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!

 

The secret IT buyers you should know – CRN Australia

0_0_600_1_70_-news-crn_690_secret_buyersHidden away within Australian organisations are a host of people with influence over IT purchasing. Some are obvious, such as the ubiquitous procurement officers of large organisations. Others are newer kids on the block, such as the marketers who have taken on responsibility for digital systems. Others are more obscure again, such as the PAs and other gatekeepers that rarely get the glory, but certainly wield some power.

IT sales has always been more complex than just selling to the CIO or IT manager, and becoming more so by the minute. In my latest feature for CRN Australia I seek to shine some light on the the secret IT buyers – and ignoring them could prove costly.

Building customer insights in the data and digital age – L’Oreal’s Joanne Norton for CMO

cmo-insights-joanne-norton-lorealThis article for CMO Australia sprung from my desire to get a better understanding of how brands are getting into the heads of the clients in the digital age.

Having taken part in a number of focus-group activities in my university days, I was always struck by artificial the environment seemed to be. A group of strangers brought together to discuss a product they had never used, and were unlikely to ever use? Of dubious value at best.

Of course there is a lot more to focus groups than my initial impressions, and as a tool for discerning customer insights, they can still deliver a lot of value. But in the digital era, where consumer behaviour (rather than intent) can be monitored at scale, and in real time, how do the older techniques stack up?

According to the Consumer Insights Director at L’Oreal Australia, Joanne Norton (pictured) using online and offline customer insights is not a choice between one or the other, but a blend of the two. You can read more about what she has to say, as well as voices from the emerging world of data-driven customer insights, in this article for CMO Australia.

CMO – What the new breed of Data Management Platforms mean for marketers

SXC digitalThe speed of growth of the digital advertising industry has been staggering. In little over a decade it has become the single largest advertising category by dollars spent, and shows little sign of slowing down. Yet the path to digital has not always been a smooth one for advertisers, who have had to contend with complicated and conflicting advice on how to best build a campaign. Needless to say, the ratio of knowledge in the digital ad space has not always kept up with the dollars spent.

With such rapid growth, ad tech companies have also readily emerged to try and take on some of the heavy lifting for marketers and agencies, offering a slew of tools to help them better manage data regarding audiences and effectiveness. Front and centre amongst these are the Data Management Platforms (DMPs), which serve to hold the various forms of data used by advertisers to define their desire audience.

DMPs were the focus for my most recent feature for the CMO website, and you can read all about them here.

Why I do what I do

In the decade since I last had a full-time role I’ve often been asked what I do. It used to be an easy answer – freelance journalist. Over time however the list of services I find myself providing has blossomed – author, speaker, facilitator, host, communications trainer, analyst, writer, consultant, etc – to the point where I pretty much have no idea how to succinctly explain  what I do. It is on the whole probably a good problem to have.

But it is worth thinking about the question itself. ‘What do you do’ is a question that provides an easy way to define us, but it doesn’t really do many people justice now, especially when many of us are doing more than one thing. Describing what you do gives only the slightest inkling of what it is you can do – and in a world where increasingly I feel that we are making it up as we go along (I’ll explain what I mean by that in another post soon), skills and potential count for a lot.

Partly as a result of a project that I am working on now (and yes, that will be the subject of yet another blog post) I started to realise that there is a far more interesting question waiting to be answered – ‘why do you do what you do?’. I’ve tried it a few times and the answers have been surprising.

So here is my answer – ‘why I do what I do’.

Firstly – the heart of my motivation. I have a strong belief that the Australian economy is poised for an unhealthy future. Too much focus on (based on previous success) in mining has left us lagging in other sectors – especially in information-based industries. We are vulnerable to encroachment from foreign competitors – both online and off – and too few of our traditional successful domestic companies have parlayed that success on to the international stage. Our boards lack courage and vision – and are too hampered by the need to return shareholder value in the short term to take the steps they need to if they are to ensure their long term future.

The answer? In short, I believe we need to make more ‘things’ (including intellectual property) that people in other parts of the world need (or at least are willing to buy), lest we fall behind emerging nations and find ourselves with a declining standard of living.

