The great digital paradigm shift, and not for the first time in the history of business, means the future belongs to the nimble, the visionary and the innovative – and to Australian business, according to leading demographer and Adjunct Professor from Curtin University Business School Bernard Salt.
“I’m very positive about Australia’s future,” Salt says. “We are 24 million people with the resources of an entire continent, we should be a prosperous people for a hundred years. We simply need to be innovative and in fact create our own jobs of the future, and I think technology can actually deliver those new businesses, new occupations of the future.”
Networked and nimble
The jobs of tomorrow will be enabled by and dependent upon excellent networking infrastructure, according to Christopher Smith, director of Telstra’s Managed Network Services Practice. Networking, according to Smith, is a bit like our arteries, we all use it every day, but it’s so deeply embedded in the technology stack that we rarely think about it. Nonetheless Smith points out that well designed networks boost the capacity of business to seize emerging opportunities to provide workplace flexibility, increasing talent pools and address diversity issues, factors that have been shown to drive innovation, employee engagement and productivity.
More flexible workplaces and work practices, companies scaling up or down and moving in and out of markets and geographic locations, and the rise of the digital customer are just some of the factors “driving a dynamic network requirement” in business, Smith says.
Add to this the impact of the cloud and software collaboration tools and “dynamic” is truly the operative word. But if this sounds imposing, Smith only sees opportunity at a time when the network is becoming software driven and opened up to application developers to create value tailored to each enterprise.
“What we are seeing now is the network equivalent of what the enterprise software market went through,” Smith says. “We’re about to see a massive shift and acceleration in innovation in the network space, which means more agility and a greater ability to innovate for businesses.”
Business grows from data flows
A consequence of the proliferation of digital networks connecting businesses, supply chains, consumers and workplaces is the massive flow of data, which in turn has created new business opportunities. Having moved beyond the “internet of things”, networking powerhouse Cisco is now using the term “internet of everything” (IOE), to refer to the information that flows from the networked connection of people, data, processes, devices and applications.
Vice-president and chief technology officer for Cisco’s IOE Vertical Solution Team, Aglaia Kong, says the challenge for business leaders is to understand the disruptive impact – as well as the opportunities – that will emerge from IOE.
Not acting on the cascade of data flowing through and around businesses is no longer an option. “Business leaders need to be mindful of what is coming – if they don’t do something about it, their company will be displaced or will cease to exist,” Kong warns.
Old is new again
Manufacturing, an industry that is feeling the pressure of a global economy in realignment, could find that the combination of technology, such as 3D printing, and consumer data becomes a lifeline. By integrating their production to customer demand, manufacturers will be able to change from producing thousands of the same product to custom-building for each customer or customer segment.
“In this kind of environment, if you don’t leverage IOE data, then your business is going to be captured by your more innovative competitors,” Kong says.
Trucking meets technology
Chief executive and co-founder of Sydney-based digital marketplace Freight Exchange, Cate Hull, is an entrepreneur who has harnessed data to drive her innovative business. Freight Exchange collects data from long-haul freight companies’ trucks and connects shippers with carriers that have excess space in their trucks.
“Our model is very much about the sharing economy,” Hull says. “We fill empty trucks. With one in four or five semi-trailers driving on the road empty, we saw a big opportunity to use technology to share the whereabouts of empty capacity and fill that capacity, driving better efficiencies in the process.”
FreightExchange launched in April and plans to move into air freight later this year.
“I see that we could become a clearing house for freight,” Hull says. “What we want to do is create a single platform where you can move a container from Hangzhou in China through to Dubbo in NSW at the click of a button.”
Infrastructure enables innovation
Ultimately it’s the underlying network infrastructure that enables innovators such as Hull to take skills from one industry, and apply them to another and thus thrive in the constantly evolving digital economy.
“If you are flexible, if you are fluid, if you are agile, if you are social, if you are positive, you can take your skills and fit them into any industry, it’s all about attitude,” says Salt.
The interconnection of constant data streams and emerging markets is what Salt believes will create an endless source of opportunities, particularly for those who are “up for” the emerging challenges.
“What is going to be the new mining boom of the future? I say it’s technology,” Salt enthuses. “Technology, business creativity and entrepreneurialism, that’s where our prosperity and future lies.”