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A place at the table

David Bartlett
David Bartlett is former Premier of Tasmania and one-time CIO. He is chairman of Asdeq Labs and works with communities on the NBN through Explor Digital Futures. He also likes to go fishing.

"Boards need geeks!” This was the subject header of a recent email invitation I received to a roundtable discussion from ICT industry stalwart Russell Yardley.

The topic got my attention and got me thinking. All the evidence I have seen recently across every Australian industry sector supports this truth: boards desperately need people who understand what is happening in the digital and online worlds.

However, most of the evidence suggests corporate boards just don’t get it. Every time I read another headline about massive job losses in the news and newspaper sectors I wonder what the boards of those companies have been doing the last few years to prepare for the great digital disruption.

Perhaps they didn’t see it coming? Or if they did, perhaps they were unable to respond in a timely and strategic manner? The whole retail business model is undergoing massive disruption just like newspapers and pretty much= every other traditional business model around.

Whether its crowd sourcing, content aggregation, social enabling, pay walls, collaborative consumption, collaborative design, or crowd analysis of big data, digital and online trends are driving the destruction of old business models and creation of new ones.

This destruction and creation wave has only just begun. Digital media production technologies such as augmented reality will radically affect real estate, hospitality, tourism, gaming, news and many other sectors in the coming years.

Deloitte’s recent whitepaper, Digital disruption – short fuse, big bang? claims that some 65 per cent of the Australian economy is headed for a ‘big bang’ disruption. I agree with them on that.

The whitepaper goes on to place hospitality, manufacturing and mining in the 35 per cent of the economy headed for a ‘small bang’ disruption. This is where I disagree.

With airbnb.com now booking more room nights in New York than the whole of the Manhattan hotel room stock, providers of accommodation in Australia better wake up and work out what collaborative consumption sites mean for their business.

With mining companies reading about Ontariobased miner Rob McEwen using crowd sourcing to find $3.4 billion in gold that the experts had failed to find, they better look twice.

Unless business understands at board level that ubiquity of online connectivity is driving radical change we will continue to see unmanaged disruption across all Australian industry sectors.

Unmanaged disruption means destruction of wealth and loss of jobs and ultimately a degradation of our nation’s wealth producing capacities.

Your business is now in the palm of your customer’s hand. One business in Australia that gets it is Domino’s Pizza. The business model for selling pizza has been turned on its head, driving the company’s profits up 26 per cent.

Chief executive Don Meij said it’s expected that more than 60 per cent of Domino’s overall pizza sales will come via online orders this year. “We’ve gone from 1 per cent of [online sales] in 2005 to 50 per cent today, and 40 per cent of that’s through smartphones,” Meij said.

It’s not just sales that online trends are disrupting. In the aftermath of the recent Alan Jones social media storm, Macquarie Radio Network chairman Russell Tate has warned other boards to get to grips with social media forces they don’t understand.

For Australian companies to play and win in the digital economy their boards need to embrace the wisdom of their CIOs more than ever before. The great digital disruption is not going away.

Unless ‘geeks’, who understand this disruption, are welcomed in by company boards the gap between corporate strategy and what’s happening in the digital world will only widen.

Tags: David Bartlett, comfort zone

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