Digital culture: the key to successful digital transformation

6 May 2019

On 11 April, the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, together with partners Optus Business and Message Stick Communications hosted a business lunch on Digital culture: the key to successful digital transformation, featuring a panel of experts including Lee Hickin, National Technology Officer, Microsoft Australia; Deon Liebenberg, Vice President, Optus Business; Michael McLeod, CEO, Message Stick Communications and Sharmila Tsourdalakis, Executive General Manager, Banking & Wealth Technology, Suncorp Group.

The discussion explored key questions around digital transformation including how the arrival of 5G will change the landscape and why creating a digital culture is critical to a successful transformation.

Moderator Paul Smith, Technology Editor at the Australian Financial Review opened the discussion with the idea that ‘digital transformation’ means different things to different people, and asked the panel their thoughts on digital transformation broadly.

Deon Liebenberg said that he thought that soon every single thing will be connected – all humans, spaces and assets – and then the world will change.

“We took 25 years to connect 8 billion things, in the next two years, we will connect 50-70 billion things,” he said.

Michael McLeod said that it was important to ensure that all people, including Aboriginal people, will be able to participate in, and benefit from, the digital economy.

“If we’re not careful, they [the Aboriginal community] will be left behind,” he said.

Sharmila Tsourdalakis said that it’s clear that tech innovation is having a profound impact on the global economy.

“We can quote many examples…look at the mobile phone,” she said. “It’s a super computer [that demonstrates] the extent to which tech has impacted the world we live in and the lives we live.”

Lee Hickin said he didn’t like the term ‘digital transformation’ as it undersold what was happening. He prefers ‘digital revolution’ given the speed that things are changing and how fast Microsoft and its competitors are iterating.

“We need to stop the conversation about “should we do it?” and rather talk about what we’re doing,” he said.

Paul spoke about the ability to fail – in the start-up world they say ‘fail fast,’ but this doesn’t always translate. He asked “how does it really work if you see things going off the rails?”

Sharmila said “we’ve embraced agile at Suncorp. We also see the importance of leaders in navigating business areas and teams through significant change. [It’s also critical to have] a mechanism to ensure you keep learning. It could be your greatest failure not to keep learning,” she said.

Paul said that the big banks have cloud guilds to help people to learn, and asked Sharmila what Suncorp is doing to ensure people keep learning.

Sharmila said that Suncorp has a STEM program in partnership with schools. “It’s all about learning from the beginning, all genders and cultures, and bringing everyone along. Also the amount you can personally learn and push yourself through,” she said.

Michael said he was a late person to the digital revolution.

“I’ve started running [and now have a wearable] that tells me everything about my fitness; I have a new fridge and can order online from it and watch YouTube – I didn’t realise I was part of using this technology,” he said.

“Corporates have to upskill the workforce into this new technology. Aboriginal Australia is on the backfoot. We need to take a long-term view and bring Aboriginal Australia and non-Aboriginal Australia through, too.”

Paul asked what is missing, and Michael said that he’s recently returned from Israel where he learnt about food and water tech to feed communities. He said this would be of great benefit to Aboriginal Australia.

“It’s amazing and it’s all there so how do we apply it?” he said. “There are corporates using that tech in Australia and I will be speaking with them to bring this to Aboriginal Australia.”

He also spoke about Message Stick’s alliance with Microsoft, and using the HoloLens for dreamtime stories and languages.

“We need technology of that calibre to educate Aboriginal Australia,” he said.

Deon said we need to ask the question “how do we fix a business problem by digitising it? Everything will be collected and connected into platforms. Workforce management, artificial intelligence, big data, augmented reality – we have to take everyone on the journey. Robots can’t take over, humanity still needs to be there. The future is around partnership between robots and people,” he said.

Paul said there are multiple generations in the workforce, lots of senior decision makers who have done their jobs well for years and might not want to make these changes happen. He asked the panel “how do you lead a cohort who might have more resistance?”

Sharmila said you need to consider how to equip the workforce with adaptability and agility through the changes.

“The future of work is a key focus for Suncorp, we’re focused on our workforce and giving the people those skills. There is great power in showcasing. Experiential learning brings things to life and gives people the power to understand what this all really means,” she said.

Deon agreed that you have to transform process and culture by showing and doing.

“It’s a cultural thing. Culture is set at the top, embrace diversity and technology. Get younger people to sit next to you, it will change how you think about your business,” he said.

In the audience Q&A, the panel was asked how we prepare ourselves for the new market and new employment space.

Deon said IoT could impact a countries GDP by as much as 13% gross. “We need to reskill constantly but also predict new skills. We need to have agility and the ability to work under pressure. There will be impacts on current roles. The underlying layer is that everything must be connected – Uber connected drivers to people to roads. Connected buildings, driverless cars – what new industries will this create? There will be new jobs that don’t exist yet. 5G will exponentially drive the adoption of this,” he said.

Paul asked whose responsibility it is to get people to where they need to be – business or government?

Lee said that it’s both.

“It’s incumbent on all of us to think about what we can do around re-skilling and re-education. Do we have the right people for the right jobs? How can we lead the change?” he said.

Discussion then moved to the idea that innovation is not high on the Australian government’s agenda.

Lee said there is interest and innovation going on, it is happening, but perhaps it’s not as visible. He spoke of the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and the Azure data centres that Microsoft invested in in April 2018 because the demand was there.

Reference was made to the recent cuts to the R&D tax incentive, and the question was asked what more could the government be doing to encourage innovation. Michael again referred to his experience in Israel and the close links between government, academia and industry there.

Lee said putting in a network was critical and that we needed to ensure investment in training and education was available and accessible to all.