailed ‘what’ and ‘how’ analysis. Their passion and confidence in their opinions provide fantastic insights. Yet I also notice how little organisational context and expectation alignment has been done to justify these opinions.

If there is no agreed to context about where the board believe the organisation is on its digital journey, it is then difficult to provide clarity to the 4 key questions mentioned in the article. The alternative is to outsource thought leadership to an advisory or consultancy firm, but that is in essence abdicating individual responsibility to the performance (read strategy / growth) duties of a director.

If you are a board member reading this, challenge yourself (and your board) on your own knowledge of digital disruption. For example, ask yourself if you believe this new digital age is led by technology? If you think it is, question this assumption of why you believe this is so.

If there is one truism I have learned from over 20 years working in the technology sector, it is this. Technology advances are ultimately led by people; their change in buying habits together with changes in how they perceive and rate business value is relative to their purchasing power.

These purchasing habits have significantly changed in the past ten years and are here to stay. They underpin a consumer / customer mega trend that is disrupting the very nature of how we define and prioritise our strategic intent.  Do we innovate into new markets, continue to maximise our price discrimination strategy, or perhaps both in parallel?

The ever-rising force of technology innovation is a result of this purchasing mega trend. Both these forces are now creating a closer and closer bond we generally call, digital disruption.

This bond has in turn cemented a significant change in the business-to-customer paradigm. Customers are for the first time (in a long while) able to dictate the terms and value to which technology investments are made by companies. In response, companies are becoming more agile to ensure these technologies that customers expect, become supported by their organisations.

This is quite the opposite approach to the more traditional product-to-market view of competition. It has somewhat flipped to more of a market-to-product view, as companies race to roll-out their support of technologies that customers trial first.

So, if a board (and their management team) is simply reacting to this market-to-product view by racing to roll-out technologies their customers ask for, they are not truly engaging in a proactive discussion of digital disruption. They are instead seeing digital disruption from only a technology lens and missing the people equation all-together.

What I’ve described above is just the tip of the iceberg to addressing the fifth question I posed earlier. What will enable the board to better experience the digital disruption in ways that accentuate this technology-people bond unique to their organisation?

One approach to accelerate a board becoming active digital participants is to establish their own digital platform in which to conduct their board affairs. A platform with the sole purpose of identifying, recording and analysing digital value for the organisation.

Working in collaboration with their management team, a digital platform can deliver significant governance improvement between board and management. Better governance, in turn, increases the chances that the digital strategy will be delivered successfully. Conversely if directors are not on that digital journey with management, and to borrow words from the article, “[technology] has the capability to destroy your business if you do not do anything.”

This year’s Disrupt Sydney is exploring digital disruption from the angle of board governance. There’s both a presentation and workshop that will cover this subject in greater detail. We hope to see many of you there participating with us.

And if you like this read, I describe more of this concept within my blog, “Why a digital role for company boards is a game changer

Are you really encouraging your employees to think innovatively?

by Ella Hafermalz (Postdoctoral Researcher in Business Information Systems and Sessional Lecturer in Talent Management, The University of Sydney Business School)

Managers across Australia recognize that innovative thinking is increasingly a key to competitive advantage. Even our Prime Minister is on board with the innovation ideal. But how can we encourage employees to think more innovatively?

Managers often say they want more innovative thinking, but then inadvertently reinforce the status quo. To explore this contradiction further, I’ll introduce you to a maturity framework from psychology that has been used in education. The “Six Levels” in this model show different reasons for why we behave the way we do. Level 1 is the most simplistic reasoning for behavior and Level 6 is the most complex:

“The Six Levels”

  1. Level: I Don’t Want to Get in Trouble
  2. Level: I Want a Reward
  3. Level: I Want to Please Somebody
  4. Level: I Follow the Rules
  5. Level: I Am Considerate of Other People
  6. Level: I Have a Personal Code of Behaviour and I Follow It (the Atticus Finch level)

(From Esquith, 2007 based on Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development)

This model is used to get teachers to reflect on what kind of thinking they are encouraging in the classroom. Teachers can (inadvertently) encourage students to follow Level 1-4 thinking. For example: “be quiet or you’ll get detention” (Level 1) “we’ll have cake if you all do your homework” (Level 2) “I agree with your argument, good work” (Level 3) or “sorry, those are the rules” (Level 4). While the reasoning captured in these statements is inevitably going to play some role in our education, this lower-level reasoning can be problematic when we are faced with ambiguity and uncertainty – hallmarks of today’s fast moving business environment.

What does this model have to do with management practice? I’ve heard managers complain that their workers should behave more like adults. At the same time, they tell me about where workers are “allowed” to sit, when they should work and rest, and even how they should dress. The point is, perhaps it’s not fair to expect employees to act like adults when they are treated like children. Managers need to think about what kind of reasoning they are encouraging in the workplace.

Similarly, if workers are treated in such a way that they learn to motivate their actions through a fear of punishment, the expectation of reward, the need to please, or in blind obedience of rules, can we expect their actions to coincide with the free contribution of ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting, innovative ideas? To create a change, we need to reconsider how we motivate behaviour at work.

