Tech to the future: Reselling next-gen technology – CRN

Tech companies spend millions of dollars inventing and developing new technologies, but it’s all for nought if no one buys it. Crossing that chasm often involves a creating professional sales team – which can be an expensive proposition. So why not hire someone else’s?

Hence the global technology reseller  modelwas born. But resellers have a tendency to prefer selling those products which are easy to shift, with a sizeable and eager market (and one that is also willing to pay a decent margin). Much easier to sell something that people already want, than to convince them to buy something they only recently learned exists.

But for those resellers willing to make the leap into selling new and untested technology, the spoils can be great. There is the chance to get in early and build a market position long before a tech is commoditised. And of course there is all the learning that can be gathered along the way, and used to create additional value propositions.

In this feature article for CRN I was able to delve into the thinking of a number of Australian resellers and services companies and find out why it is that some companies are willing to take the plunge into the unknown, and how they avoid losing their shirts in the process.

 

Effective machine learning starts with considered human thinking – IAPA

Once technology is released into the world, it can be incredibly difficult to control. I suspect if you asked Tim Burners-Lee whether he is happy that his invention has become the most effective tool for the distribution of pornography ever invented, he’ll tell you that he isn’t. The Law of Unintended Consequences tells us it is impossible to foresee the full ramifications of any new technology from the point of its inception, but in an era where companies (and particularly startups) push to get new ideas out the door and into the hands of custoemrs as quickly as possible, the chance for measured reflection is limited.

The same of course is true with AI and data analytics moire generally. In my latest post ahead of next weeks IAPA Advancing Analytics conference I asked the speakers about the potential for negative consquences, and whether sufficient thought has gone into the ethical considerations of what AI might enable.

As healthcare data scientist Halim Abbas says: “We have built something, and it is turning out to be a very powerful driver in society, and we are not really sure how to best use it. It is like we have built a hot air balloon, and now we are in the air, asking how do we steer.”

Effective data outcomes require diverse human inputs – IAPA

Data is increasingly being used to make decisions that impact our everyday lives. But who is actually making the decisions, and are they truly representative of the people whose lives they are affecting?

In my latest post for the IAPA Advancing Analytics conference taking place in Melbourne on October 18 I had the opportunity to ask the speakers about the importance of diversity in data projects. One of the great dangers is that the people construcing the tools and programs fail to understand how they might impact specific groups in the community – especially those unintended consequences that mono-cultures design teams can fail to identify.

Looking beyond the hype: AI’s real potential as a transformative technology

There is nothing new about the tech industry overhyping its latest developments, as eager proponents seek to raise awareness, along with investment dollars and – ultimately – revenue. And in 2017 it has been AI’s turn to experience the hype treatment. But while hyping a new tech can lead to unmet expectations in the short term, it can also serve to overshadow some much-needed debates that might be vital in the long term. Such debates are likely to prove critical for AI, where the possible outcomes truly do lie in the realm of the unforeseeable.

Hype in AI has been the first subject for a series of blog posts I’ve been asked to create for Institute of Analytics Professionals Australia, in support of its upcoming Advancing Analytics conference, taking place in Melbourne on October 18. I’ll do my best to post the rest up online, but you can check them out here as they are posted online.

From Broome to Port Lincoln, the challenges for cloud in regional Australia: CRN

One of the reasons I was so enthusiastic about the NBN as it was originally envisioned was its promised ability to level one of the great inequities of modern life – that people in regional and remote Australia should be second-class citizens in Australia’s digital society. I’ve long believed that in a digital society no one should be disadvantaged simply as a result of where they live. At last a solution was at hand.

While the NBN will undoubtedly leave many regional Australians better off, the network has a lot of ground to make up before it matches the early rhetoric. Having spent time speaking to people in regional Australia about the ‘broadband drought’, through engagements in places like Longreach and through the Broadband for the Bush Alliance (you can read the communique from this year’s conference, which calls for the creation of a remote telecommunications strategy, by clicking here), it’s easy to see how a lack of digital connectivity has left many communities well behind their city-dwelling counterparts.

Digital connectivity is not just about having access to the world’s information, commerce, entertainment and education services. It is about building up capabilities in local communities such that local service providers can retain their relevance to those communities. Businesses in towns that have been slow to get decent internet find themselves not only having missed out on the advantages that come through access to the network, but they have also missed out on years of learning on how to make that network work for them.

It’s an issue that is in part reflected in this story for CRN, where I look at the impact of the data drought on the utilisation of cloud services by regional businesses.

Being a student is not something you were – it is something you are

I went to university for a very simple reason – to get a better job than I thought would be available to me if I tried to get one straight out of high school. My first choice – electronic engineering – was not a good one for me, and by the middle of my first year I was looking for a major change.

Thankfully I went to a uni that had a strong course in a totally different field that interested me – journalism – and I was able to transition across. But even in my new course, I was thinking mainly about getting a job, and the experience and grades I’d need to land one.

At no time did I really think about the skills I was acquiring, or how I’d use them. And I definitely wasn’t thinking about the future skills I’d need after I left uni. That was something I figured my career would provide for me.

