Bridging the digital divide in 2021

If you are reading this blog, then there is a good chance that the Internet was one of the key tools that helped you cope with the events of 2020. While Australians sheltered inside through the lockdowns (and in some parts of the country, continue to) we turned to the Internet in record numbers to buy groceries, order food, stay connected with friends and loved ones, and entertain ourselves. The Internet also provided the lifeline that enabled many people to keep working even when they couldn’t get to their offices, and was vital for ensuring that kids could stay connected to their schools.

As frustrating as the COVID crisis has been, imagine what life would have been like had it happened in 2000, when much of Australia was still offline, and those who were online were struggling with dial-up Internet speeds?

Now consider that here in 2021, approximately 2.5 million Australians are still not online. That’s 2.5 million people who are not buying groceries online, or watching Netflix, or Zooming their friends and family. That number also includes an unknown number of people who were not working from home last year, and most concerningly, a lot of children who were not participating in online education.

As much as we might take the Internet for granted these days, for some Australians it is still expensive (both in terms of access costs, and the price of devices needed to connect to it), and for many, hard to use. There are many reasons why a person might be one of the 2.5 million, but principle amongst them are their economic situation, age, educational background, physical ability, and digital skill level.

And as more and more of Australian society moves online – and takes our social discourse into online platforms – the less of a voice this group has in social debate.

We call this the Digital Divide, and while it is a topic I remember writing about in the mid-1990s, it is well and truly present in Australia today.

Thankfully, there are organisations out there who are committed to closing this Divide, many of whom are represented in the membership of the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance. It’s also been heartening to see that some commercial organisations are also starting to realise the extent of the Digital Divide, and begin looking at it as both a social obligation and a commercial opportunity.

Recently I had the chance to check back in on the state of Australia’s Digital Divide, and the work that is being undertaken to bridge it, through my writing for CMO. Click here to read the complete article.

Emerging jobs in data science and AI – a webinar for Monash Tech Talks

There is a common fear that accompanies the emergence of almost every new technology that its introduction will put someone out of a job. While this is undoubtedly true in some instances (modern sewers put the nightsoil collectors out of work, for example), what is also true is that new technologies also create new jobs.

We can see this in Australia today, where the digitalisation of the economy is creating shortages of related skills, especially in fields such as analytics and cyber security. And while even some of these jobs will eventually be automated, it is highly likely the new skills will be required along the way.

The key question then for any individual that wants to have a long and interesting career is to ask what these new jobs will look like, and what skills will be needed to perform them.

I recently had the pleasure of putting this question (and many others) to a panel of experts for the Monash University Tech Talks series. I was joined by the Director of the Centre for Learning Analytics at Monash (COLAM), Professor Dragan Gasevic, along with Digital Architect and Advisor Rita Arrigo, and the Head of Service Delivery at the Silicon Valley-based AI company SKAEL, Ragu Mantatikar.

Together we discussed how are AI and data are being used across different industries, whether AI will really replace jobs, what new jobs are emerging from our world’s obsession with AI and data science, and what skills professionals need to gain to future-proof their careers.

If you want to watch the replay, you can find it by clicking here.

New presentation stream – Beyond COVID-19, and why we are a long way from reaching the ‘new normal’

We can’t yet begin to accurately estimate the impact that COVID-19 will have on the Australian economy or our society, nor can we realistically guess at what 2021 will hold. With much of the economy being propped up by stimulus payments, and the threat of the pandemic likely to linger in our consciences for many months yet, there are simply too many variables in play to allow anyone to accurately model the behaviours and outcomes we will see in 2021.

But there is nonetheless plenty we can do to prepare for what lies ahead. The strategies for managing crises are well known, and there are plenty of signals we can examine that will tell us at least what lies on the near term horizon.

This week I had the opportunity to explore some of these themes in a presentation for DXC, as part of its webinar Adapting to customer channel disruption during a crisis. Hosted by the Director of Customer Experience at DXC Oxygen, Marco Formaggio, and with fellow guests including BGW Group Services’ General Manager David Dean and Suntory Frucor’s Fernando Battaglia, we discussed the importance of investing in both people and technology as a means of delivering great experience.