An inspirational teacher called Rafe Esquith advocates for a life spent in pursuit of Level 6. The Level 6 reasoning for behaviour is that: I have a personal code of behaviour and I follow it. This might sound individualistic, but the point is that operating on Level 6 requires constant self-reflection and learning. There isn’t a formula for Level 6. Unique situations need to be responded to according to wider principles and a vision for the future, rather than knee-jerk reactions or compliance with general expectations.

Atticus Finch, the lawyer from To Kill a Mockingbird, is put forward as the exemplar of someone who operates on Level 6. Atticus Finch operates on Level 6 because he works to bring about a new kind of future, even if it is unpopular with many. He rejects conformity, and his actions are deeply disruptive. In the book and even beyond, this non-conformity is celebrated and has been influential in the legal profession.

What can managers take away from this? The model I have introduced here can provoke critical reflection on management practice. What “Level” do you and your organisation encourage employees to operate on? Are people free to make up their own minds, or are they motivated by fear and rewards; praise and procedures?

Traditional management practice thrives on risk-avoidance, incentive structures, charismatic leadership, and clear policies. These mechanisms can however all reinforce level 1-4 thinking. That’s not automatically a bad thing, but innovation is not easily generated through these mechanisms.

True disruption, as the name would imply, is uncomfortable. It unsettles the ground that many depend upon for security. Encouraging innovative thinking therefore requires a level of reasoning that embraces the fallibility of the status quo. Managers who are ready to embrace this disruption, and are really looking to encourage innovative thinking, need to reflect on what they are reinforcing on a daily basis. What Level are you asking your team to operate on?

Reference:

Esquith, R. (2007). Teach like your hair’s on fire: The methods and madness inside room 56: Penguin

 

Interested in Participating in the Disruption of the $17billion Business Intelligence Market?

by Laurence Lock Lee (SWOOP Analytics)

DISRUPT.SYDNEY™ has led the conversation on digital disruption to a point now that virtually all industry sectors can expect to face at least some degree of digital disruption in the not too distant future. Interestingly, there is one digital business sector, that consumes a significant proportion of corporate IT spend, that to date has experienced little change since first established in the 1970s. This sector is called “Business Intelligence” (BI), but should more accurately called “Business Reporting”.  With a catch cry of “one version of the truth”, the major part of the investment has been on trying to build reporting data warehouses across increasingly diverse sources of business operational data. The downside of adopting an aspiration term like “Business Intelligence” is that it provides a false impression that real intelligence gathering of the predictive type is happening, when mostly it is not.

Current Status Quo

We now know that the most prospective targets for digital disruption are areas where processes and technologies have been locked into a mature business and technical infrastructure. While incremental improvements are being made it is too little too late for the demands of a rapidly changing business environment. Gartner has recently flagged this emerging opportunity by differentiating a required “Modern BI and Analytics Platform” from the existing “IT Centric Reporting and Analysis Platform” as:

Table 1: High-Level Comparison of Traditional and Modern BI and Analytics Platforms

Analytics Workflow Component IT-Centric Reporting and Analysis Platform Modern BI and Analytics Platform
Data Source Upfront dimensional modeling required (IT-built star schemas) Upfront modeling not required (flat files/flat tables)
Data Ingestion and Preparation IT-produced IT-enabled
Content Authoring Primarily IT staff, but also some power users Business users
Analysis Structured ad hoc reporting and analysis based on a predefined model Free-form exploration
Insight Delivery Distribution and notifications via scheduled reports or a portal Delivery via sharing and collaboration, storytelling, and open APIs

Source: Gartner (February 2016)

Gartner’s characterization of Modern BI promotes a simpler business created intelligence gathering and use. Gartner speaks of democratizing analytics away from specialist IT departments and to the “owning” business units themselves. This is an admirable development, with IT specialists likely being replaced by specialist data analysts working in, rather than for the business. However, we believe the ‘real disruption’ needs to go beyond this. While moving the responsibility for BI closer to the consuming business is a positive change, it does not remove the need to employ specialist data analysts, especially if predictive analytics is desired. The proposed changes are unlikely to match the sorts of digital disruptive changes we have seen elsewhere and now become accustomed to.

The Digital Disruption Opportunity

We think that the fundamental opportunity for disrupting BI is not just simply moving the responsibilities from IT to the business. The current models for BI were established in an industrial age when manufacturing businesses and operational hierarchies dictated a like BI process of data capture, data cleansing, data filtering, data reporting and finally recommendations and actions. With the more dynamic and human-centered business structures of today, each stage of the current BI process potentially requires collaboration and shared judgement. With the explosion of data availability (big data), questions like which data should we aim to capture? how should we filter it? what can we infer from our analyses? and finally how can we execute the agreed actions?, can no longer be left to the ‘selected few’. We present here two potential disruption opportunities as a lead into workshopping what a disrupted BI marketplace might look like.

