Australia adjusting? Or Australia disrupting?

When I travel to different Microsoft subsidiaries around the world, people often ask me, ‘what’s in the water in Australia?’ While most countries have struggled to some degree over the last five challenging years, Australia has continued to grow, and on most measures we’re doing exceptionally well. But we can’t be complacent, and as the mining boom moves into its next phase Down Under we need to make sure we’re setting ourselves up for continued success.

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) recently published an excellent collection of policy essays called Australia Adjusting, and I was asked to speak at the launch. There were some compelling and persuasive speakers, and it was inspiring to see so many people who are striving for a better tomorrow for Australia.

The Adjusting Australia publication makes strong cases for policies to arrest productivity decline, put incentives in place to stimulate innovation and prepare for the workplace of future. But policy is just the skeleton and by itself is not enough– as leaders and businesspeople it’s up to us to put flesh on that skeleton and bring it to life.

Because it’s not enough to ‘adjust’ – we need to disrupt ourselves or face the real threat of being disrupted. That’s a lesson we have learned at Microsoft, and our transformation as a business from boxes of software to a devices and services organisation is driven by this understanding.

Everyone in Australia and millions of people around the world know the ‘Australian Made’ symbol, that iconic green triangle with the yellow stylised kangaroo. I love this symbol. I choose to live here and I’m proud of the things this country produces. Bionic ears, vaccines, and many other great innovations should make us proud we had the wherewithal to produce them and sell them to the world.

More recently the minerals we have extracted from the ground have been what the world understood as ‘Australian Made’.

But looking forward 50 years what could this logo represent?

Because rather than the resources we dig out of the ground or the products we manufacture, I strongly believe that our future will be steeped in the digital infrastructure we put in the ground and the knowledge economy that we build off the back of this.

Australian industries will be transformed (and some will be eradicated) as new online-born businesses continue to disrupt marketplaces and organisations are forced to compete on the global stage to an even greater extent.

Work will increasingly become something you do, not a place you go.  In the past Australia suffered from ‘the tyranny of distance’, but digital infrastructure is making this concept redundant, and it’s the towns and cities outside the capitals and outside Australia that will benefit. It no longer matters where knowledge workers reside – Wagga Wagga, Lilydale, Wellington or Jakarta – employers can increasingly take their pick from talent across any time zone that works.

So how do we ensure Australia is well positioned in this new digital era?
If we are to improve the nation’s productivity, move Australia up the innovation ladder and ensure our people are prepared to compete on the world stage – all the things CEDA rightly tells us we need to do – we must do things differently.

Success or failure will depend to an even greater degree on ensuring businesses have the right approach to the four success pillars: business model, customer relationship, competitive landscape and talent.

You only need to look at how the music industry was revolutionised by digital downloads, and how it is now being turned upside down again by steaming services to see that keeping a keen eye on the future is the only chance of success.

In CEDA’s Adjusting Australia report, director of the CSIRO’s Digital Productivity and Services Flagship Dr Ian Oppermann, discusses at length the technological innovation that has been taking place within the NSW justice system and in the delivery of health records.

He is not discussing simply digitising analogue processes, this is a completely disruptive process, with demonstrable benefits for the customers and funders of these services: us.

We are in the midst of the biggest change in how organisations and people work since the industrial revolution, but to continue to compete will require a fundamental mindshift, a spirit of adventure, and an eagerness to question the status quo.

Inaction is not a viable option. If you are worried about being disrupted, take action. Be the disruption yourself.

It’s up to us to make it happen. If not us, who? If not now, when?

By Pip Marlow, Managing Director, Microsoft Australia

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