Australia’s digital economy: boosting productivity through increased digitisation and automation

Chris Smith

Telstra Purple Executive


Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we’re meeting, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I also wanted to extend a big thank you to the AFR for having me along today.

Good afternoon everyone, I’m Chris Smith - the head of Telstra Purple – hopefully you’ve heard of us… but for those of you who haven’t…

Well, we are the largest Australian-owned technology services business.

We have over 2,000 certified, local experts spanning network, cyber security, cloud, software development, data, AI, and workplace technology.

We are the consultants, technicians, technologists and engineers working with governments, the biggest enterprises in the country, and the start-ups who are helping Australia’s journey towards digital transformation.

And we’re lucky enough to work with many of you and your businesses.

Now to Flying race cars huh?!

We finally made it – well almost. The first race is at the end of this month, and we’re waiting with bated breath to see the incredible concept literally take flight.

I started my career as an electrical engineer here in Sydney; I’ve worked in and around tech across Europe, the USA, Asia and the Middle East for almost 30 years, the past 9 have been with Telstra.

I’m a technology optimist.

Every day I get to see how technology is helping us all create, solve and achieve more today than ever before.

That’s a very exciting proposition for us as leaders, for our businesses and for Australia at large.

But today we’ve already heard about some of the critical and urgent challenges facing us – issues that are impacting business, society, the planet, and with what’s happening overseas right now – security, humanity, liberty and peace.

And as an optimist - I believe that with technology in the hands of smart, passionate people, that we can solve a great number of these issues.

Now we’re lucky enough to talk to hundreds of different customers at any given time, which gives us great insight into what’s keeping business and governments awake at night.

And what is also interesting, is that despite the wild variation in what our customers do, there are common themes that are either challenging their short-term growth agendas, or their long-term business sustainability.

Rather than share individual stories – I thought I’d summarise the major tech that is underpinning the way government and enterprises are digitising and transforming for growth.

Here they are in headlines

1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are redefining how almost every organisation will work in the next decade. They will allow us to strip out the menial, repetitive processes out of our businesses - so our people focus more on important things like strategy, creativity and innovation.

2. IoT is transforming more industries than you can imagine. Farming, agriculture, health, supply chain, transport & logistics, mining to name a few – providing first insight, and then control over the countless machines and subsystems that we use to drive our businesses.

3. Cloud is everywhere and everything, but I don’t think I even need to elaborate on that today.

4. You already know that Cyber Security is a critical risk for all of us – attacks threaten business continuity, our brand reputation, and at times even our national sovereignty.

5. Number 5 has to be 5G doesn’t it?! This network is the powerhouse that enables everything I’ve just mentioned at the speed we need – everywhere – all at once.

6. Data - not the ownership of it – but the way you use it - will define almost every business's competitive advantage in the future.

7. And I wouldn’t be in tech right now if I didn’t mention Web3.0, the Metaverse, Blockchain and Decentralisation – that’s a whole other universe – pun intended. With NFT use cases being developed daily – even the AO issued an NFT collection of memorable moments.

But you probably already know all of that. I’m sure these are just some of the things that keep you, and your board awake at night. But I’m not here to preach technology trends to the converted…

Every single customer we speak to, every single day… is trying to transform more parts of their offering and operations than ever before - faster than ever before.

But no one, not a single customer is saying “I’m happy with our pace of change”.

Why is that? The technology exists. The will is there.

Your strategies are clear, and in most cases the investment is approved.

What is holding us back?

Well, we’ve heard loud and clear today already – that the main blocker to us all delivering at the pace we want, is capacity.

The change required for our businesses to fundamentally re-tool and transform will take a big influx of new talent and skills, or a re-think of our traditional labour models… or actually – both.

A recent study conducted by AlphaBeta and AWS shows that - In the technology sector alone, Australia will need 6.5 million additional digital workers by 2025 – that’s a 79% increase from 2020 - and I know that you’re all facing similar skills shortages in your industries.

We know that simply adding contingent labour is not going to plug this gap.