It is a sentiment that is echoed in numerous reports, including Accenture’s report For Richer, For Poorer, released last year, which found: if the government in Australia does not respond with urgency and decisiveness to address the fundamental challenges in its labour market, the country will see declining levels of productivity growth rates and overall shrinkage of the workforce. That, in turn, will result in a decline in the living standards in Australia.

More starkly,  earlier this year PwC released its World in 2050 report which suggested Australia would slip from 19th place in 2014 to 28th in 2050, behind Bangladesh and Iran. Go Team Australia …

There is no end of reports that suggest similar futures. There is also no surplus of ideas of how to turn our progress around.

So back to the question – why do I do what I do.

For starters, I am a passionate believer that for a country to succeed then it needs everyone – EVERYONE – working together to achieve growth (in whatever metric you consider important). Perhaps it is the bias that comes from more than two decades researching the impact of internet/digital technologies on Australian business and society, but my own conclusion is that a more digitally-capable Australian society is a key ingredient in our long term competitiveness. That means raising the digital skills of EVERYONE.

Hence I am working with groups such as the Broadband for the Bush Alliance, which seeks to improve access to and utilisation of digital services in remote and regional Australia (please join us in Darwin in July for the next annual Forum, for which I am an ambassador). I am also lending some effort to the Australian Smart Communities Association, which will be holding its inaugural convention in 2016, and aims to showcase the work to improve digital services in communities around Australia.

I’ve also spent much of the last few years speaking at events in locations ranging from Longreach to Mount Gambier, helping to raise digital awareness and skills. This work will continue to be a focus for me, and it is my hope that in future situations I might be able to do more than just raise awareness. Have a look at Infoxchange’s Go Digi program as an example of a program that I fully support and will be looking to promote further.

But it is not enough just to be smart users of technology – we have to be smart creators too. That means more start-ups. Start-ups do amazing things. They create new markets, and improve old ones. The show how inefficiencies can be stripped out. They incubate new processes and new ways of running businesses (cloud computing, agile development and dev ops, etc), the socialise new working models (flexible working, remote working), and so on. And occasionally they go on to become multi-billion dollar employers in their own right. These companies quickly outgrow their domestic market, and we need to be generating a lot more of them if we are to have a healthy future.

Many of these companies are founded purely off the cleverness of the people at their core (not off a mineral resource) and no country has exclusivity in smart people. Hence the more we can do to bring people into digital careers and support start-ups and entrepreneurs, the better. This will be the focus for another project in 2015 (and yes, another blog post).

I also am convinced that having smart users and smart creators in the same environment benefits both groups – one can learn from the other – and hence both are needed for long-term sustainable success.

This also leads me to believe that if Australia is to have a successful future in digital technologies than we can’t afford to leave half of our potential talent out of the game. Australia already suffers from too few high school students choosing careers as digital creators (hence my support of initiatives such as Digital Careers). The need to get more women into the IT industry is critical.

A lot this work is realised through writing and speaking, and the occasional direct engagement. Its what I refer to as ‘working from the edge inwards’ – and is based on what I saw in Africa a decade ago, where you can do a lot more for a village with $1000 and a few shovels – more seemingly than you can do with a million dollar aid budget. Making the digging of clean wells work at scale however is a difficult exercise.

I’ve also done the odd spot of work with larger organisations, helping to seed and stimulate ideas of what the future holds and how they might not just adapt to it, but anticipate and profit from it. I am constantly seeking an answer to the question of whether large organisations can innovate at the pace required to compete with digital upstarts or changing customer preferences – and if so, whether the formula can be distilled and administered  elsewhere. The jury is still out on that one, with the exception of a handful of examples.

But ultimately – why do I do what I do? Because I have two little girls whom I want to see grow up leading the best possible life that can be provided for them, with options in what they choose to ‘do’. If I can contribute to a better future and pull other people with similar goals together to work towards that future, then I know I will have done all that I can.

A lot of my thinking still needs fleshing out, but this is a start.

