by Shahida Sweeney

Telstra embraces digital future at ‘unique moment in time’

Oct 20, 20144 mins
Big DataCloud ComputingGovernment

Telstra is diving head-first into the digital space – with this new frontier expected to drive all lines of business, according to CEO David Thodey. The power base is shifting from corporates’ “ivory towers” to individuals that are driving the global agenda.

Thodey, a keynote speaker at Telstra’s 2014 Australian Digital Summit, told more than 500 attendees that businesses, including his own, need to reinvent themselves or “risk becoming another dinosaur”.

There are new ways of sharing power and connecting with people and business needs to be part of this change. But going digital is not just about embracing new technologies, Thodey said.

“It’s about innovation and a willingness to share knowledge. The free flow of ideas is now open and transparent. This is precisely why corporations should move out of ivory towers and embrace change.”

Novice in digital space

As Australia’s largest telco, Telstra remains governed by “nine levels of management and thousands of staff,” Thodey said. “There is a need to change the culture, although nearly 50 per cent of Telstra transactions are being done digitally.”

Thodey added that despite Telstra’s high-profile investment in the digital technologies, the telco is “still a novice in this space”.

There are no easy answers to going digital, the CEO said. “We’re still a process-driven company. Moreover, with regulators that want to ‘help’ us along the way, we need to create a sense of purpose and we have got to be bold.”

Telstra’ digital roadmap involves a radical rethink about placing the customer first, Thodey added. “The customer has to be at the centre of everything. This is integral to who we are and what we are. You need to move past the gee-whizz technology to keeping a customer focus.”

Tackling ‘digital Darwinism’

Companies satisfied with their existing status quo risked becoming victims of “digital Darwinism,” added Thodey. The concept of digital Darwinism has seen countless high-profile companies fade out against their digitally-savvy competitors.

“The future lies in finding your courage and embracing change,” he added.

With a global population now peaking at more than 7 billion, and increasingly going digital, the world is at a “unique moment in time,” Thodey said. “Australia has got to step into the digital space.”

Story of us

In a digital world, every person inhabiting the planet has a voice and personal footprint, according to US futurist Brian Solis.

Solis told the summit that it is difficult to predict the future “because it’s not written yet. You and I are now writing this future, here and now. We are the new distribution networks for traditional media and publishers of our own content. We are our own digital celebrities or use selfies and share our lives, in the moment.”

The challenges for people, straddling an analogue and digital environment, lies in changing established perceptions and ways of thinking, Solis said.

“Much off what we see in the digital world runs counter-intuitive to how we have used (and still use) technology,” he said. “A selfie for example is almost an emoticon in that it conveys what you think or feel, at any given time. Going digital is the story of us, at a critical time in human history.”

The danger lies in getting caught up in machines, Solis said. “We’re now fully-empowered to join a relentless and fast-changing world.”

He added that in an online world, 67 per cent of buying is done digitally. The learning span of teenagers averages six minutes between smartphones, tablets or other online interaction. “For media, education, or business, there is a different way of story-telling. This factors a finite attention span.”

At retail check-out counters, “mobile blindness” is ambushing customers, Solis said. “Once they’re past the aisles, they rarely have an impulse-buying moment. Most are on their cells and sales are declining for at-the-counter purchases.”

Solis noted that the future for business, government or education is about experiences and “how you made people feel.”

This goes beyond standard-issue ICT inventory or board-room processes. Success lies in making a direct and tangible connection with people, in an online or mobile setting.

Follow Shahida Sweeney on Twitter: @ShahidaSweeney

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