Tag Archives: Australian thought leaders

cognitive technology

Disruptive technology is more than just apps

Businesses frequently take a relatively simple view of digital disruption. In fact, it’s often not the applications that are disruptive, but the technologies and networks that power them. Rather than focusing on building the next killer app, in seeking disruptive technology, scientists and business leaders should work together and invest in the underlying technologies that change the fundamental science of how their industries operate.

Digital disruption often occurs behind the scenes, improving or streamlining the processes which define how well (or how badly) businesses and industries perform.

Apps act as simply one channel for people – whether consumers or employees – to access this disruptive technology. An “app-centric” view of disruption risks overlooking more effective ways to not only digitally transform industry practices, but also make these transformations accessible to those whom they benefit.

IoT’s disruptive technology impact

Take the Internet of Things, for example. The natural resources sector has already begun to adopt sensors, data analytics, and automation across all manner of operations, from drilling to transport and even maintenance of mining infrastructure. This disruptive technology has even percolated into not apps, but caps.

Mining3, an industry consortium made up of the CSIRO, several universities, and major mining firms, has developed a cap which monitors truck drivers’ brainwaves to detect fatigue before its deadly consequences set in.

More and more, disruptive technology comes from partnerships just like Mining3, forged between researchers and businesspeople who both seek to challenge what the status quo can deliver.

Researchers possess unique knowledge and critical faculties for tackling major industry or socio-economic issues; businesses can provide the resources, both technological and monetary, to make solutions viable on a large scale. When both parties’ goals align well, these partnerships can ensure digital disruption goes beyond the relatively trivial domain of the next social media app to catch the consumers’ fancy.

Play to your strengths

To be effective, these disruptive partnerships must play to both researchers’ and businesses’ strengths. Watson is IBM’s cognitive computing platform and a product of a collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. It can deliver surprising insights and strategic advice in almost any field – as long as it has enough data and human guidance to learn from.

When seeking to develop better treatments for cancer, doctors and research analysts, Memorial Hospital provided both: thousands of hours of training, as well as more than 12 million pages of text from more than 290 medical journals.

The more IBM Watson learns from Memorial Hospital’s expert oncologists, the more effectively Watson can help doctors spot and treat cancers, disrupting traditional methods of diagnosis and care in a way that could save countless lives. Perhaps most importantly, however, these insights and capabilities are accessible to any doctor in any licensed hospital – via a simple-to-use iPad app.

As researchers and innovators, we should focus on technologies which disrupt the fundamentals of industry and society – and an app is just the tip of the iceberg in what’s possible in this Cognitive Era.

Dr Joanna Batstone

Chief Technology Officer, IBM Australia 

Vice President and Lab Director, IBM Research

Read next: Dr Joanna Batstone pinpoints what makes emerging technology so disruptive, and explains why we need to become more ambitious in our disruptive efforts. 

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on digital disruptors using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

customer-led disruption

Remaining relevant in the digital age

Novelist William Gibson is credited with saying “the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed”. 

This in a nutshell epitomises the challenge for mature businesses and industries. 

Their possible futures are being played out by the emerging digital versions of their existing selves. Smaller, more nimble competitors built on the infrastructure of tomorrow’s enterprises are using new tools and methodologies to disrupt established players. And they are able to do so unencumbered by legacy systems and processes of larger players.

For many in established businesses it is not a case of if but when in terms of the threat of digital disruption. But the phrase “digital disruption” hides a subtle nuance when discussing disruption in the context of business: disruption is actually a human story, not a tech one. 

Digital services and enterprises on their own do not disrupt established businesses. Rather digital services, technologies and business models enable your customers to disrupt you.

Take for example the rise of marketplace style businesses such as Uber and their impact on the incumbent taxi services. The simple fact of Uber’s existence did not in itself disrupt the taxi industry. But by offering a better customer experience, a more cost effective service and ease of use to the passenger, customer-led disruption was enabled.

If you were to look at the legacy business model for a taxi company in Australia, it focuses on the regulator, the operator and licence holder, and the driver – rarely does the passenger feature. Today, passengers can actively compare their taxi journey experience with that of the Uber model – and customers are voting with their digital wallets.

The key for incumbent large corporations to stay relevant is customer focus. This is not a new mantra – most of my working career has been spent in or working with organisations trying to achieve customer centricity.  What has changed in the last 10–15 years is the realisation that terms such as “customer ownership” are by and large meaningless. Customers are not owned. They are earned and need to be maintained. 

To do this requires an increasing emphasis on data to better understand customers and their needs. It means the use of customer journey mapping tools alongside this data to really explore the customer experience at every single touch point. It means the analysis of ethnographic studies to see how customers use products and services.

Most importantly, organisations need to bring the customer into every stage of the product development process. Old world, business case-driven product development processes need to be replaced with customer data and hypothesis-driven experiments. The product development process needs to include customer testing at every stage, from idea to prototype to final product. And this process needs to allow for customer feedback and for data to drive decision making and change along the journey.

Consumers’ experiences, and hence their expectations, are increasingly being shaped by the proximity, intimacy and aesthetic provided by their day to day interactions with a range of products and services being delivered digitally. Whether it is the beautiful simplicity of the Google search bar, the elegance of Apple design or the magic of Disneyland – the benchmark on customer experience – attraction and retention is being set globally. As a result, the customer experience needs to be judged not just against best in class for a particular industry or product segment, but against best in class – full stop.

Market leaders today who survive well into the future will look across industries in their response to digital disruption and adapt and change to the new, unevenly distributed future.

James Mabbott

KPMG partner and Head of KPMG Innovate

Read next: PwC’s Technology Innovation Leader, Dr Crighton Nichols, describes the tools that allow forward-thinking organisations to learn faster than their competitors. 