Hence when it all gets stripped down to the things that I earn money from, I am more likely to accept those commissions that see me building towards the goals listed above. If it is a task through which I can help individuals become more aware and capable regarding the tools that are available to them, then I am more likely to be interested. If I can contribute to the success of Australia’s entrepreneurial community, then I am more likely to be interested. If I can help larger businesses successfully transform and ensure their long term survival, then I am interested. Even if I am only the smallest part of the process.

Fingers crossed, maybe writing it all down might help me realise some of this.

My new book – Managing for Change – now available

M4CI’m very pleased to say that my new book, Managing for Change, is now available, in paperback and ebook formats. Co-authored with with Peter Fritz AM, Managing for Change sets out practical advice to help people get more out of life, personally and professionally.

The book is the product of numerous discussions between myself and Peter, as well as contributions from numerous people who have been successful in their own lives, including entrepreneurs, public servants, and politicians. Other contributors include HEAT Group CEO Gillian Franklin, Pollenizer co-founder Mick Liubinskas, former Australian Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton, young federal parliamentarian Wyatt Roy and investor Su-Ming Wong.

While the book is very much a joint effort between myself and Peter, my own path to Managing for Change came about partly as a result of my public speaking work, particularly those presentations related to the impact of technology which flowed from my last book, A Faster Future.

While it is not difficult to alert people to the changes that are happening around them, it is much harder for someone to assimilate that knowledge into their lives and do something about it. Managing for Change aims to help them do just that.

Managing for Change also comes somewhat from my own observations that many of the most successful companies are those that have got in front of changing market conditions, or even changed market conditions to suit themselves – Apple being one of the best examples. To often in life we simply wait for change to happen and then react to it. Managing for Change is about getting in front of change and wielding it for your advantage.

Managing for Change is available from numerous booksellers, and online from Booktopia. You can also pick up the Kindle edition from Amazon by clicking here.

So what have I been doing for the past 11 months …?

BradHowarth-025Well, clearly not blogging – anyone who has been checking this page will know/can see that it was last June when I last got around to updating this site. So why start again now? No idea really – it just seems like the right time.

The past 11 months have been incredibly busy and very fulfilling, both personally and professionally. I won’t go into every detail now, but suffice it to say I’ve got to meet some fascinating people, spoken at some interesting events, and written some (hopefully) worthwhile articles.

My goal now is to again start practising what I preach and use this site to tell anyone interested what I’ve been up to and what’s on my mind. And as always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have in response.

So stay tuned!

SMH IT Pro – Full speed ahead down in-memory lane

Billions and billions of ones and zeros may not seem all the interesting, but when those bits of data contain information that might help someone make money, they become very valuable indeed. Crunching these billions of bits of data has come to be known by the term ‘Big Data‘ and it is a rapidly growing segment of the IT industry. The tools that are being used to analyse stores of Big Data are evolving rapidly also, and one of them – a technology known as in-memory computing – was the subject for my final story for 2012 for the SMH IT Pro website. It was a fitting topic, as investigations and explanations of data in all its forms will be a significant area of activity for me in 2012.

The beauty of Big Data is that its analysis can yield impressive results – in theory, at least. Theories and examples abound of how analysing Big Data  might yield information  on the progression of an epidemic. It can also be used to get personal – analysing large volumes of data relating to a single person (such as their purchasing habits) might yield great insights into their future behaviours  such as the programme run by Target in the US that could determine that a young woman was pregnant.

We are only at the very beginnings of a Big Data revolution. As we become more adept at wielding Big Data tools you can expect to see more and more examples emerge – particularly by marketing organisations, but also by governments to monitor their populations. Perhaps this is why the technology analyst firm IDC predicts that Big Data is a market that will be worth US$24 billion by 2016 – not bad for an activity that no one was talking about just five years ago.

My speech to the Founders Institute Sydney – The need for urgency

Last week I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote speech at an event that marked the graduation of the first batch of companies to complete the globally-recognised Founders Institute program in Sydney. You can read more about that program elsewhere, but I thought it might be worth sharing the content of my presentation with this forum.

