These are salad days for Web services (and apparently the Internet, according to Telstra's CEO).
It is hard to imagine he could say it with a straight face. Yet the edifice of Ziggy Switkowski did not show the slightest inclination to crack. "We realise that in 2003 the Internet is now mission-critical for our customers." Ziggy, the telecommunications-meister of Australia, the man who heads this nation's largest technology company, said it with neither a hint of sarcasm nor in an attempt at understated humour.
He just said it and expected everyone to take him seriously. That, unfortunately, was the joke.
"Whether they're residential customers using the Net socially for e-mail correspondence, or whether they are corporate customers using the Net to undertake commerce, it needs to be operated at kind of industrial strength."
Kind of industrial strength? Oh, you've got us rolling in the aisles with that one. Where do you get them, Ziggy?
A severe case of Rugby World Cup fever would be the only excuse for an Australian being unaware of Telstra's shocking few weeks of service with BigPond. Reportedly hit by the Swen virus, the broadband provider seemed to lurch from trouble to disaster. Bad days turned into woeful weeks. It was a worst nightmare of any C-level executive, as well as those on the help desk caught in the crossfire of failing technology and angry customers.
Perhaps you could dismiss BigPond's troubles as a minor episode in a much bigger story of Internet adoption and reliance; or charitably say Telstra has become a quality company in the past decade and, regrettably, these kinds of things happen from time to time. After all, Internet technology is not perfect. Only a fool would claim it was designed to be 100 per cent reliable, and Telstra was not the only company blighted by troubles.
What is harder to swallow, however, is that it has taken the chief executive until now to appreciate that millions of us - including Telstra - rely on the Internet for commercial survival. Surely, Mr Switkowski need only read the monthly reports of his own CIO, Jeff Smith, to appreciate that. (In all likelihood, they are sent dutifully by e-mail, too.) One of the topics covered would be Telstra's strategic development of Web services - a business technology discipline that Australian companies are experimenting with increasingly. Its ultimate goal of allowing computers and their software to communicate regardless of colour, creed, politics or geography, is dependent on the same Internet that has blind-sided Mr Switkowski.
Telstra has become a local champion of Web services, understanding the benefits of efficiency (and revenue generation) that can come from allowing internal and external computer systems to hook into each other in a way never achieved before.
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