Australia must change culture to embrace digital: Cisco

A good start: Australia excels in mobile broadband, ICT networking skills, says Cisco's Robert Pepper

Australia is outperforming other countries in several ICT areas, including networking technology skills and mobile broadband, according to Robert Pepper, Cisco vice president of global technology policy.

However, in an interview at Cisco Live in Melbourne, Pepper said that Australia severely lags when it comes to fixed broadband infrastructure.

Government bodies and other organisations here will need to change their cultures, disrupt themselves and embrace the digital world if they want to succeed in the future, he said.

When it comes to ICT, “Australia is among what we call the aspirational peers – the subset of countries that every country wants to be,” Pepper said.

While there has been loud conversation about a dearth of ICT skills, Australia actually has one of the smallest ICT talent gaps for networking technology in the world, he said.

The talent gap refers to the number of ICT jobs that cannot be filled because there are not enough people who have the skills to do the job. Also, the Australian talent gap growing much more slowly than many other countries, he said.

One reason that the talent gap is small is that Australia has a good immigration policy, he said: “Australia wants talented people to move here and recruits talented people to come.”

Australia also excels on mobile, with some of the most advanced 4G networks in the world, said Pepper.

“Telstra made some really important, big bet decisions for the company that became a bet for the country that actually the country is benefiting from.”

Mobile adoption and mobile data consumption in Australia is among the highest in the world, he noted.

The OECD recently ranked Australia as third in the world among developed countries for wireless broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, with about 115 per cent penetration.

However, while Australia is doing well on mobile, it lags behind other countries on fixed broadband.

At the end of June 2014, Australia was number 20 among 34 OECD countries on the total number of fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, with total penetration at just under 27 per cent.

Most of the Australian fixed connections, about 81 per cent, were DSL connections, while 15 per cent were cable and 3 per cent were fibre.

Pepper blamed the dated broadband infrastructure in part on uncertainty related to the National Broadband Network (NBN).

“For years, [the NBN] was happening and there was no investment in the existing copper network,” Pepper said.

“And then, the NBN stalled and then we had a political debate … The reality is, there has not been the kind of investment in the copper network that you’ve seen in the US and Europe and other countries.

“As a result, what was world-leading eight years ago has been static, and the world has passed [Australia] by.”

Pepper said he is technology agnostic and supports choosing the most efficient technology for each area.

“I’m a broadband fanatic, but I don’t care how I get it.”

Pepper said that changing organisational culture, particularly in the public sector, remains a big challenge to Australia embracing a digital world, he said.

“People don’t like change. They say they do, but they don’t.”

Organisations must adopt a “Silicon Valley culture” he said. This means “self-disruption with the recognition that if you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will.”

“There is an appetite for that in the private sector. The question is how do we then transform some of the government processes?” Pepper said.

Cultural change requires leadership, said Pepper. “If the leadership at the top says this is important to me, to us … yes, there is friction, but you get past that.”

It also requires taking risks, he said. “You try things out and if they don’t work, that’s OK. Move on to the next thing … If it succeeds, let’s scale it.”

Adam Bender attended Cisco Live as a guest of Cisco.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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