The need to deliver great experiences for customers is unlikely to diminish any time soon, even if our ability to invest comes under pressure through having to tighten spending during the looming post-COVID recession. One possible outcome is that the next six months will provide the impetus many consumers will need to switch brand loyalty to better value options. We are already seeing consumers holding back spending, and more of their purchasing journey now will start and end through digital channels. All of this tells us we need to think differently about customer experience, brand value, and customer journeys. It is also possible that the post-COVID world will lead to the emergence of new customer segments and new behaviours. Managing through 2021 will require a fine balance and some careful planning as to where investment dollars can best be deployed, and that means that having a strong capability to sense the state of the market and the intentions and moods of customers.

The rising preference for great experiences has been a common theme for B2B and B2C organisations alike over the past decade. But providing the best possible experience under normal circumstances just won’t cut it in any more. Great CX is not about what an organisations delivers in the main – it is about what that organisation does to step up when things go wrong. That is where the strongest relationships are formed, and right now, there is a lot that can go wrong.

I was the third presenter in this webinar, and my contribution starts around the 30 minute mark. It contains a snapshot of a much larger body of work I’ve been compiling as I’ve been discussing strategies for 2021 with numerous organisations – something that I’ll be building out over the next few months.

One thing is certain – for all the talk of the ‘new normal’, we are still many months away from reaching what might be classed as a steady state for the Australian economy. The current post-pandemic period is the artificial creation of government stimulus spending, and we have no idea what life will be like once that is wound back totally in 2021.

What we do know is that for most organisations there is plenty of hard work ahead, despite their workforces already being fatigued by the events of the past six months. But by investing in people, building a sensing capability, and giving themselves the best possible opportunity to make the right investment decisions, they will be able to find ways out of this.

Unfortunately from an economic and societal perspective, things will get worse before they get better, but they will get better. Just how well positioned an organisation is for those better times depends greatly on the work it does today.

Virtual presentation training now available

Pic by Oscar Keys

I’m pleased to announce that my virtual presentation training session is now available (for virtual delivery). Running for 90 minutes, the virtual course is based on my own experiences in presentation delivery and training (both physical and virtual), along with extensive research into the fundamentals of good online delivery.

More information can be found here.

How to achieve virtual experience success – CMO

With physical meetings, training sessions and conferences all around Australia being cancelled, service providers are scrambling to reinvent them as online experiences. But running a successful online event takes more than just a webcam and a microphone. If you’re looking for advice on how to host an effective online expereince, you might want to check out some of the tips from industry experts in my story for CMO.

I’ve also switched over my own communications and presentation training seessions to be conducted virtually, and am looking forward to starting deliver to clients next week.

Why a ‘why’ beats a ‘what’ and a ‘who’ for building engagement

Pic by Evan Dennis

Why are you here?

When it comes to public communication, it’s one of the most fundamental questions we can ask ourselves. And I don’t mean in the biological or spiritual sense. I mean, why have you shown up in the first place?

It’s a question your audience is probably asking itself as well – why have you shown up? And why should they listen?

But it’s a question that seems to get forgotten in the rush to talk about the ‘what’ and ‘who’. Knowing why you have shown up is the central thread that sews everything else together – it is the landmark you use to navigate through your communication. When you offer up something that doesn’t help you achieve your goal, you risk wasting time – yours and the audiences. Hence always knowing why you are there becomes critical.

There is another ‘why’ that should take primacy however in all communication – and that is the ‘why’ that the audience is asking. Why should they give up their time to listen to you in the first place?

Quite often, your ‘why’ and their ‘why’ won’t immediately match up. I see this frequently in the technology sector, where the ‘why’ of the communicator might be to sell more products, but there is a good chance that the audience doesn’t want more products – they have plenty already.

They might want is a solution to a problem. Or an insight into a desirable future outcome. Or something else that that will make their lives better.

The gaps between ‘what’ and ‘why’ can be summed up in the difference between two words – ‘want’ and ‘need’. Because there are a lot of things in this world that are needed rather than wanted.

Take accounting for example. It’s quite likely that there aren’t that many business owners who really ‘want’ an accountant. What they want is to stay compliant with tax law, or to better manage their cashflow, or to invest wisely for the future. But in most instances, they need assistance with that, and hence an accountant is ‘needed’.