Disruptive Social Analytics Opportunity

One proposed model for a disruptive change to BI is to move the focus from the process to the people. Today the focus is on operational data with a secondary acknowledgement that exploiting insights will require sharing and collaboration (Gartner’s Insight Delivery stage). A people focus places conversations at the centre, with operational data simply an input. As data sources explode, it will be left to humans to collectively decide on what data and data quality is sufficient. Business outcomes are predicted more by the quality of the conversations, rather than the quality of the operational data they draw from. Importantly, insight delivery is not simply the last step in a linear BI process, but a continuous occurrence, as staff embed themselves in business and data centred conversations, on a day to day basis. Actions flow incrementally and continuously from such conversations. Learning and improvement is achieved through analyzing conversational data i.e. social analytics and resultant business outcomes.

laurie-blog2

‘Platform’ Business Disruptive Opportunity

A second and more common approach to digital disruption is the use of the ‘Platform Business’ model, commonly associated with businesses like Amazon, Uber and Airbnb. In a BI context, the Enterprise opens its data sources to an open community of potential data consumers. In essence we would not only be democratizing the consumers of data but also providers. The BI ‘Budget’ would initially be distributed to Enterprise consumers who would be free to use these funds to ‘pay’ for both internal or external data providers. Over time BI purchases would be absorbed into operational budgets, with data providers being able to earn their funds by servicing potential data/intelligence consumers. To do this they would have to market their data services on the platform. The platform itself would be configured to optimize the matching of data owners to data consumers. Providers would have the opportunity to provide value added services like data cleansing/filtering as demand dictates.

laurie-blog1

The platform would not only facilitate connections between providers and consumers, but also facilitate collaboration and co-operation between data providers themselves and data consumers themselves. In this way economies of re-use and sharing can effectively be achieved.

Other Ideas and Opportunities?

BI systems are arguably one of the last bastions for legacy industrial style thinking in IT. The explosion in data availability (Big Data) will ensure that the pressure for change can only accelerate. This is a $17 Billion market opportunity. Join this workshop to help shape the BI of the future.

If you are interested in discussing the future of BI in a world of social data come and join our workshop at DISRUPT.SYDNEY.

Digital disruption is not a dinner party!

Keynote at DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2015 by Antony Funnell (ABC Radio National)

Picture this – it’s 1966 – the northern summer – and a corpulent figure in bathing trunks is reclining on a divan in Zhongnanhai – the Chinese leadership compound that once formed part of the Imperial Palace in Beijing.

A decade-and-a-half earlier he’d become China’s paramount leader by embracing revolution.

‘Learn revolution by making revolution!’ he famously intoned – and so he did.

It was messy, destructive and often pity-less.

Revolutions are like that, after all, they sweep away the established, the outdated, the complacent – In a short space of time they transform. And things are never quite the same again.

So it’s 1966 and Mao Zedong is 73 and feeling threatened. He’s lying by his pool, reflecting on the numerous occasions in which he’s put the spirit of revolution to purpose: the times when he’s used it as a central tool of power – the defeat of the Kuomintang; the Great Leap Forward, the Hundred Flowers campaign.

Now, in the summer of 1966, dejected and slipping slowly into political irrelevance, he deploys it again – but this time as a rolling, ongoing reality.

And the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution he unleashes, very quickly and brutally restores his power.

But it also all but destroys his country.

Oh well, he did warn people that it was never going to be a dinner party!!

I often think about Mao and the Cultural Revolution whenever I hear the term Digital Disruption because the latter also carries with it a zealous, almost ideological tone.

Much as the Great Helmsman and his devotees saw virtue in permanent revolution, there are many in the business, technology and media sectors who believe in the transformative power of ongoing disruption.

And in its name, companies, organisations, even whole sectors and industries are being upturned or swept away.

At least that’s the way the narrative normally unfolds.

But I think the reality is much more complicated than that.

In this presentation, I want to examine some of those complications… and take a look at a few specific examples of the way in which digital disruption is being used not just as a corporate weapon to bludgeon competitors, but as a means to greater engagement.

I also want to look at some of the problems around our understanding and use of the term digital disruption and indeed the broader issue of digital transformation.

And then, some thoughts on the impact of digital disruption on employment and the role government should play in order to ensure that we as a society, and as individuals, make the most of the continuing disruption that’s certain to occur and which we need to fully embrace.

But first, let me start by correcting a popular misconception relating to change and technology.

The term digital disruption brings with it a connotation of shock – the idea that industries, individuals and communities sometimes need to be shaken out of their torpor in order to embrace change.

We hear quite often in popular discourse the notion that if you want to enact change you have to make sure that it’s well explained, because people are innately fearful of it – and correspondingly – that too much change unsettles the masses.

I heard that exact argument trotted out several times during the recent political ructions in Canberra as the Abbott administration gave way to the Turnbull era.

Another thing that we’re also regularly told that the 21st Century is a time of dramatic, and almost unprecedented, change.

Well, maybe, but the evidence on all of those points, I would suggest, is much overstated.

Certainly this is a period of great technological and social movement, but I think if you cast your mind over the great sweep of time, you pretty quickly realise that the story of human existence is one of constant change and development.

It’s easy to look back on the past as though it was a quieter, slower time, but the truth of the matter is that technology and society have always been on the move.

I did a recent show on the demise of handwriting and the emergence of what US author and journalist Clive Thompson calls ‘voice writing’ – that is, writing and communicating via dictation and transcription software.

And one of the interviews I did for that programme was with a handwriting specialist and professor of design in the United States called Ewan Clayton.