That thinking could have been a big mistake.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the AFR Higher Education Summit, as a guest of TechnologyOne  (thanks Bridget Wyber and the team for inviting me along). My presentation revolved around how technology is changing consumer expectations, and therefor how higher education facilities need to ensure they have flexible underlying systems to respond to these changing expectations.

But that is only one form of flexibility that unis – and students – need to embrace.

For all the talk of the many jobs that might be automated and therefor abolished as a result of automation, there is little concrete evidence of where the replacement jobs might come from. I’ve been involved in a few projects which have sough to speculate and extrapolate from existing data, but even many of the fields where we think job growth might be strongest (such as data analytics and cyber-security), these are also targets for automation.

Whether you believe that technology will continue to create more jobs than it destroys or not, the jobs that will be created are likely to be very different to the ones we have today. Yet we are still training students for jobs that may not exist, or where supply well outstrips demand. Of greater concern is the problem we seem to have when it comes to thinking about retraining those people who currently have jobs, but thanks to automation, soon won’t.

Unfortunately our education system has been based around the idea that students are recruited, trained, and let loose into the world, at which time their economic value to their place of education is pretty much exhausted, barring that small number that go onto do Honours, an MBA or a PhD.

But what if we rethought the relationship between the education provider and the student. What is it was based it on the concept of life-long customer value, so the uni became the student’s lifelong partner in education and career development?

The model might run something like this:

  • You graduate from uni. The uni has already worked with your to facilitate internships and placement services, and checks in regularly to see how your job hunt (or your nascent startup business) is working out.
  • A year later you are contacted for a more in-depth conversation. Have you found work or not? If not, why not? If so, are the skills you have acquired suitable for the workplace? What skills do you wish you had, but uni didn’t give you? This conversation is used to provide feedback into the course design, to improve its suitability for future graduates. If you’ve not found work, the university might invite you back to complete a bridging course to bring you up to speed on the skill sets that employers are now demanding, to ensure you remain fresh.
  • Every year hence your university contacts you regarding the outcomes of these graduate surveys, along with its own employer engagement programs, to inform you of what skills are in demand, and forewarn you of any speed-bumps that might lie in wait thanks to technological changes. It also keeps you abreast of new courses and materials to help your professional development. Some of these are formal learning. Others are casual MOOC courses.

The model might be one where you pick and choose what ongoing education you want and pay on an a la carte basis, or it might be something you subscribe to (education-as-a-service).

Journalism was an early victim of digital disruption, and I have constantly added new skills to enhance my career – from journalist to professional writer to trainer to researcher to author to speaker. While these transitions will be increasingly common for any profession that faces disruption, it is not something that the graduate should have to navigate on their own. For education providers, there is a potentially lucrative economic model that can emerge from staying close to graduates.

Some of the universities I have spoken to recently are developing elements of these kinds of programs, but generally our universities are not great when it comes to alumni programs. That might be in part because students have never seen the need for them.

While any discussion of the future of work is inherently bound up in uncertainty, we nonetheless have to ensure that as professionals we have the capability to cope with that uncertainty. The more skills we acquire, the more flexible and valuable be become. And the only way I know to achieve that is to never stop learning. And there is no reason why the higher education sector shouldn’t be our partner in that.

(Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash)

What data-driven thinking is doing to help LifeSpan save lives – CMO

I have spent a fair chunk of the last few years writing about how Big Data analytics can be used to influence consumer behaviour, such as by encouraging us to open electronic mail or buy things we didn’t know we needed. So it is nice everyone once in a while to write an article on how these same technologies can be used to perform a social good – such as savings lives.

Suicide is an increasing problem in Australian society, with rates on the rise. Rachel Green and her team at LifeSpan at the Black Dog Institute are determined to do something about that, and have been using data analytics techniques (and some help from SAS Institute) to create a program they believe will do something about it. Their goal is to reduce rates by 20%, using a combination of evidence-based programs applied in areas of highest need.

You can red more about LifeSpan and its work in this article for CMO.com.au.

Driven to distraction: The rise of the self-driving car experience – CMO

There is a very real danger when using a smartphone today that you might run someone over or crash into another vehicle. Just think about all the time we could be spending on our devices if we weren’t distracted by having to drive a car at the same time?

Let’s face it, a lot of Australians get more pleasure from their devices than they do from being stuck in traffic. So amongst the many arguments in favour of driverless vehicles, the emancipation of commute time could prove to be one of the most compelling.

But what will we do with all these regained minutes? And who will provide the services that we chose to consume?

Occaisionally my editor at CMO.com.au lets me of the leash and I get to write stories that take a longer and and more obtuse view of the world of marketing, such as this one, where I looked into the long term implications of driverless vehicles and what they might mean from a service provision perspective. It threw up a number of interesting concepts, including whether many of us will actually chose to own vehicles in the future, and which companies will be most important to us – the car makers, the mobilty service providers, or those companies that create the services we consume whilst on the road.

