Digital transformation is about people, not technology

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By Katja Forbes, emerging tech specialist and A/NZ MD of Sydney-based strategic design firm Designit.

The whole purpose for building technology in the first place is all about the human experience. That’s really what drives our need for digital transformation – it always has and it most probably always will. 

Technology is just one aspect, usually the largest, of what designers and engineers use when they create these solutions. Which is why I always stress that digital transformation is about people, not technology, no matter how it may be made out to appear. 

Understanding the intricacies of the technology itself is not necessary unless you are the relevant engineer yourself. Understanding the human experience behind the appropriate concept is key to appreciating our global and individual need for digital transformation.

Speaking of misunderstanding, we tend to imagine that digital transformation will just appear on our doorstep in a convenient little package and, upon unboxing, will immediately go ahead and change our lives. Unfortunately, that is not the case – how awesomely straight forward would that be! Digital transformation is more about people and behaviour, than it is actually about technology. 

Digital transformation is more about people and behaviour, than it is actually about technology. The ‘transformation’ part describes the changing of behaviour, and not the building of technology. Humans need to accept that the way we have always done something has caused a problem, and now this problem is under the microscope.

We need to change whatever we have always been doing, in conjunction with using this new piece of technology. If we don’t change what we have always been doing, the results won’t change either. If we want a different result, we all realise that we need to actually do something differently. The designer and their associated team have the job of convincing us to change our behaviour.  Once we start to behave differently utilising a purposely designed piece of technology, and receive desirable results, this is known as digital transformation. 

Before the tech wizards start to assemble, and the designers begin to evolve and create, the most important step is to discover where the transformation is required. This applies to every company and every industry or facet of life. And this discovery process cannot be undertaken without communicating with the human occupants.

In other words, experience designers need to firstly figure out whether their exciting new solution will be used in the anticipated way, before they jump in there and enforce this latest transformation. That means they need to communicate directly with those who are impacted – if not face to face or by email, then market research.

Designers need to determine what exactly the problem is or could potentially be, and how these people feel it could potentially be resolved.  Once a particular solution has been suggested, this again needs to be communicated to the humans who will be affected. Research has shown time and again that if those who are affected by the transformation are behind it from the beginning, then they will actually use it.

If, on the other hand, it’s just thrust upon them with no prior warning, if they are not given a voice, they won’t bother to evolve. Humans like to feel engaged and involved in the process. Humans especially like to feel empowered. As digital transformation is all about people, the purpose should be about finding a solution and empowering people to be part of enforcing the transformation, rather than it all just happening to them.

It is a shame that so many are wary of digital technology, assuming that if they are not a tech whiz, then it’s not something for them. Digital transformation is for all of us. It involves all of us, belongs to us and empowers us. It gives us a voice and communicates with us.

There is nothing more isolating than being left behind on each wave of digital transformation. The first step in avoiding that from happening is to realise that digital transformation is all about people, and nothing about technology.

Katja Forbes is an Australian pioneer in the field of experience design including research, emerging technology as well as service design, customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX). As Managing Director of DesignIt, Australia & New Zealand, Forbes works with ambitious brands to create high-impact products, services, systems and spaces. She is also International Director on the Global Board of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA). In 2014, Forbes founded Syfte, a specialist research and experience design firm which was acquired by Wipro in 2018. Forbes: “One of my personal motivations is to inspire other women, especially in this industry, to reach toward their definition of professional success.”

Issues around infrastructure, delivery of autonomous service to slow mass uptake of aerial ridesharing by at least a decade: study

Despite Uber having selected Melbourne as its third aerial launch city for 2023 and the technical and current operational feasibility of e-air taxis, a new study has found that mass adoption is unlikely in the next 10 to 15 years due to infrastructure challenges and delays in delivering a fully autonomous service.

Key findings from the report – released by Boston-based management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting – include: 

Infrastructure. Current infrastructure is unlikely to be able to accommodate urban air mobility at scale. Achieving the 4,000-passengers-per-hour throughput required will need custom-built, large-scale infrastructure. While technically feasible, these structures would require prime real estate in densely populated urban environments.

Cost. With scale manufacturing techniques, autonomy and pool usage, Uber says aerial taxis could be cheaper than car ownership today, at $0.44 per passenger mile. L.E.K.’s analysis broadly aligns with these cost estimates. However, to meet these projections, it is necessary to assume a heavily utilised model at scale, with minimal infrastructure investment.