The same thinking applies in the technology sector. When a technology provider focuses on what they do, rather than why anyone would want it, a disconnect opens up.

Take cloud computing for instance. It is likely that there aren’t that many business owners who really want cloud computing (it’s equally likely that many of them also don’t want to be running computers on-premises). What they want is a powerful, reliable and flexible computing environment that enables them to better perform that tasks that are essential for running their business. They want a means of ensuring their technology does not prevent them from responding swiftly to changing market conditions or hold them back from new opportunities.

The ‘why’ – business flexibility – is much more meaningful than the ‘what’ that delivers it.

Hence when someone commences communicating by only considering their ‘why’ – to sell more of something – they immediately disconnect from the audience. But when they take into account the needs of the audience, magical things happen.

By articulating that you understand the problems, challenges and concerns of those listening to you, you immediately build rapport. You demonstrate concern and understanding and cease to be someone who is selling down to them, but rather appear as someone who stands alongside them and knows their pain.

It is a fairly basic concept, but one that is frequently forgotten in the rush to talk about the latest new thing (the ‘what’) and the organisation or person that will make it possible (the ‘who’). What you are offering and who you are should always be secondary to the ‘why’ of the audience.

Considering the ‘why’ of the audience and what they really want earns permission to talk about the ‘what’ and ‘who’. It also creates a means of aligning your ‘why’ (build brand awareness, change behaviour, sell more stuff, etc) and placing it into a context that the audience will respond to.

Why thought leadership needs a rethink

Pic by Akua Sencherey

Much of my working life is spent developing thought leadership articles and reports, which provides me with fantastic opportunities to dig deeper into concepts and hopefully get people thinking a little differently as a result.

What I’ve learned over the years however is that there are certain conditions and processes that need to be considered if a thought leadership exercise is going to deliver the desired results.

A good thought leadership piece is not simply an announcement – that can be better achieved through a press release or an ad. Good thought leadership is about joining a conversation that is already taking place – or better still, starting a new one.

Unfortunately for some brands, they have no natural place in the conversations they wish to enter. Hence the goal is to find a point of connection around which they can build their relevancy, and use that to earn the permission needed to join into the conversation. Just because a brand hasn’t yet earned its place in a conversation doesn’t mean it should give up however. Authenticity and relevancy obviously help, and often these can be established over a period of time. But doing so requires commitment.

Other times a brand will simply be too late to the conversation to offer anything meaningful. This happens a lot regarding discussion on transformation – a topic that is very important, but which many people have tuned out of. Earning a voice in this conversation requires significant effort to establish a perspective that is new or different – a difficult task given everything that has been said about it already.

Being part of a conversation means being committed to that conversation over the longer term. A single discussion paper or research report might gain some attention, but its true value is unlocked when it is part of an ongoing campaign that builds over time, possibly using multiple different voices in many different forums. In some ways building good thought leadership is a bit like building a brand – it takes consistency and commitment.

Good thought leadership also needs to be something that is not immediately obvious .If the outcome is a conclusion that anyone could have come to – or worse still, one that obvioulsy is designed to serve the brand message and nothing else – it will have no impact. But having a recipient say “I hadn’t thought of that before” or “I’d never looked at it that way” is likely to ensure that the core ideas remains in their thinking over the longer term.

It helps then if the concept is one that is easy to grasp. This points to one of the most important truths regarding the creation of thought leadership – while the ultimate product needs to be simple to understand, the process of its creation is usually anything but.

Many of the best thought leadership projects are the result of extensive research and discussions, which is designed to bring forth basic truths that might have been hidden under layers of noise, and shine a light on hidden patterns. Hence it is best to commence a thought leadership project with a question, rather than stipulating the outcome from the outset. Many great thought leadership projects simply give life to concepts which might at first glance seem obvious, but which have not yet been expressed so simply and eloquently. These projects that bring life to the obvious are often the most powerful, as they exist within a framework which can be easily grasped, but are the result of a long process of sifting and sorting.

All of this points to another basic truth of thought leadership – that it is earned. For a brand to simply blunder into a conversation for which it is neither relevant nor prepared is to invite disaster. But when a brand is prepared to put in the hard work to earn its position, and then build that over time, amazing things can happen.