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on digital disruptors using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

machine learning

New frontiers in digital disruption

The building blocks of digital technology consists of information theory (which codifies content into binary 0/1 format) and transistors (essentially on/off switches). They were both invented during the hey-day of American research and scientific development company Bell Labs in the decade following WWII. Subsequently, each new and improved wave of digitisation has caused upheaval as it visits particular markets and occupations. However, from the perspective of the whole production and consumption system, progress has been relatively slow and staggered compared to what we are likely to see in the future.

In the 1950s, computers at even the most advanced tech locations in the US comprised two-storey buildings and only performed highly specialised and limited functions. It was not until the 1980s – when smaller mainframes became cheap and fast enough to replace routine operations – that digital technology effectively eliminated the labour market for clerical workers.

Automation, robots and digitally guided technologies started making inroads into manufacturing around this time. Although satellites have been used since the 1960s to provide market intelligence for producers (giving US farmers advice on what and how many crops their competitors were growing, for example), it took until the 2010s for satellite-aided location services to become ubiquitous and part of consumers’ daily lives.

More and more, digital disruption is being triggered by innovative software, such as travel search engines and language translation services, rather than hardware. Since software can be shifted into large-scale production much faster than hardware, this accelerates the pace of disruption.

One form of software that is playing an increasingly important role is a form of artificial intelligence called ‘machine learning’. Computers are governed by algorithms comprised of many rules that dictate “if X, then do Y”. These rules are usually set by the programmer(s) that wrote the algorithm code. But things are different in the case of machine learning algorithms. Such an algorithm can ‘learn’ from data by altering its own parameters, progressively improving its ability to determine patterns or predict future trends in the data (analogous to the way our brains learn from past experience).

For example, machine learning algorithms have been used for the past two decades in spam filters. When we label emails as spam, we are generating a labelled dataset that can be used to train a machine learning algorithm to recognise the properties of emails that are usually associated with spam. The trained algorithm can then remove such emails automatically.

Machine learning has even begun transforming the oldest of professions, such as medicine and the law, hitherto considered the preserve of nuanced interpretation and experiential knowhow. Law has long resisted automation from computers and digital analytics, in part because of the non-routine nature of contracts and litigation. However, this is now changing as machine learning methods have partially automated tasks by detecting patterns and inferring rules from data.

eDiscovery is one such digital tool used to assist lawyers’ search through emails and piles of office documents to find evidence needed to clinch a case (looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack). Machine learning can disrupt the eDiscovery process by efficiently bringing together similar documents based on their contents and metadata. Brainspace provides lawyers an eDiscovery tool that increases the efficiency and accuracy of finding information pertinent to a court case. Alternatively, ROSS, a machine learning law tool, can provide answers to legal research questions, posed using natural language, and can monitor recent legal developments that are relevant to a particular case.

In medicine, machine learning algorithms are increasingly being used to help perform radiological diagnoses. They can be trained to classify medical scans as normal or diseased, or to quantify the size of diseased areas. In the area of brain cancer, Microsoft’s InnerEye research project has been investigating the use of an image analysis tool to measure the size of brain tumours.

As these machine learning methods save lawyers’ and medicos’ time, we will see their labour productivity rise along with a major shift in content of their work, and perhaps a reduction in the demand for lawyers and medicos. Handled sensibly by governments, this reduced demand will release workers for other occupations in for example, the creative, scientific and caring industries.

Professor Beth Webster

Pro Vice-Chancellor of Swinburne University (Research Policy and Impact) and Director, Centre for Transformative Innovation

Co-authored by:

machine learning

Dr Stephen Petrie, Data Scientist, Centre for Transformative Innovation 

machine learning

Mitchell Adams, Research Centre Manager, Centre for Transformative Innovation

Read next: Dr Bronwyn Evans, CEO of Standards Australia, traces the rise of blockchain technology and defines the framework needed to build trust in blockchain systems. 

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on digital disruptors using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.


Disruptors in the digital age and how to be one

What does it take to be a disruptor? Over the last three decades there has been a surge in the number of smaller and nimbler organisations that have successfully unseated larger, more established organisations (including government backed institutions) to offer alternative solutions, features, products, commercial models or entire value chains.

We have all heard the names, but worth repeating (in no particular order) are companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Tesla, Mahindra, Apple, Xiaomi, IBM, Freelancer, Atlassian, Illumina, Salesforce, Philips, Cochlear, Bristol-Myers Squibb (and the list goes on). All are considered disruptors in their own right because they:

  • Offer new innovative solutions to solve existing unmet needs or problems that have traditionally been considered “too hard to solve” or “not worth solving”. For example, Cochlear (Nucleus Group) developed and commercialised the world’s first multi-channel Cochlear implant and in the process restored hearing to over 400,000 people. Bristol-Myers Squibb developed a drug to combat skin and lung cancer.
  • Offer a different, more compelling and/or commercially attractive alternatives to an existing solution. Xiaomi is beating Apple at its own game by offering technically comparable products at a lower price point, and is also well positioned to sell services directly to their customers or to Salesforce – beating Oracle in the CRM game.
  • Offer new solutions by creating the need (or better articulating the need) and providing engaging and addictive solutions to attract a whole new market. Google, Facebook, Uber and Spotify have all created completely new markets by offering solutions to meet the need for real-time mobile access to information or services, 24/7 connectivity with a social network and cost-effective solutions.

While all three categories above lead to disruption, the last two in particular have been happening more quickly and recently (over the last decade) and are typically attributed to  digital disruption. So then who can lay claim to being a digital disruptor? And is digital disruption a myth or reality?


To help understand this let’s start with an attempt at a definition. For me, digital disruption offers a fundamentally better alternative to the present approach for solving a customer problem; in a cheaper, quicker, more convenient and more efficient manner; with technology and data playing key enabling roles to encourage customer participation.