After we’d finished taping, and while we were chatting, Professor Clayton mentioned to me how his 86-year-old dad had written him a letter every week for the past 47 years.

And what was particularly interesting to me was the way in which Clayton detailed his father’s changing relationship with technology over those decades – how his dad had moved from using a fountain pen and scraps of paper four-and-a-half decades ago through to his embrace of an iMac.

And how that transition has been smooth and relatively problem free.

The point is, change is the norm, not the exception in human life and people have, by and large – like Ewan’s dad – adapted to dramatic transformation in a remarkably accepting way.

Put simply, using tools to modifying our environment and, in turn, modifying our behaviour as a result, is just part of what defines us as human beings. It’s the reason why there are so many of us in every part of the planet – adapting to change is just what we do.

What this then means for the notion of digital disruption and digital transformation is that I think we sometimes worry too much about the pace of change and not enough about the quality of change.

Arguably, when people have bucked against developments, it’s usually been more about issues of equity and quality rather than nostalgia for the past.

I know lots of senior citizens who use tablet computers. I know of no-one – young or old – who still uses a typewriter.

Certainly change needs to be well explained to people. But if the change is universally good – and/or they perceive that it benefits the quality of their life – they get it. And they get it quickly.

Conversely, if it’s not good, if it diminishes their life, they tend to get annoyed or to get angry.

Now, while the term digital disruption is a useful one for helping us to understand what’s going on in our current world, we have to be careful not to let it obscure the fact that dramatic, transformative change often comes from within – that it isn’t always necessarily imposed from outside.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

About six years ago I did a programme on the future of museums. This was at a time when there was a lot of concern being expressed by cultural institutions about declining relevancy given the arrival of what were being described as ‘digital competitors’.

Here are some of the things that I heard during that programme – that the museums sector was facing a threat from digital technologies; that audiences could disappear; and finally, that museum staff were conservative and would have to be helped through change.

And you could perhaps read ‘helped’ there as a euphemism for prodded and pushed.

Certainly, those were prevailing, pessimistic, but seemingly realistic views at the time.

But six or so years later and that’s not at all the way things have come to pass.

Today some of the most innovative uses of digital technology, I would suggest, are coming from the so-called GLAM sector – that’s Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums.

And one of the really interesting things about that sector is that unlike the traditional news-media industry which has basically embraced the digital world reluctantly as a desperate way of trying to stay relevant, the GLAM sector has been using digital technologies in a far less defensive way.

In fact, in an offensive or proactive manner.

Earlier this year I chaired a panel-session here in Sydney at the Remix Summit 2015 and my guests included two leading Australian museum directors – Kim McKay from the Australian Museum and Katrina Sedgwick from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Now, both Kim and Katrina were very clear about the fact that they were, in effect, self-disrupting their organisations.

They didn’t use that inelegant description, of course – that’s mine – but that was the gist of what they were saying.

Both of them were actively engaged in rethinking and restructuring their institutions from the ground up, in order to maximise the potential they saw from digital technologies.

In both cases they described the digital world as a way of extending reach and relevance. And they talked about the necessity of adopting a ‘digital first’ approach, and not seeing the digital side of what they did as simply an add-on to their traditional means of conducting business.

And because of that change of approach in the GLAM sector, we’re now seeing some innovative and very successful initiatives coming to the fore.

Initiatives like the National Library’s terrific service called Trove, a free online library database aggregator which now gives people access to hundreds of millions of online resources from all sorts of places.

I can also tell you about an outreach service that the Queensland Museum is currently building which uses digital tools to connect indigenous communities, and communities in small Pacific nations, with the important artefacts that the museum holds in its vast storage vaults.

The idea with that particular project is not just to widen the institution’s audience, but to bring indigenous people into the actual cataloguing and curation process – using their traditional and cultural knowledge to better inform the Museum’s data-base and collection.

Or, let me give you an example from overseas – the work of leading archaeologist Mauritzio Forte in the United States who’s been reinventing archaeology to bring virtual-reality technology to the very centre of his discipline – not just as a means of enhanced display, but as a way of allowing for greater collaboration between professionals in different parts of the United States and in different regions of the world.

Collaboration that allows archaeologists to simultaneously interrogate artefacts and to build on each others expertise.

Again, what I think is interesting in each of these examples, is the way disruption is being used as a tool for reorganising and refocusing – and the change that’s going on in many parts of the GLAM sector is root-and-branch change brought on by organisations themselves.

Another simple and practical and perhaps unappreciated example of the way in which digital disruption has become a positive force for good is in the area of project funding.

Crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter have their problems – they’re not a magic panacea – but they have substantially disrupted and transformed the way in which people raise money for projects, inventions and causes – and crucially, they’ve made the raising of capital more inclusive by facilitating match-ups between those with a project that needs funding and those who want to fund a specific cause.

Over the past couple of years on Future Tense I’ve featured numerous inventions and new approaches which have benefitted directly from a crowd-funded appeal – everything from smart LED light-bulb systems to Solar-energy-generating glass roads to urban recreation areas.

So digital disruption has its upsides, and it shouldn’t, I believe, be seen just as a force imposed on organisations and industries from outside – it can be an empowering thing.

