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.

Inaugural Mobile Awards entries close soon!

If you’re a mobile developer and could use an extra $5000, get your entry in soon for the inaugural Mobile Awards. The Mobile Awards will showcase leading mobile achievements through categories including best applications for: Business, Information, News, Utilities, Navigation, Banking/Finance and Games. There are also awards for Innovation in the Mobile Industry, including Best Audience Migration to Mobile Technology, Best Mobile Expanded Service, and Best New Service to the mobile market. In its inaugural year, the Mobile Awards is offering a $5000 cash prize of the Best Mobile Application selected by the chairman of the judging committee. Winners will be announced at the 2011 Mobile Awards Night in Sydney in September.

$50,000 up for grabs in the IT Invention Test

If you’re an individual or small-to-medium businesses based in Australia and have a project that is an idea, concept or prototype that has generated not more than $150,000 in sales you may be eligible to go into the running for the $50,000 IT Invention Test. Organised by ICT Geelong to provide a pathway for people with IT ideas to commercialise their dreams, last year’s inaugural competition received and overwhelming response. Submissions close at 5:00pm Friday 9th September 2011.

Mobile Awards launch this week

This year will see the inaugural national awards dedicated to the mobile industry, the Mobile AwardsDesigned to recognise and celebrate outstanding achievement across all aspects of the Australian mobile landscape, the Melbourne launch event takes place on June 1, with the Sydney event taking place the next day. If you’re interested in attending the launch click here.