It is not evolutionary change, but radical in the way it changes businesses, markets and societies.

All industries are prone to digital disruption – what differs is the timescale and impact. Some industries, such as music, entertainment and travel, have been impacted overnight.

Others change over a longer period of time, such as transport and healthcare. So if you’re looking to add ‘disruptor’ to your job skills, here are some of the key steps that you may want to consider before proceeding much further.

5 key steps for becoming a disruptor

  1. Get a connected, easy-to-use technology platform – you don’t need to build the next Facebook or Slack, but it sure helps if you have one that customers want to use willingly and can connect seamlessly across their journey of needs.

  2. Use a data processing and insights engine – I was tempted to use big data – but data doesn’t have to be big in order to derive meaningful insights.

  3. Keep the customer at the centre – the customer is a willing, active and vocal participant in the solution, which is designed around them.

  4. Ensure products and services are blended together – this is an area where many organisations falter – recognising when and how to offer products, services or a blended mashup of the two to meet customer needs.

  5. Use business and commercial models that make sense – the final hurdle for most larger companies looking to leverage digital disruption is that they focus on grabbing a bigger piece of the pie to offset their “disruption investment”, or too often pass on the cost to others down the value chain.

Having worked for businesses of different sizes, shapes and scale across the digital disruption spectrum, I have been fortunate enough to observe and actively influence the capacity of an individual, team, business unit or organisation to leverage digital disruption.

How do we leverage digital disruption?

By recognising, managing, mastering and exploiting nine key factors at play.

The following questions are designed to help you better understand your environment in order to be a positive disruptor, and manage the risks and issues it invariably creates.

Let’s start with the external factors

1. Your stakeholders and/or customers – Do you know who they are and are they happy with their current relationship with you; what relationship do they aspire with you; do you/they value that relationship; are you aware of their critical needs; do you give them opportunities to voice their opinions; do you act/respond based on their opinion?

2. Your offering – Is it meeting the critical needs of your stakeholders and customers; is it obvious why your offering makes sense; is it superior to other offerings; is it important/good enough to generate loyalty and advocacy; are the benefits visible and shareable; does it evolve with the customer needs?

3. Business and commercial model – How many intermediaries exist between you and the stakeholder/customer; who creates the most value; who are the primary beneficiaries in this business model; are there commercial incentives for all the players; is the commercial model sustainable?

4. Market Players & Competitors – Who are the main market players; who are the key competitors; how differentiated are their offerings to yours; who are the likely disruptors?

Now let’s investigate the internal factors

5. Clearly articulated sense of purpose (sometimes referred to as vision) – Is the statement of purpose clear; what can you do to contribute to this; is there universal buy-in on this sense of purpose; does it pass the reality test; is there a clear mandate for change?

6. Culture of innovation and experimentation – Is innovation seen as a niche role; how easy is it to experiment on yourselves/stakeholders/customers; do the people, processes and systems support innovation; speed and experimentation; how far can you take an idea before it gets stopped/scrutinised; how high is the risk appetite to disrupt yourselves?

7. Collaboration with partners and experts – Is it easy to collaborate; are there incentives for collaboration; do you have well identified customer champions; do the people, processes and systems support collaboration; do you have access to experts from similar/different industries?

8. Resources and Experience – Do you recruit from outside your industry; do you have a good mix of digital natives and “status quo” folks; is digital seen as a new and exciting capability or as an integral part of your business; is it hard to get funding, resources or sponsorship for new initiatives? 

9. Platform and Data – Have you created a platform for your offerings; is it easy to use; can you plug-in services from other providers; do you have an active plan to manage the data and derive insights from it?

Once you answer these questions you are on your way to joining the ranks of a digital disruptor transforming the marketplace. The often used mantra in the modern business lexicon is “Change is the only constant”. Digital disruption is no exception as it drives and demands significant changes to fundamental assumptions, the status quo, customer expectations, competition, technology, organisational design, complacency and the value chain. In doing so, it creates a new set of risks such as:

  • the potential to disrupt yourself;
  • competition from smaller and more agile players;
  • a whole new level of scrutiny around privacy, security and legal issues;
  • the ability to manage and protect Intellectual Property; 
  • creating inertia driven by uncertainty.

But if you can overcome them the opportunities are significant:

  • opening up new models for value creation;
  • reduce the cost/time for success (or failure);
  • building direct relationship with customers (and build loyalty);
  • being able to compete in a global economy regardless of location;
  • attracting and motivating a high calibre team.


In summary, digital disruption is real. A disruptor is no doubt emerging near you and your industry and will result in significant changes to how you interact with your customers and stakeholders.

How can you be a disruptor?

  • Know and build a meaningful relationship with your customer;
  • Accept the blurred lines between product and service;
  • Adopt an ecosystem approach to delivering products and services;
  • Taking a long-term view of success with short term milestones;
  • Be willing to make mistakes and change course;
  • Be prepared to partner and make clear and timely decisions;
  • Build an agile, multi-disciplinary team capable of moving fast;
  • Use data to deliver insights and inform decisions but don’t be a “data-slave”;
  • Stay authentic and relevant in an increasing connected and fragmented world.

The next question is whether or not businesses of today will choose to adapt to this new world or die a slow death by a thousand digital cuts. 

Vishy Narayanan 

Global Digital Transformation Executive


Read next: Swinburne University’s Beth Webster, Mitchell Adams and Stephen Petrie track the impact of digital disruption on industries that were once considered impervious to technological takeover.

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on digital disruptors using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

blockchain disruption

Blockchain – dark tech or economic win?

Clayton Christensen is credited with coining the term “disruptive technology” in his 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.

