Reality check for Australian competition's executive vice president and former White House CIO Vivek Kundra has a blunt message for government and business leaders - if you are still stuck in old world thinking then you've already lost the race.

Visiting Sydney for this week’s CeBIT technology show, Salesforce executive vice president and former US Government chief information officer Vivek Kundra has a strong message for Australian business and political leaders about the nation’s role in the changing global economy.

Kundra’s key question for Australian leaders is “how can a country of 22 million people compete in a world of seven billion?”

“It’s not about size. It’s going to be about innovation. Innovation policy and an innovation agenda have to become the building blocks of a nation that’s going to compete in the global economy.”

Third wave of computing

Driving competition in the global economy is what Kundra calls the ‘third wave of computing’ led by cloud services, mobile broadband networks and portable devices.

“The most amazing opportunities lie in reinventing entire sectors of the economy,” with Vivek citing US companies such as Amazon, Uber and Netflix as businesses that are transforming industries today.

The choice for business leaders is stark – “do you want to be Amazon or Barnes & Noble?” Kundra asks, referring to the once dominant US book chain that’s fallen into the shadows of Amazon and other more nimble competitors.

“There’s a Darwinian spirit to the extinction of those who are holding onto the 1960s ways of doing business.” Vivek states, “not because it’s in the interest of the customer but because it’s easy and it’s because that’s what they know what to do.”

“Companies that are embracing the third wave of doing business are doing it in the interest of the customer.”

Stuck in the 80s

Kundra’s advice for both government and business leaders is blunt, “most large scale organisations are still stuck in 1980s technologies. If you’re still stuck in an old mindset then unfortunately there’s a young entrepreneur whose imagining the way the world should be rather than it is.”

For those within organisations who want to convince their managers that the business needs to change Kundra believes the best way to do it is to build out a prototype, “I think for too many people the expectations for transformative technologies is that it takes too long, costs too much and they’ve been burned in the past.”

Kundra learned this lesson from his time as the US Government’s CIO where he built an IT Dashboard that gave projects a green, yellow or red light depending upon their status.

Some of these government projects were ten years late and way over budget, the dashboard gave the Obama administration the information required to identify and cut over $3 billion worth of poorly performing contracts in six months.

“Be relevant and simplify the customers or citizens’ lives,” is Kundra’s advice to those trying to drive change within their organisations.

For the Australian economy, the former US government CIO sees the NBN as a bright spot but worries about its implementation.

“If you look at the National Broadband Network, that’s really interesting but I think you have to ask a deeper question, ponders Kundra. “It’s not sufficient just to rollout the national broadband network, because a network on itself is useless, you have to reimagine healthcare, education and government.”

That reimagining is happening around the world and Kundra warns that leaders ignoring today’s changes has serious consequences for both the private and public sector, “they are going to slow down the growth of a nation if they’re in government, or they are going to drive their companies to extinction. It’s a one-way street.”

Overall though Kundra is optimistic about these changes, “every ten years there’s a big shift in tech – this is a mega shift. It’s an amazing time to be alive.”

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