Preparing for Australia’s communications century

The Australian business community needs to recognise that it may be the weakest link in embracing the impending communications revolution. Their lack of conviction sends a poor message to our regional partners.

For Australia to seize the opportunities of the Asian Century opportunities the Australian business community needs to confront an uncomfortable possibility – it may be the weakest link.

Australian business is traditionally sparing in its praise but never short of criticism of our national and state governments. Sometimes, this means that we are so busy finding the negative in the details, we never support the positive in the big picture.

For example, it is time for all Australian business to say the following: ubiquitous national broadband is an unqualified good thing for Australia, and a massive opportunity for business at home and in Asia.

That is not even politically contentious. Both major parties and the Greens agree with the principle. There are arguments about how we get there, but no argument about the end game.

Why does Australian business need to nail its colours to the mast on this issue? Simply because this is both the Asian Century and the Communications century. Our neighbours know it and will not wait for us if we don’t take a leadership role.

If we lack conviction in our embrace of the communications revolution we risk appearing dangerously complacent or misguided to our regional business partners.

But if we do step up to a leadership role, the opportunities are enormous.

An example of leadership

Our most successful regional services export of the past 20 years, the education sector, shows how industry and policy pulling together can build a sustainable, regionally integrated export industry from nothing. The features our education sectors offering are quality, proximity and cultural sensitivity. It has built on a supportive and broadly bipartisan policy framework that is responsive to the need for change.

The roots of success of the sector go back to our role as a foundation partner in the Colombo Plan, which ultimately created an alumni of people trained in and by Australian universities throughout the region. It created cross cultural human ties, on-going goodwill, and confidence and trust in doing business with each.

The education sector is now showing that it grasps communication age opportunity to extend its reach into new markets, as well as transform the product itself.

Broadband transforms both supply and demand in education. You don’t have to move country to access the best educators anymore. And more educators can reach more students from where ever they happen to be, perhaps not even on campuses at all. This in turn will re-engineer the internal organisation of the sector, moving it to a distributed model.

The broader Australian business community should look to education’s success and ask how the communications revolution is transforming supply and demand in its own world.

Forward looking businesses are transforming themselves today – embracing the chance to more processing power and data storage out of their offices to be replaced by pay-as-you-use cloud services; recasting their customer relationships; linking to international suppliers and clients more closely than could have been dreamed of a decade ago.

Are we doing more than other countries?

The big question is, can the Australian business community of Australia truly say we are more forward thinking and aggressive users of new communication technologies than the business community in other countries in our region? If the answer is no, what chance do we have of replicating the success of the education sector in making ourselves a true partner with businesses in our region? What have we got to show our neighbours that they don’t know already?

My experience doing business in the communications industry in Asia suggests they hunger for the newer and better communications technologies that enable businesses of the future.

If we want our ambitious neighbours to regard us as a leading partner in their futures, we need to be able to satisfy that hunger. We need to able to speak the language of technology, and walk the walk.

We need to be users of the latest and greatest, and to link our businesses with those of our business partners.  We need to be able to show them that, as a rich and imaginative nation, we are at the forefront of thinking and of business transformation. In the Asian and communications century, national boundaries will no longer be the things that fundamentally divide us. Technology will allow people to reach across them. But if we are not embracing the opportunities of technology, we risk being a different kind of island; one that is marooned in the past.

David Tudehope is Founder and CEO of Macquarie Telecom. He is a governor of the American Chamber of Commerce and was awarded the Charles Todd Medal for outstanding contribution to advancing communications services in 2011.