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Challenging dogma

01 Oct 2010

Last year I spoke of the opportunity to be smart, as an industry and as a country, with the assets and attributes we can bring to bear on our economic performance from an ICT infrastructure perspective. I challenged the notion that innovation is the preserve of our industry, academics and so on. 12 months on a lot has changed; and a lot hasn’t. We’re now well immersed in the process of industry change. Immovable stakes have been put in the ground only to be moved. We’ve by now got a pretty clear picture of the playing field that will result from the UFB initiative – a structurally separated telecommunications supply market. We’re less sure of who the players will be and where the lines will be drawn. The possibilities hold both promise and risk. A bunch of smart folks have got traction with one of the great no-brainers of our industry. That’d be the Pacific Fibre crew and there’d not be too many who wouldn’t applaud and support the obvious sense in better assuring that the ability of New Zealanders to play unconstrained in the global digital economy, is not compromised by the commercial and resilience implications of the piece of glass currently linking us to the world. And of course, one of the big changes to the industry landscape is the imminent departure of Ernie Newman from his role at the helm of TUANZ. This guy has arguably been the most recognisable face in the industry and a tireless user advocate for over a decade. We salute you, and we will miss you Ernie. But we’re sure you’ll find ways to continue to get involved – it’s in your DNA now! So the fact is, we are in a different space from a year ago. Things have changed, but what I find more intriguing is what hasn’t changed. It’s intriguing and challenging for us all I think. No, I’m not referring to the tireless efforts of Bronwyn and friends in the Institute to convince us all that the whole notion of broadband as a productivity enabler is fundamentally flawed, but ultimately (I think) the fruitless efforts. One thing strikes me as blindingly obvious and simple, and that is the joining of dots across a range of public assets and initiatives. Firstly, we’ve heard the statements and seen the focus on the health and education sectors woven through these broadband infrastructure initiatives, however real traction with crossleverage seems to be elusive. In addition, the aggregate portfolio of public assets and attributes that can be gainfully brought to bear on the broadband infrastructure upgrade we’re heading into represents a tangible opportunity. What are we doing to ensure that the likes of Transpower, KiwiRail and Kordia are deliberately positioned to contribute? Making the dollars go as far as possible is a laudable and key objective for government’s broadband investment vehicle, but without real political, will this not be translated into public sector behaviour and the opportunity to realise best ‘bang for buck’ likely to be avoided? TUANZ has consistently called for development of a National Digital Architecture that would identify and contextualise these and other opportunities and provide us with the basis on which to advance collaborative industry thinking. Sadly, the fact that this remains a call to action is another example of what hasn’t changed. This brings me to the other big thing that quizzically hasn’t changed, or at least not to the extent needed. That is the engagement of the demand side, where all this capability we’re building gets translated into innovation, productivity and, ultimately, economic growth.I find myself from time to time at formative gatherings of our “apparently” best and brightest, boldly setting the agenda for market change. And the sub-text I’m hearing goes something like “screw the country, this is all about our telecommunications industry”. I hear the ongoing challenge to this inter-generational business case, crafted in the context of ‘today’ paradigms, continuing from those with a vested interest in preserving today’s industry constructs. It still looks a lot like the supply side of the industry remains in its traditional seat with an underlying attitude of “this is what we sell; therefore this is what you need and will buy”; “we know best”. But a key of this demand profile that everyone struggles to identify is, I think, going to come from a host of innovations in operating models for business – the ways of work that will be insisted upon by our kids, as they become the drivers of our economic performance, in the not too distant future! So if I’ve got a call to action right now, it is to the demand side. The market change, that will be the result of the infrastructure investment programme the government has initiated, is happening. The rules that will govern the way the industry operates for the next couple of decades are being written over the next year. Many of you will know that Voco works predominantly on the demand side of this telecommunications industry of ours. Despite all the rhetoric, we’ve seen 10 years of clear evidence of a dominant supplier community constraining the natural inclination of the demand side to innovate to survive, succeed and thrive. We have shared the frustration. There is pent-up demand for a slicker, more demand-side focused telecommunications industry. The finalists and winners we honoured at the TUANZ Innovation Awards 2010, and all those who put themselves forward, are the exemplars. These are the folks who find ways to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways, are prepared to challenge dogma and, importantly, are willing to put themselves out there for the rest of us. Get involved. Get heard. This market inflexion point is one that will not come again in our careers. It matters.