Christensen writes: “disruptive technologies bring to a market a very different value proposition than had been available previously”.

Some of the best-known cases of disruptive technology include the displacement of offset printing by digital printers and stock exchanges being replaced by electronic communication networks.

In the future, blockchain disruption is set to impact multiple sectors in the economy, such as currency transactions, stock exchanges and even precious stone transactions.

The practical impact of blockchain is that once a transaction has been initiated, the transaction record is simultaneously available to all parties and historical data cannot be altered without broad agreement from the network. This removes the costly and time consuming process of reconciling transactions or other data externally, giving blockchain the potential to make interactions more efficient, less expensive and safer.

Blockchain disruption started coming into people’s consciousness when Blockchain appeared as the underlying platform supporting the crypto-currency Bitcoin, which was somehow implicated in transactions in the shadow world – the “dark web”.

However, like many of the examples in Christensen’s book, it is when innovations transcend their early applications that the real power is obvious. And that is already starting to occur. In late October this year, the Australian Financial Review reported that a shipment of 88 bales of cotton from the US represented “the first time that two independent banks have used a combination of blockchain, smart contracts and the internet of things to facilitate a trade transaction”.

For blockchain to continue to demonstrate its legitimacy in the world beyond the shadows there must be trust and confidence in the system. These will come once market-based and technical challenges are overcome, and include having:

  • a system of international standards that are compatible with regulations and controls in financial systems;
  • clear guidelines for building blockchain applications;
  • relevant privacy and security measures;
  • interoperability between different blockchains to facilitate competition and support innovation.

The need for standardisation in the use of blockchain technology, and international standards in particular, has been recognised by several Australian stakeholders, including the Treasury, the Department of Industry Innovation and Science, the Council of Financial Regulators, Fintech Australia and the ASX. In collaboration with Standards Australia, Australian stakeholders will play a leading role in the development of international standards through the International Standards Organisation (ISO).

The standards to be developed will cover:

  • terminology;
  • process and method;
  • privacy;
  • cybersecurity;
  • interoperability.

In September 2016, ISO approved the establishment of a new technical committee for blockchain – ISO/TC 307 Blockchain and electronic distributed ledger technologies – that will be Chaired by an Australian expert with Standards Australia taking the secretariat. Already 30 other countries have indicated their interest including the UK, US, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Finland and Singapore.

I believe that leading the ISO blockchain committee will place Australia in the perfect position to help inform, shape and influence the future direction of international standards to support the rollout and deployment of blockchain technology in this era of blockchain disruption.

Dr Bronwyn Evans

CEO, Standards Australia

Chair, Industry Growth Centre for Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals

Read next: Sanjay Mazumdar, CEO of the Data to Decisions CRC, takes a look at what the national security sector can learn from Big Data disruption.

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on digital disruptors using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

national security data

Disrupting terrorism and crime

When people think about digital disruption they usually think of the peer-to-peer accommodation network AirBnB, or the inexpensive ride-sharing app Uber. These businesses have redefined their respective markets – with big data analytics1 underpinning their success.

Despite the fear that disruptive tech will bring with it new threats to security, Australia’s national security has much to benefit from the type of disruption brought about by big data – particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism and crime.

The national security sector faces the most imminent and complex big data challenges. This is because a powerful weapon of today’s terrorist or criminal is their ability to hide in data. They can plan and coordinate an attack or crime with impunity.

The ability for criminals to “hide in data” means that national security agencies are often faced with the daunting task of finding the “needle in the haystack” – where the haystack is growing at a phenomenal rate. In fact, people often comment that national security data analysts are “drowning in data, but starving for information”.

Big data analysts often need to find connections in vast, disparate volumes of data, where connections are imperceptible to humans but can be discovered using smart analytics and machine enablement.

The challenge is made greater by the wide variety of data sources (e.g. texts, voices, images, videos), the ever-increasing size and scale of the data collected, and the organisational and legislative silos impacting data agencies.

The effect of big data means that national security data analysts often spend most of their time collecting data, formatting it for analysis and generating reports, and less of their time doing the analysis. This is referred to as the “bathtub curve”.

The application of big data analytics is aimed at “inverting the bathtub”, which means automating the collection and processing of data to form intelligence. The generation of intelligence reports can also be automated via digital technologies, which enables analysts to spend more time analysing intelligence and making decisions.

The D2D CRC is developing applications to maximise the benefits that Australia’s national security sector can extract from Big Data. They are helping agencies generate timely and accurate intelligence as a powerful weapon against national security threats.

By addressing their big data challenges and applying high-performance analytics, the D2D CRC hopes it can support agencies in predicting threats rather than reacting to catastrophic aftermath. 

Sanjay Mazumdar

CEO, Data to Decisions CRC

Read next: Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples, reveals the major flaw in traditional government approaches to disruption. 

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on digital disruptors using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

1 Big data is a term for any collection of data sets so large and complex they becomes difficult to store, process and analyse using current technologies. Big data analytics is the process of examining these data sets to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, trends and other useful business information. 

autonomous vehicles

Driverless cars disrupting industries and lifestyle

On a recent visit to the USA, I came across several professors and entrepreneurs who held the view that autonomous vehicles would be “an invention with greater significance than the original invention of the automobile”.  

Seeing many of the world’s earliest automobiles in person, at the enlightening Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, I saw how their design was derived from either a bicycle dispensing with the rider, or a buggy dispensing with the horse.

Autonomous vehicles can be a lot more than just dispensing with the driver. They provide an opportunity for radical rethinking of design and usage.

Massive changes are set to occur in the automobile industry, with many people already choosing to buy rides instead of cars. The continuation of this trend will see today’s car manufacturers and dealerships, rental car companies, taxi companies, ride-sharing companies, bus companies, pickup and delivery services, intercity transportation entities and other transportation services morph into fresh entities with new business models.