Evolution of Skills: Transport and Logistics

Of all the sectors we studied for the TAFE NSW Evolution of Skills report, none demonstrated the same requirement for leaps in skilling that we saw as being necessary in trasport and logistics.

The high level of human dependency in this sector (think delivery drivers, or warehouse pickers and packers) has already seen it become the subject of intense speculation (and investment) regarding the role of automation (think driverless cars and trucks, or automated warehouse environments such as those operated by China’s

In Australia we are really only at the early stages of automation in transport and logistics, starting with driverless trains and some warehouse automation projects, such as those undertaken by the ecommerce retailer Catch Group (I suspect it this company’s investments in warehouse automation – and the lessons it has learned – was a strong factor in its acquisition by Wesfarmers).

But as automation takes hold, the sector faces a significant challenge in terms of ensuring it can develop the skills necessary to operate its new systems and processes. As Catch Group has learned, there is a big difference between managing a standard warehouse and an automated one, and hence a wide delta between the skills that managers posess today and those they will need in the future. Across the sector, roles are becoming more complex, and often require skills from different disciplines. Srong change management programs will be needed to transition workers into new delivery models and with skills acquisition.

It’s a big challenge, but one that must be met if organisations in this sector are to keep up with customer expectations. You can read the complete findings in the sector report, downloadable from the TAFE NSW website.

WYNnovation presentation – sharing insights from 2019

Last Friday I had the pleasure of being invited along to deliver a Masterclass presentation as part of the WYNnovation Festival held by my own local council, the City of Wyndham.

It was a great opportunity to test out some of the recent research work I’ve undertaken into the attributes of transformative leaders and the need for business leaders to acquire new skills to navigate successfully through the current decade, backed by the core messages of the Managing for Change book that I co-authored with Peter Frtiz AO a few years ago.

It’s a simple message really – that in any period of change, there are winners and losers. In almost all instances the winners are those organisations that either drive the change (at great risk) or respond the fastest. Those organisations that wait until they are standing on a proverbial burning platform inevitably find themselves with unpalatable choices.

A simple message – but one that is increbily difficult to put into practice. As human beings we seem naturally predisposed to resist change – even when we know that failing to change will be to our professional (or even personal) detriment.

Over the new few weeks I’m planning on posting up a number of the insights and conclusions that I’ve been able to draw from my work over the last few years. Having already lived through one sector’s downturn (print publishing) and seen the ramifiactions first hand, I’m determined to do what I can to ensure that all businesses owners have a greater understanding of the changes that are happening around then, and hence a greater opportunity to benefit through their response.

Change is inevitable, and unless we are the rare creatures who create change, then we are destined to play the role of respondent. But how well we play that role, and the benefits that flow from doing so, is entirely up to us.

Report: TAFE NSW The Evolution of Skills

If you’ve noted the repeated references to skills in my recent posts and other work, you might be interested in knowing where this thinking stems from. In early 2019 I was asked by TAFE NSW to help with the creation and writing of an indepth report looking into Australia’s future skills challenges and the strategies that might help organisations to avoid them.

The result is the report The Evolution of Skills, and it has yielded numerous findings, ranging from the universal requirement for not just digital skills in the workforce, but also for soft skills such as problem solving, collaboration and systems thinking. It also demonstrated the trend towards specialisation in many roles, and the challenge this presents in finding people with the requisite expereince to do the jobs that will emerge in the next ten years. Conversely, it also showed how many roles will require a blend of skills from multiple disciplines, creating the need for cross-skilling of a large segment of the workforce.

The key conclusion of the work was that the employment market simply won’t be able to supply the workers that Australian organisations will need to succeed through this decade. This will in turn arise the need to identify those workers who are best suited to reskilling and then invest in the programs that will get there where they need to be.

Interestingly two of the best examples or organisations thata are taking a strong stance on reskilling are both publicly-owned organisations – Sydney Water and Service NSW, and you can read their stories in the Infrastructure and Government sections of the report.

This content has become a key component of much of current public speaking work, and has also informed my ongoing investigations in the attributes of transformative leaders.