But I have to confess that I think the actual term digital disruption suffers from something of an image problem.

On the scale of technology buzzwords it’s not quite up there with 3D printing for overuse, but it comes pretty close.

Google the phrase and more than 41 million search options suddenly appear.

One of the problems I think with the term digital disruption is that it has a bit of a ‘bad boy’ quality to it.

And that’s its blessing and its curse.

It sounds edgy, unpredictable, rebellious even, and so journalists, PR types, futurists and those trying to sell business-related products, love to deploy it.

And they’re not particularly choosey about how they deploy it.

Depending on the spruiker in question, it can sometimes sound simply like systems upgrading, or it can sound like a forthcoming apocalypse.

Like Ebola, AIDS, Y2K and Islamic State – it’s coming to get us and to take us on a journey to hell.

Digital disruption, it seems to me, is used as often to scare, as it is to describe a state of change, or to motivate people to action.

And that’s probably not surprising given the sort of combative and aggressive language that’s often used when talking about digital disruption.

Dig around online for just a bit and you’ll soon find that lots of articles on the subject use words like ‘decimate’ and ‘penetrate’ and ‘destructive’.

Those are the sorts of words we don’t normally associate with a process that can be an agent for good.

They’re the kinds of words usually used to describe the likes of a military invasion.

And I think that’s unfortunate because words, of course, matter; and the wrong choice of terminology can act to limit our understanding of a process that can have huge social and economic impacts.

In one sense, it’s not the brand that’s entirely at fault here.

This has been happening, in part, because of the general decline of public discourse over the last ten years and, just as importantly, the hollowing-out of the serious news media.

Much of what passes for serious media analysis these days is light indeed, driven more by PR and sensationalism than by genuine investigation.

There is also a point to be made, I think, that much media coverage of technology and technological development, in particular, tends to be either superficial – an addiction to the shiny and the new – or informed by vested interest.

There is also a tendency to use the term digital disruption in a rather simplistic way that pits the new against the old, the sexy against the staid.

This is a form of representation particularly beloved of the media which likes nothing more than black-and-white scenarios and a good fight.

‘Sure disruptors might be brash and pushy and contemptuous of regulation’ – so the narrative goes – ‘but they’re new, unstoppable and somehow futuristic simply because they’re digital’.

Conversely, traditional players within a field or market are inevitably painted as tired, and old, and unable to adapt or adjust.

But this is a nonsense, of course. Experience should tell us that not all that is new is good, and not all that is old is bad.

In the field of education I know that many teachers bemoan the obsession of education departments and politicians with the ideal of the ‘fully-digital’ classroom and technology for its own sake. As though the deployment of gadgets should come before the establishment of educational needs and pedagogical priorities.

Where technology and educational imperatives come together best, from what I’ve seen and been told, is where appropriate digital technology is used to enhance recognised needs, or to counter recognised deficiencies. Not where classroom practice is twisted and moulded to fit the arrival of new devices.

Such simplistic narratives are annoying, but they often, as in the classroom example I’ve just given, ignore some very important considerations.

Let me give you another very topical example of what I mean.

Just think about the current stoush between the new poster boy of digital disruption UBER and local taxi companies.

Now, I have no great personal feelings for either protagonist. I don’t dislike traditional taxi companies and the service they provide (as many of my colleagues in the media seem to); and I can clearly see the appeal of UBER’s innovative ride booking app.

But let’s be real about this, that particular fight is hardly an equal one.

UBER isn’t just a sizable company, it’s a behemoth – a California-based multi-national, backed by venture capitalists – with a market valuation of somewhere around US $50 Billion.

And it uses its huge size, lots of lawyers and large amounts of lobbying and PR to simply flout existing government regulations and eventually wear-down its competitors and regulators.

And it does that, all while classifying its drivers as independent contractors so that it doesn’t feel the need to provide them with the sorts of work conditions and privileges expected in a country like Australia.

Spelt out like that, any thinking and objective observer might well come to the conclusion that digital disruption is not necessarily the path to a better future, but sometimes the return to a dark industrial and corporate past, where big companies do whatever it takes to monopolise an industry and effective regulation becomes all but non-existent.

There will always be losers as well as winners whenever there is massive transformation or disruption. The history of human development is the history of one technology replacing another, of one company replacing another, because it proves more attuned to changing customer needs and demands.

And that’s a good thing – after all, connecting to people’s changing needs is what it’s all about.

But surely, in an advanced social democracy like Australia, that kind of transformation should occur on a playing field that is as level as possible.

Our digital world is already worryingly filled with monopolists like Facebook and Google and Amazon – organisations that University of Maryland Law Professor Frank Pasquale evocatively calls the ‘Silicon Valley oligarchs’.

What a pity, one might think, if digital disruption simply becomes the window dressing to excuse anti-competitive practice.

Real competition – true competition – isn’t just the hallmark of good capitalism, it’s also meant to be the basis of social democracy.

In 2012 I was asked to give a very, very, very short graduation speech to students at Deakin University in Victoria.

They were communications and technology students. And I was encouraged to leave them with just one thought that might be useful for them as they embarked on their future careers.

One thought … no easy task for someone who likes the sound of his own voice.