Rides will be significantly cheaper than today’s taxis and Ubers, because the major cost – the driver – will be eliminated. For many, it may be financially unattractive to own a car.

Significant lifestyle changes will also be possible. Commuting will no longer be about driving, but focused instead upon working, studying, socialising, entertaining, sleeping, dining and business meetings. Perhaps some rides will be free, funded by face-to-face selling and marketing.  

Long distance commuting will have less of a lifestyle impact, but rural and regional transportation will become more integrated. Travelling between meetings will be quicker and more efficient. The elderly and disabled will be more mobile, with no fears of driving on busy roads and no parking problems.

Think about your current daily activities and how driverless cars will change them! You’ll choose what type of car you need, when you need it, and you’ll travel efficiently. New patterns of life, leisure, work and commuting will emerge. 

With major growth predicted in our cities over the next few decades, pollution-free autonomous vehicles will be a relief in terms of congestion and amenity.

What happens in our cities when all cars become driverless? Roads will carry up to 3-6 times more traffic. Tailgating may be encouraged for less drag, heightened fuel efficiency and maximum utilisation of road real estate. Speed limits will increase, as will lane channelling during peak hours. Cars will no longer need to park on streets meaning defacto clearways, 24/7.  Extra lanes could be added to freeways by making existing lanes narrower. Traffic lights may become superfluous. Cars will reroute depending upon congestion.

Most importantly, roads will be safer, helping to eliminate most of the 34,000 accidents in Australia today at an annual health cost of $16 billion. There will be no guardrails needed if autonomous vehicles are accident free. No acoustic barriers required if all cars are electric. No more driving offences, meaning no fines, no points, fewer police. Drink and drug driving will be eliminated, as will driver distraction from mobile phones. If autonomous cars can see and sense better than humans, and drive without distraction, then pedestrians may be safer as well.

If every car is driverless, we can totally rethink our infrastructure. But the transition won’t come without challenges. How will older cars, driver assisted and driverless cars all coexist in the short to medium term? Will older cars have their own lanes, roads, circuit tracks or specific hours of use? Will they be tolled more to discourage people from driving cars?

For the evolution to autonomous vehicles, digital technology and disruption processes have been converging, resulting in precision GPS, 3D mapping, odometry, deep learning, computer vision, ultrasonic sensors, LiDAR, radar, driver assist options, smartphones, ride sharing and much more new tech. 

The driverless car transition will take several decades with a step-by-step approach. Australia has the opportunity to become a global leader in several fields including design, technology, infrastructure, specialist systems and fitout. There are vast opportunities for innovation and technology for associated spin-off and support industries.

Hollywood’s driverless cars such Herbie (‘The Love Bug’ in 1969) and K.I.T.T. (David Hasselhoff’s ‘Knight Rider’ in 1980) no longer seem like far-fetched dreams. Soon we can turn these dreams into reality for new lifestyles, improved amenity and new industries for Australia.

Simon Maxwell

Managing Director, Information Gateways

Read next: Heather Catchpole, Managing Director of Refraction Media, explains why digital disruption will create your next career.

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on digital disruptors using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

the cloud

The cloud: understanding opportunities

This is an edited transcript of a speech titled, ‘The cloud: understanding opportunities and challenges’, which was delivered by Dr Balan-Vnuk to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in May 2016.

The conversation I’d like to have with you is around, “What is the cloud?” – but more importantly, “What is the potential of the cloud to power your business, and what innovation is available to you?”

I’d like to take you back about 150 years, to the invention of the steam locomotive. You can imagine that back in the 1860s people were used to horse drawn carriages – it was nice and quiet, and things moved at a certain pace. And then all of a sudden you had these upstarts with brand new technology that was quite frankly loud, scary and sometimes exploded.

People didn’t understand this new technology – they didn’t understand how steam worked – and so they were incredibly scared and incredibly nervous.

I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the Red Flag Act that was passed in 1865. The most intriguing aspect of that Act was the fact that someone had to walk 60 yards in front of a locomotive with a red flag to warn everyone that it was coming.

I think sometimes we might be a little bit like those folks who saw the first steam locomotive when we come across the cloud. What is it? We don’t understand it. Is it scary? How will it help me?

Embracing a safer future

If we fast forward about 150 years, we see these beautiful new driverless cars that, quite frankly, we would like to drive in. And the reason I think driverless cars are so incredibly important is because the car will be able to brake and react faster than any one of us in the room can.

How does that work? Through hundreds of sensors placed on the car – the tyres, the body of it – testing what surface that car is driving on? Is it bitumen, gravel, or sand? Is it wet, dry, or is there an oil slick? What objects are around that car? Are they stationary, are they moving? Are they moving towards the vehicle? It will react as it needs to in order to keep us safe.

But not only that. This data is also being sent up to the cloud. It’s being aggregated, analysed, dissected and the learnings are being sent back to every single other driverless car so that everyone can benefit from the same learnings to be safe.

My two girls are eight and six, and I’m pretty sure they’ll still get their driver’s licence. Not long after that we’ll probably be driving for fun, taking the car out for a spin, because these cars will actually keep us safer and get us places we need to go in a much more effective manner.

But not everyone has the luxury of having a Tesla, or a beautiful driverless car, for that matter.

Building solutions for those who can’t

I’d like to take you to somewhere very different, to a woman in a Sudanese refugee camp carrying a very heavy load of sticks, who is quite obviously pregnant. Unfortunately this is a scene we’d see in many parts around the world, including Australia. People who have no access to education, to healthcare, to sanitised water; they are at a real disadvantage, and their lives could be at risk.

Two medical students came across some really important information. Maternal anaemia accounts for 20% of maternal deaths globally. And that, in stark figures, is around 115,000 women every year dying from what is actually a preventable disease or condition.

