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Leaders discuss transformation and innovation: AWS panel

Leaders discuss transformation and innovation: AWS panel

Westpac, Seven West Media, Atlassian discuss cloud and agility

Atlassian's Scott Farquhar

Atlassian's Scott Farquhar

Innovation and the use of cloud technologies is changing industries across Australia. Just ask Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO, Scott Farquhar, who said the move towards a cloud-centric digital world promises significant opportunity for Australia, a country historically saddled by the “tyranny of distance.”

Farquhar told a media panel at the annual AWS Summit that there’s a “big opportunity for Australia to become a leading technology player.” Farquhar was joined on the panel by Westpac CIO Dave Curran and Seven West Media head of digital Dan Stinton, who also discussed their journeys to the cloud and transition towards more agile workplaces.

“Australia for a long time had nothing to ship back to England. We came here and we couldn’t ship wood back because it was too heavy,” Farquhar said. “We didn’t have a spice trade to send back. It was only when we got to sheep and discovered wool was small enough, light enough and valuable enough to ship back to England," he said, explaining the country was then able to deliver goods and services to be sold overseas which was the 'making' of Australia.

“This tyranny of distance has been a big part of Australia. Car manufacturers are a long way from the markets they want to serve. And if you think we can move to a digital world, where software is weightless, and instant, it can go round the world to every country from Australia.

"It is an opportunity for us to finally escape this tyranny of distance. I look at technology as a way for Australia to be a lead provider (and it doesn’t matter whether you are in Australia or any country around the world), but you are now on a level playing field.”

He said Atlassian is already transforming its business internally, moving its global operations from being hosted on its own servers to being hosted in the cloud by AWS and paving the way for innovation - and he expects customers to increasingly adopt the cloud in their own organisations.

"About a third of our revenue, give or take, comes from the cloud," he said, explaining 90 per cent of customers will be using the cloud over the next ten years. The $8.7 billion Australian-born software giant, which has 70,000 customers in 170 countries around the world, recently acquired Trello, a collaboration and project management tool, for AU$561 million.

Meanwhile, Westpac CIO Dave Curran, said the bank is already well on the road to innovation - it recently released the Westpac Keyboard as a prime example - and its transformative journey has already changed the way the bank interacts with customers and delivers services.

Westpac's Dave Curran
Westpac's Dave Curran

“One of the things people think about banks is that they are safe, but also slow. And I think the challenge for banks is actually you can adapt far more quickly than the world is moving at, and stay safe. It is not an ‘or’, but an ‘and’ in that conversation.

"More and more we are leveraging cloud-based capabilities to be more adaptable. When fingerprint security first came out, that took us less than three months to get up and going with Amazon. It is now used in excess of 1.5 billion times a day. That just becomes the norm.”

He said the rollout of the Westpac Keyboard - which is a feature of Westpac Live that allows customers with the iPhone mobile banking app to complete banking tasks, directly from selected messaging apps - is another great example of innovative technology.

“With Westpac Keyboard, we are going one step further. With the history of banking, you have typically gone to the bank, the branch, the call centre, you’ve gone to the Internet, you go to the app on the phone. What we’re saying is, ‘why can’t we take banking to you?’ The keyboard is our first foray into saying, ‘we will let it go into your world.’ If you are in a Messenger conversation with a friend, and you owe them money or they want to send you money, why can’t you just do that in the conversation rather than saying, ‘i will do that later when i go back to the app.’”

He said working with companies like AWS is “forcing the bank” to think outside the box and become more agile. Similarly, the collaboration with the fintech world is another area of opportunity, despite initial criticism.

“It was only three years ago that fintech was going to destroy banking. The conversation was it was always going to be head to head. And only three years later, people are saying it is now banking and fintech working together. And these are examples of where we can move far more quickly working with fintech, and similarly fintech can leverage the scale and safety and the history of banks because the regulation and the capital requirements, the risk management is all pretty sophisticated.”

Additionally, he said cloud is an interesting conversation to have when you are a big bank. He noted the bank is leveraging a lot of cloud technology and using analytics as it looks to drive a full agile methodology with the organisation, which is a challenge.

“Where the challenges are for the banks is, 'how do we move that out to the core work we do into cloud-enabled work and the things we have to take from 200 years of legacy?'

“At this point, we are constrained by the regulations we work in so we are working very much towards the concept of private cloud, off-premise, and the things that go with that - that’s our challenge. In my mind, it is less than 10 years that you will see that will continue to push and it has to be public cloud.”

Across the Tasman, Curran said the entire tech team is already agile.

“In New Zealand where we have a smaller team, our entire technology team is all agile, and all the things that go with it. In Australia, we are much larger than that, so moving that scale takes a little bit longer. But we are moving in that direction because we see enormous value in it.

“But to do that on systems that were built in the 1980s and on Cobalt, then you come with a whole sort of interesting challenges. A lot of people say rip and replace them, but it is hard. If it was easy, we would have all done it.”

But the biggest hurdle towards large scale cloud adoption is education amongst key stakeholders, he said, calling it “the largest journey.”

“You have to take the stakeholders on the journey. What does it mean for your customers if their data lives in the cloud? What does it mean for the regulator if your data lives in the cloud? What does the cloud actually mean in terms of public versus private and the questions of data sovereignty,” he asked.

“The biggest challenge is actually education. It is not solutions. The solutions come really fast and are really good. It is actually, how do you leverage that at scale, how do you integrate that, and how do you avoid making mistakes - because one mistake is really big.”

Over at Seven West Media, which is undergoing massive change, its head of digital Dan Stinton, said the journey to cloud and agility is already proving successful - and one that heavily relies on scale.

“It has been a fairly frenetic last year for us. We’ve just done the Australian Open, which was a massive success for us, prior to that the Olympics and Melbourne Cup live stream,” he said, noting the company relaunched The West Australian website, is about to launch its first mobile application, and has relaunched 30 websites under the Pacific Magazine stable of products.

“The real benefit that AWS brings to us is our ability to scale up an audience really really quickly. If you take the Australian Open, for example, that is 14 days and it has a massive audience. For the final between Federer and Nadal we had 200,000 concurrent live streams, which is big for Australian standards and it went off without a hitch, primarily because AWS gives us the ability to scale up, safely and securely.”

He said the real challenge - and opportunity - comes from making content available to consumers wherever they are.

"But in addition to that, we are also giving consumers more choice around the content that they consume,” he said, explaining the distribution of content in the past was far more controlled and tightly scheduled.

“AWS facilitates that. Just the ability to scale up and deal with an audience of that size is important. But also just the infrastructure costs of being able to do that are quite substantial. AWS are allowing us to be able to offer that wealth of content and give the consumer that amount of choice is a big difference these days from two years ago.”

Stinton said the company is investing heavily in a comprehensive data strategy. “We are trying to get a single customer view across all of our products, which includes magazines, TV and digital products as well so we can take to market.”


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