The first message was that there has never been a better time to start a business – particularly a services-type business, especially if you are starting it online. For starters, thanks to the technologies of open source and cloud computing and the global outsourcing industry, it costs little to start a company compared to what it did years ago. We have refined this process into what Eric Ries has defined as the Lean Startup, which is represented in the concepts of ‘failing fast’ and the ‘minimum viable product’. To this effect, you can now get a services company up and running – and potentially profitable – in just months, and for just thousands of dollars.

Secondly, there is also a far wider range of technologies to work with, including 3D printing, machine-to-machine communication (also known as the Internet of Things), augmented reality, artificial intelligence and so many more. Most of these are available at little cost today.

And thirdly, the opportunity is so much greater now. The Internet has torn down the barriers of geography, and if we look beyond the English speaking world we find markets such as Indonesia, with 200 million mobile subscribers and 55 million Internet users (ahead of South Korea with 40.3 million) and set to double over three years (according to Boston Consulting Group (thanks to Shinta Dhanuwardoyo and her presentation at X Media Lab in Sydney a couple of months back for the inspiration and stats). Certainly there are huge opportunities for globally-oriented services businesses.
But when thinking about the future of our services sector, it is worth doing so with a sense of urgency.

Firstly, starting companies is not culturally specific. The same tools that enable Australians to start a business cheaply are available to anyone anywhere in the world. It is likely that the computer programmer in the Philippines doing work for an Australian employer one day dreams of being the employer themselves. Entrepreneurship is also not culturally-specific, and we are seeing a wave of Asian-born globally-oriented start-ups, particularly coming out of India. And that market alone produces roughly 750,000 engineering graduates each year. That is a massive amount of potential for the Next Big Thing. That means there will be a lot more companies out there competing in the global services industry.

The other factor that we need to contend with is that the same economics that have decimated Australia’s manufacturing sector are set to play out across other industries. Shifting market dynamics driven by low-cost offshoring options and revamped logistics chains will see the repricing of a wide range of services – we’ve seen it with software development, it is now happening with design and secretarial services. These trends will also further erode the sustainability of even bricks-and-mortar industries such as retail.

The upshot is that the job losses seen in manufacturing will be insignificant compared to what we could see should large segments of our service industry shift into lower-cost markets. IBM’s A Snapshot of Australia’s Digital Future to 2050 report has already predicted the demise of 15 industries including, Free-to-Air Television Broadcasting, Newspaper Publishing and Motion Picture Exhibition. And they are just the obvious ones. Respected US futurist and author Dr Thomas Frey (who is speaking at the forthcoming Creative Innovation 2012 conference in Melbourne) has also predicted 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030. The upshot is the possible hollowing out of Australia’s middle class.

We need to start replacing those jobs today – a task made all the more difficult by the skills of many of those displaced workers being unsuited to the needs of entrepreneurial start-ups.

Australia faces a crisis, and it is one that I suspect few people have considered. If we are to succeed as a services-based economy over the next 20 years we need to start investing today in building up both the capacity of our workforce to adapt to that future, while giving encouragement to the entrepreneurs who will create it.

We need to invest in vibrant new businesses, to create employment and redistribute wealth and enable subsequent investment in round after round of new ventures. And we need to infuse technological capability and entrepreneurial concepts into existing businesses to enable them to innovate and expand.

We need this to be happening here, we need this to be happening now. Because if we don’t make it happen, someone somewhere else will. And who wants to tell their children to prepare for a lower standard of living?

Speaking – When was the last time you had a roll of film developed?

For the past couple of years now I’ve found myself in some demand as a speaker on the topic of broadband technologies and their impact on business and society. The combination of the Internet and various digital technologies has had a massive impact on our lives, but often in ways that we hardly notice – until we look back and see how those changes unfolded.

I’ve been working with the Saxton speakers’ bureau for over a year now and recently started writing blog posts for their website. This first post encapsulates some of my thoughts on the film  processing industry, and the lesson that it holds for other sectors.