These two students didn’t stop there. Of course the most reliable way to test, “Have I got anaemia?” is through a blood test. But if you can’t do that, the colour of the inside of your eyelid will apparently give a pretty good indication as to whether or not you might be anaemic.

And so these two students – not fazed by the question of, “How do I access technology?” – built a solution on the cloud. In fact, they built a selfie app.

They built an app where you hold on to your eyelid and, with the right lighting conditions, you take a photo of the inside of your eyelid. It gets sent up to the cloud, analysed, aggregated, and then the results come back to you and tell you the probability of you being anaemic.

Now, imagine you’re up in the Coober Pedy, APY lands, you’re pregnant, your nearest doctor is a few hundred kilometres away. You’d want to be able to tell pretty quickly if you’re anaemic and you need some medical assistance.

So these two students from Melbourne won Microsoft’s global Imagine Cup Competition, which is about young people solving solutions of the world using technology. They spent time with Bill Gates and Satya Nadella and they’re well on their way to commercialising that application.

This is the true power of the cloud. It’s the democratisation of technology.

You don’t have to be a BHP employee or an FBI agent or a NASA whiz to access really complex sophisticated technology. You can now access the bits you need to solve the problems that you’re interested in solving.

Blurring the lines between the digital and the physical realms

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is incredibly topical. I would direct you to read an article by Klaus Schwab, who’s one of the co-founders of the World Economic Forum. Schwab really defines the fourth industrial revolution as this blurring between the digital and the physical spheres.

I’m not wearing one, but has someone got a Fitbit on? Or Garmin, a Health Band? We’re using these devices now; it’s testing our heart rate, whether we slept well, whether we’re getting enough exercise. If it’s not already connected to health insurance providers, it’s in progress. Maybe they’ll give me a rebate because I exercise every day.

All of this information about our physical condition is now being sent up to the cloud so we can learn from it. But there are some other really fundamental changes that are happening in this period.

Reaching a market value of $1 billion

It used to take a company around 20 years to reach $1 billion in market valuation. Think about Snapchat and Airbnb; it took them two to three years respectively to reach $1 billion dollars’ worth of valuation.

I can promise you they didn’t do it by signing up and by building on-premises infrastructure. They leveraged the power of the cloud to build a truly global innovative solution that solves major challenges.

Let’s refer to a pyramid, a model you’re all familiar with: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s from humanistic psychology and really saying, look, for us to evolve as people, as humans, we need to get the basics right. The basics are food and shelter. Then once I’ve got that I feel secure, I’ve got a safe place to be. Then I have friends, family, I have intimacy in my life. At that point I’m confident, I’ve got self-esteem, people respect me. And at that point I can really realise my own full potential.

So I’d like to make a comparison to that model, as a framework for thinking about what the cloud can deliver for you and your organisation.

Recognising what the cloud can deliver for your organisation

The very first layer (and this is not discounting the fact that many organisations have on-premises infrastructure, and it’s likely that’s going to have to stay. You’ve got mainframes, there is old legacy technology that needs to stay where it is, and that’s fine. But there are certainly new ways to take advantage of what the cloud is doing.)

The first layer, which is Infrastructure as a Service, we kind of like to call the plumbing. That’s the servers, it’s making sure you’ve got geo-redundancy, you’ve got the patching in place; that the system and the environment itself is healthy and operating successfully.

For many people this is the first step; they’re taking the infrastructure they’ve got on-premises or with a hosting provider and they’re moving it to a cloud that’s global and scalable. But it doesn’t stop there.

The next one is Platform as a Service. One of the Chief Information Officers I work with in the South Australian government said to me, “Look, I’ve got a great information technology (IT) team – fabulous. But they’re busy running IT. I want them to deliver business value. I don’t want them patching servers. I want them working on the business applications that deliver value to our internal stakeholders and to our citizens and our customers”.

So Platform as a Service is really saying, “Someone else takes care of all of the plumbing. I just need it to work, and I build my intellectual property (IP) and my value on top of that”.

Now, getting to Software as a Service, who’s using Twitter, LinkedIn, Hotmail, Gmail? Everyone. That software is a service. It’s there. You sign in, you log in, you use it for what you need to and then you sign out again.

And now this is a really interesting point. If you think about the two medical students, their product is called Eyenaemia. That is Software as a Service. They can make that globally available to anyone and they can earn some money from it.

Equally established businesses now would consume Software as a Service for a customer relationship management solution, or for a productivity and collaboration platform. But equally you can develop services that you can sell and thus create a new business model for your organisation.

Building value from a template

Now, where I think it gets really exciting, is when we start talking about things like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). What’s really important about all these things? This is about the commoditisation of data science.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need data scientists. We desperately need more data scientists. But what we then need these people to do is to build value on top of a template.

Why start from scratch if you need to build a fraud detection system? Take a template that exists and customise it with your domain knowledge and expertise, and tailor that for your internal organisation.

Your time to value is incredibly fast, because you’re not starting from scratch. All of the grunt work has been done. You tailor and customise.

There’s an amazing amount of data we’re getting; data could be seen as the new oil in terms of an unlimited resource. It’s how we harness it, and how we use it to glean insights that we’d otherwise have no idea even exist.

Hailing the democratisation of technology

And the part I guess I get most excited about is artificial intelligence. This is where you start to see really interesting things such as conversation as a platform. What does that mean?

Say I’ve got a claim; I don’t want to get on the phone to talk through it because I know I’m going to be on hold for about an hour or two or three. Instead I go to the company’s website. There’s a little bot there that says “chat”. I start to have a conversation.