Anyway, the theme I settled on was curiosity.

The world was too full of incurious people, I pontificated.

In a digital age where so much information is within our grasp, it is imperative, I said, that we make the most of it. That we don’t just let algorithyms, marketers and PR types dictate what we see, hear, and ultimately think.

Protect and develop your sense of curiosity, I declared.

If I could have gone to two thoughts, I would’ve also thrown in a line or two about scepticism.

I’m still constantly amazed by the number of otherwise intelligent people I meet who have absolutely no idea how a platform like Facebook, for instance, makes its money. Or how a company like Google operates.

No idea about how such corporations use people’s online data to attract advertisers. No idea.

Many of us are so in love with our gadgets and devices that we forget to ask even the most basic questions about who built them – and why – and who benefits from the way in which we use them.

I talked earlier about a misconception around people’s attitudes toward change. I think another misconception that exists in our society concerns trust.

No-one likes to think of themselves as gullible.

Many of us like to think that we’re street-wise, that we’re wary; that we know when marketers and politicians are trying to manipulate us.

But I would argue with that assessment.

If the digital world proves anything, it proves just how unquestioning and trusting we are of corporations and governments – and, for that matter, of well-executed advertising campaigns.

How else could one explain the actions of millions of people around the world who trusted the Ashley Madison website with the security of their personal information?

Much of what is sold to us about technology and the digital world is coloured by spin and marketing.

There are now many more PR specialists in a country like Australia than there are journalists.

And if you’ve ever watched The Gruen Transfer on ABC Television you’ll know that the marketing and advertising industry isn’t just big, it’s full of some very, very, clever people with very, very doubtful ethics.

Scepticism should be our watch-word.

So that when a large digital disruptor like UBER says it’s business is all about the ‘sharing economy’, our healthy sense of scepticism should then kick-in and remind us about UBER’s $ 50 billion valuation and also the reality that UBER drivers don’t ‘share’ their cars, they charge people to ride in them.

Or similarly, when we read Facebook’s mission statement and it says that the company is dedicated to giving people QUOTE ‘The power to share and make the world more open and connected’. We might also remind ourselves that Facebook only supports data interoperability with the services or platforms it owns or has a financial arrangement with – other than that, it’s not much into sharing, it’s very much a walled-garden.

Oh, and it’s worth remembering that the company’s turnover last year, according to Forbes, was US $12 billion.

Now, I don’t want to labour the point, but greater public scepticism is a must for ensuring that our digital ecosystem remains healthy, equitable and competitive.

I want to turn now to the role of government.

And I know this is an unpopular thing to say in some quarters, but I’m one of those people who believe wholeheartedly in regulation and the rule of law.

Not regulation for its own sake, I hasten to add, not bureaucratic red tape, but properly balanced and directed regulation that allows for individual growth, whilst also furthering the social good.

One significant factor that’s often overlooked in discussions about digital disruption and transformation is the role of government.

The central problem with the way in which government in Australia deals with the issue of digital disruption is that, to date, it seems to have had very little interest in digital issues at all. This is in stark contrast with the United States and many European countries.

The very first edition of Future Tense I compiled back in early 2009 dealt with the election of Barack Obama and the plans he and his confederates had for moving the government of the United States into the digital era.

At the time he was dubbed by many digital analysts as the first ever ‘internet president’ because his campaign the year before had shown how the process of voter mobilisation and campaign fundraising could be revolutionised through clever and coordinated online activity.

And on coming to office his administration began to put in place at a federal level, the sorts of e-democracy measures that had already begun to be undertaken by several innovative state and local governments, most notably the city administration in Washington DC.

Now, in the time since then, not everything has gone smoothly, but e-democracy or e-government as it’s also called is still considered an important direction for US government departments to support and undertake.

And agencies like the State Department have been involved in staff exchanges with large technology companies and with institutions like MIT.

In Australia, by contrast, over roughly the same period of time, the governments of Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott collectively showed very little interest in any matter relating to science and technology, let alone the digital domain.

You might recall that during Julia Gillard’s tenure, the then Chief Scientist, Professor Penny Sackett, resigned in protest halfway through her five-year term, revealing that in all that time she had never managed to secure a personal meeting with the prime minister; and, prior to that, she had only ever been called upon to provide a briefing to Gillard’s predecessor, Kevin Rudd, on just one occasion. Just one.

But worse was to come.

When Tony Abbott took the reins of government in 2013, his first ministry contained no minister for science at all.

After an outcry from the science community, this was later corrected and the word science was tacked onto the Minister for Industry’s letterhead.

But it was done as an afterthought and only after protest.

Specifically, on the issue of the digital world and the digital economy so few politicians during the Rudd, Gillard and Abbott years showed any genuine interest in digital affairs that it’s possible to count them on one hand.

By my accounting, they were: Lindsay Tanner, Scott Ludlam, Kate Ellis and Malcolm Turnbull.

And I’ll come back to Malcolm Turnbull in just a minute.

In fact, the only digital initiatives that our politicians have really become exercised about in recent years have been data retention laws and mandating a digital filter for the Internet.

That’s perhaps an exaggeration, but I think you get the point.