The story itself is actually an output from a much larger ongoing study into the impact of automation on the workforce (particulary the impact on regional Australian economies that might stem from the advent of driverless trucks), and has become a key point in my presentations on the Law of Unintended Consequences.

It’s best not to ask what I do …

It’s pretty common when meeting someone in a professional setting to be asked what you ‘do’. It’s not a question I relish answering though. Not because I don’t want to share that information. But more because telling people what I do can take a while.

Back when I started working in the mid-1990s it was simple – I was a journalist. These days, I’m only a journalist some of the time. Other times I am a speaker, MC or facilitator. Or I might be a communications trainer, helping people become better storytellers. There are days when I am working as a social researcher, or developing discussion papers. Some times I am working to build out the content and programme for events. On other days I might better describe myself as a consultant, working with CIOs, CMOs, CDOs and now CFOs to better understand their challenges and opportunities. And that probably still only covers about 75 per cent of how I spend my professional time.

So knowing this problem, I thought ‘why dont I just tell people what I’ve done?’. So I started to write down everything I’ve done this year, and that proved to be no help. But in case you’re interested, I’ve listed it all below. It does look like a brag sheet, but it also reminds me that at least some of the time when I’m ‘busy’ is actually spent producing things.

It also reminds me that almost anything I do is only made possible through the collaboration of literally hundreds of amazing people with far deeper knowledge and capabilty than myself, and the organisations they support.

So in the first six months of this year, this is why I did:

  • Delivered keynote presentations on change for organisations including Leading Edge Computers, Jemena, the Assoication of Independent Schools NSW, and Microsoft Finance,
  • Hosted events including FST Media’s Future of Banking Melbourne, the Australian Smart Communities Assocation conference in Adelaide, and The Eventulf Group’s CX Tech Fest and Legal Tech Fest events, amongst others.
  • Delivered the latest round of the national Executive Collective engagement program on behalf of Optus Business.
  • Delivered Storytelling with Intent training sessions for more than 80 executives around Australia.
  • Continued in my role as Ambassador for the Broadband for the Bush Alliance, and MCd its annual Forum in Fremantle in June.
  • Helped the Melbourne-based NFP Infoxchange in the requirements gathering phase for a new open data platform for homelessness dats, throgh hosting half a dozen stakeholder working group sessions around the country.
  • Wrote more than 20 stories for CMO Australia, including longer features on coping with change in marketing, the rise of online marketplaces, and coming to grips with how digital nudging can be used for good.
  • Interviewed half a dozen CIOs and more than a dozen regional resellers for CRN Australia, while also contributing features on the dangers of growth, what Amazon’s arrival means for the channel, and the evolution of cloud computing.
  • Hosted roundtable dicussions for a range of clients, including Jade Software, The Missing Link (thanks to nextmedia), and Interactive.
  • Helped the team at CRN design and deliver the second round of the annual Pipeline conferences in Melbourne and Sydney.
  • Wrote a bunch of short feature articles for The Australian on everything from payroll software to virtual reality.
  • Continued my engagement with Global Access Partners in the field of better understanding the challenges facing Australian mid-tier businesses, while also working with Peter Fritz and Malcolm Crompton on a new book on the topic of innovation policy in Australia.
  • And wrote a bunch of other whitepapers, research reports, award entries and other assignments.

The second half of this year is looking to be just as busy, with commitments lined up around The Eventful Group’s Finance and Innovation Tech Fest in September and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s Online Safety on the Edge conference as well as a bunch of speaking commitments and another round of the Executive Collective.

Phew!

 

Avoiding the zombie apocalypse – my speech to Airtasker Community Day

Last week I had the pleasure of addressing local startup Airtasker’s first annual Community Summit in Sydney. I’ve been following Airtasker and its founder Tim Fung’s progress almost since the beginning, and it was great to hear how he and his crew slugged it out to get to where they are now. It was also great to chat to a number of the people for whom Airtasking has become a signficant (and in some cases, sole) source of income.

In my speech I talked about my own journey from fulltime employment to freelancing – a lifestyle I have been embracing now for close to 13 years. What I love about the way I work now is the flesibilty to work across multiple projects simultaneously and assert some direction over my life – much more so than I ever felt I could in fulltime employment. Its something that many Airtaskers – or freelancers generally – struggle with, especially when freelancing is dismissed as a euphemism for being unemployed.

Hence my speech touched on the need for Airtaskers (and all people really) to plan out their lives and where they want to get to – and start thinking about the steps they will take to get from where they are now to where they want to be. I also spoke of the need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs – even if they are only ever going to manage a company of one employee – and learn some of the lessons of the startup community in terms of running a successful business.

One of my key lessons was the need to envision the future, and stay ahead of the disruptive changes the are eating away at the fringes of many professions – retailing, accounting, law – and of course, journalism. Often it takes a major event – such as a zombie apocalypse or the collpase of revenue from display advertising sales – to motivate us to change our skillsets and head in new directions.

But as anyone who has ever seen a zombie film knows, waiting for the apocalypse offers you little chance to avoid it.