That’s not a person sitting there. That’s artificial intelligence learning what the intent is behind the questions that people are posing, and responding and trying to probe to give me the information that I need in response. We’re going to see more and more of this, and there are some amazing new APIs and ways of testing and experimenting.

This is true democratisation of technology. You don’t need to be a big player to access this technology and build the billion-dollar data centres. Anyone, students, start-ups, existing businesses, everyone can test this and try it out and see how it works.

So hopefully that gives you a framework of how we see the evolution and the growth of the cloud, and I’m sure there will be more layers above that, which we haven’t even invented yet.

Experimenting within your organisation

If we boil it down to real essentials, the business leader is there to grow profit for the organisation, to retain and grow shareholder value. If you’re a government agency, it’s about delivering effective and efficient customer and citizen services.

How do you do that? With the speed of change that we’re in at the moment, you need to really be very proactive and agile in grasping the opportunities the cloud presents to you.

I’d like to share an example of how some organisations are creating that petri dish of experimentation within their organisation.

I think many of you would know Zara, the fashion house. Their manufacturing line runs at 75% capacity. And you might say, “Well, that’s corporate suicide. Why only run at 75%?”

There’s method behind their madness. When I go into their store, there are video cameras tracking what I’m doing. They’re watching what I look at. They’re watching what clothes I take off the hanger and what clothes I put back. When I walk into the change rooms, what clothes do I choose not to buy?

And you know what? The staff are trained to ask me, and I say, “Well, I didn’t like the jacket, the way the lapel sat, the colour wasn’t quite right”. And they will go back and actually redevelop and redesign their clothes on a four weekly cycle so that they’re much more closely attuned to what their customers want.

In this way, 75% capacity is perfect, because it gives them room and flexibility to be agile and to meet the needs of the customers that they want.

Remembering the value of people

What about our people? It’s challenging in a very, very fast moving time. Our lives, personal and professional, are blurring incredibly. I don’t know how many of you check your phone in the morning for email, check it late at night for email, and maybe in the day you’re doing something personal. Our lives are really blending together.

And so how do we help our people make sure that they don’t get lost in this cacophony? Some of our colleagues out there in the IT space are quite nervous because in reality this means a ton of change for the way that they operate and the way they deliver services and value back to the business.

So I would like to do a very shameless plug for one of our start-ups in Adelaide called Teamgage. They work with us through the Microsoft Innovation Centre.

The team was founded by some people who worked in some incredibly toxic teams. And it was a miserable work environment. And we all know the story: people join companies and they leave managers.

Their premise was, “Well, hang on. Surely if the manager knew or the team leader knew how toxic the environment was, they could have done something about it”.

So they’ve created this amazing 20 second survey. And it truly only takes 20 seconds – we’re piloting it in the Adelaide office, for the team to give feedback.

A dashboard gives me colour charts to see “How is my team feeling?” We take this to our branch meetings and we discuss as a team what the challenges are. What do we need to change? What do we need to address and do differently?

This is an amazing organisation, Teamgage, building an incredible solution, Software as a Service, on a platform where they don’t care what the infrastructure is. They only care about being able to develop their application to serve customers around the world, not just in Adelaide.

Taking advantage of cloud opportunities

We are riding this incredible wave of opportunity. There’s a ton of change. Some organisations are going to coast along the crest of that wave to amazing success. And some others are not going to make it.

We all know the Kodak example. They didn’t make it because they didn’t innovate, they didn’t challenge themselves, they didn’t disrupt themselves and say, “Someone else is going to cannibalise my business, well, I’d better do it first, otherwise I’m totally out of business”.

So as business leaders, as new business leaders and students, really the onus is actually on you to experiment and to try to see how can you take advantage of these technologies for your own business benefit – by delivering profit, shareholder value, and great citizen services that we all expect from our government.

Dr Eva Balan-Vnuk

State Director for South Australia, Microsoft

This speech was first published by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). Read the original text and more of CEDA’s top 10 speeches on disruption and innovation here

Read next: CEO and Managing Director of Blackmores, Christine Holgate, looks at innovation that goes beyond the digital realm.

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intellectual capital

Thinking long-term: is innovation all digital?

This piece on is an edited transcript of comments on given by Christine Holgate as part of a discussion panel held by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) titled ‘Thinking long-term: can industry seize the innovation opportunity?’ Read the original text here.

So often when people talk about innovation they think it’s some new product, or new technological advancement. For me, innovation can be very broad ranging. It’s about doing things differently inside your organisation.

Personally, I think the people at the real coal-face of the organisation often have the best ideas. So by talking to your employees, or talking to your customers, you have a much better chance as an industry to really understand what innovation can do.

Intellectual capital doesn’t always pay off

I believe there’s an opportunity to invest more generally in innovation. Investing in intellectual capital is just like investing in anything else – it doesn’t always pay off.

You see, for every great 10 ideas, only one or two are going to get up. You don’t just need a return from that one or two ideas, you have to consider covering the cost of the ones that don’t work. So you need super-returns.

I went to Israel last year and I could have kicked myself that I hadn’t been earlier in my life. What a fabulous country: no natural resources, but abundant intellectual capital. And it’s a really great reminder what brilliant things can happen if intellectual capital is what you invest in.

Growth means looking beyond Australia

Australia has industries like health, food, education, financial services – not even taking into account our resources – where we are known to be the best in the world. We have the highest quality, the highest standards.

I’m extremely passionate about trying to encourage Australian companies to embrace and grow, not just in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but in Asia more broadly.

Thirty-five per cent of global growth is coming from China at the moment. Indonesia is forecast to be the third biggest economy in the world by the year 2030. And yet as a country, we’re investing more money in New Zealand in 2015 than we’re investing in Asia. Why would you do that? Why would you do that when the Australian and New Zealand economy only adds up to about 2% of the world’s economy, and when the other 98% is available to be cultivated?