However, all of what I’ve just said shouldn’t be interpreted as suggesting that there’s been a corresponding lack of interest in digital disruption and transformation within the ranks of the public service.

That’s not the case. There are, I know, many frustrated public servants who have for years been trying in vain to push matters digital further up the Federal Government’s priority list.

And Australia does now have a Digital Transformation Office and there are regular events like the Govinnovate Summit for those keen to explore digital opportunities and challenges.

But on any fair assessment, our national interest in matters digital has been lacklustre indeed.

What’s also been a cause of concern for many, has been the way in which the rolling out of a national broadband network has been plagued by political infighting and intrigue.

Which brings me back to Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull is a great user of digital technologies – famously – but as Communications Minister until two weeks ago he also had his fair share of critics.

One online article I came across last week screamed QUOTE – ‘Malcolm Turnbull was Australia’s worst ever Communications Minister’.

Which if true – and I’m not saying it is – would certainly make him an achiever, because there’s definatelyly been plenty of competition for that title in recent decades.

As we know, the Member for Wentworth is now prime minister, of course, so what can we expect from his government with regard to digital transformation?

Well, only time will tell, as they say, but it’s interesting to note that in his first media statement after winning the Liberal Party leadership and becoming Prime Minister-elect, Malcolm Turnbull made the following comment…

QUOTE: ‘The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative. We cannot be defensive, we cannot future-proof ourselves. We have to recognise that the disruption that we see, driven by technology; the volatility and change, is our friend, is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.’

So, leaving politics to the side, at least we now have a recognition from the top that these things are important and that our thinking and strategising about the digital future must start at the very highest levels.

And I’m sure many people were pleased to hear this week that one of the priorities of the new Turnbull government in Canberra with regard to matters digital will be to review the supportive framework around the development of Australian start-ups.

But, as I said, only time will tell how well the new government’s innovation, science and technology team of Turnbull, Christopher Pyne, Kelly O’Dwyer, Mitch Fifield and Wyatt Roy will perform in matching rhetoric to reality.

It was also pleasing to see yesterday that the Labor opposition has now seen the wisdom of providing greater support and emphasis to the start-up community.

But as one of my colleagues said to me on Wednesday, let’s hope both political parties don’t become fixated on start-ups as the only form of digital innovation.

The gold standard for digital innovation at a national level is Estonia – a small central European country that has taken a ‘digital-first’ approach to everything it does.

Not every country can, or would want to follow in Estonia’s footsteps. The size of its population and geography give it unique conditions, but the ‘digital first’ way of thinking that Estonians have embraced as a nation, is perhaps something that could be emulated here in Australia.

Getting the mindset right, I would argue, is always a necessary precursor for any successful change.

So the role of government in the age of digital disruption can be about leading transformation through example and encouragement, but it should also be about ensuring checks and balances.

And again, I make an argument here for the deployment of healthy scepticism.

How, for instance, does it help a nation like Australia if digital disruption simply leads to the diminishment of competition. In that regard, we have to be careful not to see digital disruption as an end in itself; to allow it to become a justification for the growth of a ‘winner-takes-all’ corporate environment.

UBER should be allowed to compete in the Australian market-place, and by all means let government change the regulatory structures in response to its entry. But they should be changed for the entire taxi industry, to make it a level playing field, not one that significantly advantages a digital disruptor over an established operator.

Secondly, we need to properly acknowledge the monopolistic tendencies of many existing digital disruptors and actively counter them. Facebook, Google, Amazon, they all dominate their areas of interest in a way that was once thought of as unhealthy.

In Europe, such dominance is viewed with concern by regulators, but in Australia we largely seem to have followed the ‘hands-off’ approach adopted by the United States.

As anyone who regularly shops for groceries in this country can attest, the dominance of one or two players in a field doesn’t always lead to lower prices and better service. In fact, quite the contrary.

On top of that, experience suggests that duopolistic or monopolistic control of a sector can sometimes hinder a company or organisation’s ability to be responsive to new disruptions and the need for change.

Using the supermarket business in Australia as an example, it has been pointed out by some economists and retail analysts that the duopoly enjoyed by Woolworths and Coles actually blinded them to the arrival of the online shopping trend – and the threats and benefits presented by that change.

We also need to be more realistic, I think, about the extent to which Australian innovators can compete in a world increasingly dominated by Frank Pasquale’s ‘Silicon Valley Oligarchs’. The notion that anyone with a good business idea and a little bit of backing can suddenly build a world-beating digital platform needs to be treated with caution.

The sheer size of US operators and their access to large amounts of capital will always be an impediment to local companies trying to make good in a digital world that is constrained by far fewer national boundaries.

Competition with international competitors has long been an issue for Australian businesses, but in the less regulated digital sphere, establishing a foothold, or holding the ground that you have, can prove even more difficult.

A case in point is the very successful Australian hotel-booking platform Wotif.

Wotif started its life 15 years ago as a digital disruptor and it grew fast while its competition remained largely local. But in 2014, the company’s owners effectively threw in the towel and sold the business to Expedia, because once the big international players got seriously interested in wining over Australian customers, the game for a much smaller domestic operator like Wotif was all but over.

How we as a middle-sized nation address that problem in future, I’m not entirely sure, but I know that we first have to acknowledge that the problem actually exists.