Today we’ve already heard that finding talent for our own businesses is challenging enough, but when you take into account that we’re all sprinting at this at the same time, then you realise that something has to change.

So how do we fix it?

There are three key levers that could be a big part of the solution.

Firstly – A deeper and wider focus on STEM and digital training, and importantly - re-training.

Secondly - A change in our mindset, policies and the technology and tools needed to allow your people to work from anywhere, anytime – or what we call ‘Talent Anywhere’.

And lastly – and the idea I want to challenge us with – is how we can increase the use of Dynamic Resourcing model.

Let’s focus for a moment on STEM and digital skills. I said earlier that Australia could need as many as 6.5 million additional digital workers by 2025.

To give you some context here – each year in Australia less than 350,000 students graduate from our 39 universities – TOTAL. Not from STEM or technology courses – from every course.

So, it’s clear that we can’t rely on the Higher Education sector alone to fill the skills gap.

In fact, the people employed in our businesses today are the best chance we have to fill the skills gap of tomorrow – so right now is the time to focus on re-skilling our people for the roles we’ll need in the future.

At Telstra we are reskilling in a number of ways. Our Award winning Future Ready program is available to all our employees, focusing on building 7 core capabilities that they will need now and into the future, we are reskilling our people for in demand roles like software engineering.

We’re also busy ensuring that we have the certifications, accreditations and trained individuals in the key technologies that we know that you need. With 1000’s of Telstra and Telstra Purple people accredited and certified on both AWS and Microsoft technology.

Our partnership with those two organisations alone also gives us access to an incredible global pipeline of tech.

The second lever is recognising that a ‘Talent Anywhere’ philosophy will give you access to a much broader talent pool across the country and even the world.

We know that the future of talent and work has changed forever thanks to the pandemic. And luckily, technology has enabled our people to participate at the highest levels of our organisations from anywhere.

At Telstra we’ve already shifted to a hybrid working model - with the adoption of agile practices across the company, and all our domestic roles being advertised as location agnostic we’re at the forefront of enabling hybrid working across this big country of ours.

And finally, the third lever - Dynamic Resourcing… and this may be a radical provocation for many of us.

A more sustainable model for our business and our people - needs us to come together to pool what is finite – people, & talent.

The desire to work on the most exciting projects will be what drives people to join organisations – and, while we will always want a core team, to develop our strategies and the intellectual property that differentiates us in the market, adding a significant proportion of our resourcing from the “gig economy” is one of the ways we can unlock the shared talent we all need.

We can see this model accelerating – with organisations such as Bugcrowd and Expert360 building platforms that enable their customers to access broader talent pools.

This means a significant shift in mindset – the traditional contingent labour process is still too heavy and slow for the world we now compete in.

I’m talking about having a pool of amazing people that one month could be working with us on a digital twin project and the next month could be working in one of your organisations.

Embracing a shared talent ecosystem would be incredibly powerful with significant commercial returns for organisations and the economy.

For organisations, 6-10 week hiring, and onboarding cycles could be reduced to days as gig-workers are already onboarded into your systems and tools, familiar with your work practices and importantly, pre-authenticated in your security framework.

For the Australian economy, the research we did with PWC last year indicated that we could unlock $90Bn of annual GDP by accelerating Australia’s digital transformation.

The Airspeeder story you saw in the film earlier, and you’ve hopefully seen in our space outside is a great example of this. Telstra, AWS and Airspeeder have come together, sharing talent, technology and resource to create the first electric flying racing car series, and what we all hope is the precursor to the future of transportation.

I believe that all the challenges we’ve all spoken about today can be overcome.

I believe that technology is the multiplying effect that can unlock Australia’s true potential - our potential to grow, to better serve our communities and the planet, and to further establish Australians as true innovators and leaders on the world stage.

But I believe that it will take us all coming together to unlock human capacity in a new way for us to realise that potential.

And that means thinking differently about how we partner, how we collaborate, how we solve, and importantly, how we share.

And if we can do all of that… to the victors go the spoils…

We’re Telstra. We already connect most of you… perhaps Telstra Purple can help you connect in different ways to reimagine a better future for your business and for Australia.

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