To get super-returns, can I suggest – as much as I love this country – why would we not go just up the road to Asia? We are so lucky. Now is the time to do it. Because the advances in technology are enabling smaller companies in Australia to really go and take it via social media.

Small can make it big with social media

Blackmores ran a social media campaign on WeChat. If you aren’t familiar with WeChat, it’s how the Chinese communicate; they don’t use Facebook, they use WeChat.

We approached Li Na, the world’s number two women’s tennis player, to support a charity event. We were trying to raise awareness of congenital heart disease in China with children, and we asked Li Na to do it.

I believe we just recorded her in our own office, off the back of someone’s own camera. No big expense. We asked people to log on, hook their mobile phones on to our WeChat account, and to track their steps. And for so many steps we’d give money to the charity.

Within days we had five million hashtags, 800,000 people had logged on, and 25 million steps had been tracked. We just could not believe it.

But you see, that is an example of how small Australian companies can really exploit this wonderful opportunity and get their message out. You no longer have to spend millions to do it, so I think, if you do not go and grab hold of ASEAN: beware. Because the Germans are – and I hate saying that because I love Germany too – 23% of capital investment going into Indonesia is coming from Europe.

Not every milestone is financial

One of the learnings that I’ve experienced is that when change happens, or you’re trying to push for something like moving into China, and regulation evolves, it can be seen as risky.

I think what you have to do is try and educate the shareholders in the market – I don’t mean that in a patronising way. But we need to set milestones other than financial, and try and bring our shareholders on the journey. There are many ways to measure success, and they’re not just financial. I’ll give you an example.

I went to Blackmores’ Chairman of the Board Marcus Blackmore and said, “Marcus, I want to spend all this money in Asia, and try to turn it around, even though generally we aren’t making any profits there, and despite the fact we’ve already been there for 35 years. And I’m not sure when you’re going to see your cash back. I just know we need to do it.” That was my business case.

Why? Because we needed to build a natural hedge in the business, because our raw materials came from overseas, we needed to have diversification of risk, and so I talked through the other strategic reasons.

Generally, Marcus says a business plan is out of date the day the board has signed it off. Which is true, isn’t it? It’s like budgets, budgets change the very next day and you’ve got a different view.

So I think we need to think differently about financial hurdles and how we invest in innovation and opportunities. It’s not just financial – there are very many different other ways to think about it.

Are banks right to consider overseas investment risky?

I don’t think Australian business are doing enough to innovate. But it’s not just because the CEOs or the boards don’t want to, it’s because of a set of circumstances.

If you go to the bank and say “I’d like to build a facility down in Adelaide, can you lend me $10 million?” they will say, “Sure”, and just give you whatever your margin rate is over cash.

Conversely, if you say “I’d like to spend $10 million building a business in China,” they are likely to say “Sure, that’s three times your normal rate.”

So to start off with the banks, they generally make it more expensive for overseas investments, they put that hurdle in because they say it’s higher risk. Potentially it is higher risk, but I would suggest it’s higher risk if you don’t do it.

Free trade agreements are just the first step

Saying all that, I think the free trade agreements with the government are a really positive sign and a really good first step, and I’m really encouraged that Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon. Steve Ciobo is going to take on the great work of former Federal Trade Minister, the Hon. Andrew Robb AO and carry on with it.

It’s not really the tariffs that are the issue. They are a big impediment, but they’re not the issue. For us, for example, in food and health, it’s actually the ingredient strategies and the regulation when you go into a country.

For China I really want to see a recognition of our standards here in Australia, which are the highest in the world. And if we have recognition of them we would be able to take more products in.

China is booming because of the free trade zones. But really to serve a world market you need to be in the broader retail market, and that requires another level. The free trade agreements are just the first step. We now need to free up regulatory barriers.

We need to utilise our international student resources 

The Government can do one thing to help – well, they can do lots of things – but they can do one thing in particular. You ask a lot of small Australian businesses, “Why aren’t you embracing ASEAN or Asia?”

They’ll often say “Because there are so many risks” or “We don’t understand” or “We don’t have the skills”. The language barrier puts off a lot of people.

We have hundreds of thousands of students right now living in Australia. What I would love to see is the government changing the rules on the number of hours these Asian students can work in our society.

Legitimately, they’re only allowed to work 10 hours a week, and so what happens is they can’t get meaningful work. So they end up working as waiters and waitresses, and – whether we like this or not – so often not being paid the correct wage, working more than their 10 hours and being employed illegally.

I say this because I have first-hand experience of how great these students are. We took in a foreign student at Blackmores with the help of Sydney University; a young law student from Korea. He helped Blackmores launch in Korea, and he’s now our junior lawyer.

So as you can see, there’s this wonderful resource not being utilised. While students can legally stay on for a year after graduation, this clause is actually not good enough. These students need to go back to their families and they haven’t got the money for that luxury – and if they’re being sponsored in any way then those businesses want them back.

But while they’re here, let’s have them doing meaningful work. It’s good for them, it’s good for their countries, but selfishly, it’s good for our business.

Long-term government support

In terms of waiting on government for policy changes to encourage better regulation, we have a culture of knocking off politicians as soon as they get voted in. Maybe we need to support our politicians and it’s us as voters who are a part of the issue.

We should respect the people that are voted in, respect the people’s choice in voting them in, and get behind them and help them be successful. We need a long-term government.

Christine Holgate

Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Blackmores

This speech on intellectual capital and other innovation opportunities was first published by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). Read the original text and more of CEDA’s top 10 speeches on disruption and innovation here

Read next: Dr Eva Balan-Vnuk, Microsoft’s state director for South Australia, considers how the cloud can lead to the democratisation of technology.

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on intellectual capital and other innovation opportunities using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.