For my money, perhaps the most significant future issue that governments and societies will have to address around the continuing digital transformation of our world concerns what to do to ensure high levels of employment.

Disruptive technologies have always cost some people their jobs. The history of technological disruption since well before the Industrial Revolution has been one of job loss, followed by the creation of new occupations.

‘When a door closes, a window opens’ – that kind of thing.

For many years now that’s been the accepted wisdom about technological change in the workplace. And by and large that’s been true.

And we’ve been telling ourselves that scenario now for so long that it has almost a reassuring sense of inevitability about it.

But in the last couple of years we’ve seen the emergence of credible research into the employment impacts of automation that are worrying indeed.

Research from Oxford University published in late 2013 suggested that up to 40% of current US jobs would be automated away in a few short years.

While well-known US economist Tyler Cowen predicts the hollowing-out of the middle class in the United States as the result of a combination of both automation and the outsourcing of American jobs off-shore.

Now, when I interviewed them for my programme, both Professor Cowen and Oxford University’s Michael Osbourne, used the ‘old-jobs-for-new’ argument to give their otherwise gloomy message at least some positive dimension. Though they both readily conceded that they had no real idea where those new jobs would come from and what they would be.

But what if things are different this time around?

Just because new jobs have been created in the past doesn’t of itself mean that substantial amounts of new employment will be created in the future as a result of digital disruption and transformation.

In the modern world, when companies automate, they do so not just to improve efficiencies for customers, but to drive down their operational costs. And wages are a major expense for any organisation or company.

Does anyone really believe that when Kmart and Woolies decided to automate their checkouts, that they were doing so in order to create new jobs elsewhere?

That would seem to me naive, or at best, a wishful way of thinking.

Similarly when banks and insurance organisations closed branches and moved their businesses online in recent years, they weren’t at the same time thinking of ways to increase employment opportunities. The whole idea was about saving on wages and building costs.

I think we need to be far more realistic about the unique nature of digital disruption when it comes to employment. Digital operations decrease employment.

Think about it – giant digital companies like Facebook and Google and Amazon have far fewer people working for them than comparable-sized non-digital companies did in previous decades. Far fewer.

I’ve talked a lot about UBER during this presentation – I don’t mean to always single them out – but even UBER announced recently that like Google, they’ve decided to invest in the further development of driverless car technology.

Even UBER has a long-term ambition to get rid of its human employees.

For governments, whether they like it or not, addressing the employment impact of exponential automation is going to be a real issue as the middle class shrinks and the standard of living of ordinary people continues to fall. And it has been falling as we know even in rich nations like the US and Great Britain.

In such a situation, the setting of government imposed limits on automation simply can’t be ruled out in the future.

That may sound undesirable to us today, but in order to avoid the sort of social chaos that we know can arise from mass unemployment, greater impositions and controls on the digital world may well be demanded by a frightened and angry populous – particularly if inequality continues to rise in Western societies.

And just finally, if we’re talking about digital disruption for good; For the good of society as a whole, not just certain rich individuals, then I think it’s imperative that we be mindful of the sort of anti-government, anti-regulation rhetoric that is a feature of the digital world.

It is right that in a liberal democracy we should always be vigilant about the role of government in our lives and in business. But there is a tendency among digital operators to view regulation simply as an impediment.

One of the hallmarks of the digital world is that it had its birth in the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 70s. That was a plus – it gave an innovative and rebellious streak to digital developments in the 80s, 90s and the early years of this century.

But the digital world is now more corporate than it is counterculture, and attacks on regulators by the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Airbnb often have a worrying tendency toward naked self interest at best, and at worst, an almost Tea-Partyesque quality to them.

Neither of which, I would maintain, are positive forces in an equitable society.

In summary then, and before I open to questions, let me just run through the main points of this presentation.

The eight take home messages if you like. And they are…

We need to:

  1. stop selling people short when we talk about attitudes to change and acknowledge that the default option for most people is the embrace of change, not its rejection.
  1. recognise and acknowledge that organisations are not always victims of disruption, but that a disruptive approach can be employed by an organisation itself to refocus and drive growth.
  1. be careful of the negative-combative aspects of the term digital disruption. Avoid the simplistic ‘new’ versus ‘old’ narrative.
  1. be sceptical and appropriately questioning of the motives and statements of digital disruptors to ensure that the term doesn’t simply becomes window-dressing for anti-competitive practice.
  1. make sure that our politicians and leaders realise that strategising about our digital future needs to be led from the top if we are to make the most of the opportunities presented to us as a well-educated, rich society.
  1. ensure that the role of government in the age of digital disruption not only leads transformation through example and encouragement, but also ensures appropriate checks and balances.
  1. keep watch on the impact of digital transformation to ensure that it doesn’t simply lead to higher unemployment and greater inequity.
  1. be mindful that the rhetoric we employ around the online world and digital disruption remains inclusive and that it isn’t simply hijacked by vested interests and those espousing extreme anti-government/anti-regulation views.

I began with Mao Zedong and his famous quote about the power of revolution, let me just end by paraphrasing a more subtle and familiar Chinese proverb – ‘may you be cursed to live in interesting times!’