Rising to the digital challenge

Thursday, 01 July 2021


    What response is needed to sustain innovation and growth? As Australia accelerates its technology transformation, directors need to be purposeful in planning their digital strategy for the future.

    How well our businesses, governments and workforce keep pace with changes in technology and the digital frontier will define our nation’s future prosperity.

    That’s the message from the federal government’s new Digital Economy Strategy, which sets out a pathway for Australia to secure its future as a leading digital economy and society by 2030.

    It also lays down a challenge. “With other countries investing heavily in their digital futures, our actions over the next 10 years will determine whether we lead or fall behind our global competitors,” it says.

    And now that COVID-19 has accelerated our take-up of digital technology and our appetite for data — from telehealth and electronic documentation to online sales, cloud computing and remote working — the challenge for directors is securing pathways to sustain innovation and growth.

    That pace is set to continue. “Today, about 20 per cent of businesses’ technologies are in the cloud and we’re probably going to go to 80 per cent in a five-year period, which is a drastic increase of uptake,” says Omar Abbosh, Microsoft CVP Industry Solutions and a non-executive director of Zuora.

    Listen Now - Podcast: Episode One

    How do you go from surviving to thriving in a post-COVID-19 world? There are simple steps that every director and organisation can start with, Commonwealth Bank chairman Catherine Livingstone AO FAICD and CSIRO chair David Thodey AO FAICD tell host Alan Kohler in Directors On Digital.


    Strategic priorities

    The Digital Economy Strategy starts with building the foundations through investing in digital infrastructure, a skilled workforce, inclusion, digital trade agreements, cyber security and safety, and systems and regulation that encourage the adoption and creation of trusted technology. It includes building capability in emerging technologies and setting growth priorities.

    The federal government has identified four strategic priorities where it can partner with the private sector to drive digital growth, jobs and capability. These include lifting the digital capability of small to medium enterprises; supporting modern, globally competitive industry sectors in the likes of manufacturing, agriculture, mining and construction; building a dynamic and emerging tech sector; and delivering simple and secure digital government services.

    Customer first

    David Thodey AO FAICD, former CEO of Telstra and chair of CSIRO and listed tech companies Xero and Tyro, in Episode One of the new podcast series Directors on Digital, said that the issues may seem different for “legacy” businesses to those designed in the cloud for a virtualised world. “But their intent is still the same. It is still around great customer service, product innovation and driving the most efficient service delivery possible. So, if you look at a company like Xero, they build software, just completely different to the way we did at Telstra.”

    This requires boards and government to embed innovation as part of business as usual — and to have a clear purpose and understanding of where business is at with digital transformation. Without purpose there can be no strategy, and without strategy there can be no roadmap.

    This creates an opportunity for boards to step up and for directors and business owners to reflect. Where are you going to take the business? And how do directors provide the strategic clarity and encouragement needed to effect the change?

    Step change

    Commonwealth Bank of Australia chairman Catherine Livingstone AO FAICD says Australia now should leverage the greater awareness and reduced fear of digital ushered in by COVID-19. Just as electricity deployment drove rapid growth in the 1920s, after the economic shock of the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, she says pervasive digital technology must do the equivalent in the 2020s.

    The government could be a catalyst, given the breadth of its interface with the community, Livingstone told Directors on Digital.

    Where to start?

    A good starting point for enterprises is to check your firm’s level of technology maturity. Livingstone speaks to the value of NASA’s nine-step technology readiness level (TRL) framework, which can be divided into three zones. Zone one is about developing the idea or concept; the middle zone is taking that concept, proof of concept, prototyping, demonstration, and scaling up; the final zone is about commercialisation.

    “The value in the TRL scale is it becomes a vernacular that businesses, researchers, policymakers can use to understand exactly what we’re talking about,” says Livingstone.

    Further info


    Australia’s $315b opportunity identified that digitalisation of the Australian economy had the potential to create up to 250,000 new jobs by 2025.

    Research: AlphaBeta, Digital Innovation

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