Public acceptance. Trust in any technology is critical to scalability. We expect early adopters being willing to try electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft while early flights are piloted. However, with scale, a fully autonomous solution will be needed — and when autonomous aircraft are introduced, considerable work will be needed to drive customer acceptance.

“Whilst Uber’s piloted commercial launch plans may seem aggressive at first glance, they are operationally and technically feasible, and are very much in line with the likes of other industry participants Lilium and Airbus,” said L.E.K. principle and report author Natasha Santha. “Delivering a fully autonomous solution, however, will take several years and will be contingent on millions of incident-free flying kilometres to match the safety standards of other passenger aircraft.”

Additionally, the report identifies four key aspects to ensuring mass-market pricing, including:

Maximising utilisation by minimising turnaround times (i.e., maximum turnaround time at c.8-10 minutes).

Ensuring high load factors through ridesharing and retaining an average passenger capacity per trip of at least c.2-2.5 passengers.

Minimising fixed network costs by using existing infrastructure and attractive other investors to keep initial capital costs below c.$5 million-$10 million per skyport (i.e., takeoff and landing zone).

Ensuring efficient vehicle manufacture by keeping vehicle costs within the range of $1 million-$2.5 million.

“In the 2020s, we are likely to continue to see rollouts in new cities, regulatory change and further technological improvements,” said L.E.K. partner and report author George Woods.


Australian scientists call for greater collaboration for industry, research sector

Australia is not leading the charge on digital transformation currently from a global perspective, with scientists urging both researchers and industry to work more closely together to ensure Australia reaps the benefits from a rapidly expanding sector.

The authors of a key new plan Preparing for Australia’s Digital Future – a joint release by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering and the Australian Academy of Science – are calling for action on fostering closer partnerships between industry and the research sector to make sure Australia is best placed to realise and capitalise on opportunities in digital technology within the near future and beyond.

While the plan’s authors acknowledge Australian success stories in digital technology such as Atlassian, Technology One, Vitalcare, VPI Photonics and Aconex, they note that research investment in digital technology is merely a fraction of its potential contribution to the country’s future prosperity.

FireShot Capture 078 - EMBARGOED_ Bring science and industry together for a better digital f_ -

Professor Glenn Wightwick FTSE, a Fellow of the Academy of Technology and Engineering and co-chair of the steering committee that drew up the plan emphasised that digital transformations are continuously and rapidly evolving, driven by aggressive technology progress and accelerating uptake. “Australia is not driving,” he added. “It is essential that, through strategic actions outlined in this plan, we are able to chart our own course.”

Professor Rod Tucker OAM FAA FTSE, a Fellow of the Academy of Science and co-chair, said the strategic plan was designed to help Australia do better. “Numerous success stories demonstrate our ability to turn excellent science and research into commercial technologies and services that benefit Australia,” he said.

“Yet to realise our potential, we need a plan to help Australians recognise, act on and derive as much benefit as possible from opportunities in our digital research and innovation sectors.”

Meanwhile, Dr Ziggy Switkowski AO FAA FTSE, Chairman of NBN Co and Chancellor of RMIT University,  said: “Everywhere we look we see evidence of digital transformations that are shaping Australian society and our economy and which will change this country in the decades ahead.”

“In this timely report on digital innovation from two of the Learned Academies, we now have an overarching strategic plan that will help Australians act on and derive as much benefit as possible from opportunities in our digital research and innovation sectors,” he said.

“I’m confident this plan can position Australia as a successful, forward-thinking digital nation – one with an enhanced ability to translate our public and private sector ICT research into skills, innovation, public benefit, careers and jobs, and commercial success.”

The plan features a set of 32 recommendations arranged in five key areas:

  • Encouraging digital leadership in industry
  • Fostering research and industry partnership for our digital future
  • Safeguarding and strengthening our digital workforce and capability pipeline
  • Ensuring whole-of-government action for our digital future
  • Delivering research sector reforms

ACCC calls for ‘significant, holistic reform’ of digital platform hegemony

The dominance of the leading digital platforms and their impact across Australia’s economy, media and society must be addressed with significant, holistic reform, according to the final report of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry

The move was backed by the Australian Media and Communications Authority, which hailed the ACCC’s announcement of a “comprehensive review of the impact of digital platforms on Australian news media, advertisers and consumers.”

The report contains 23 recommendations, spanning competition law, consumer protection, media regulation and privacy law, reflecting the intersection of issues arising from the growth of digital platforms.

“Our recommendations are comprehensive and forward looking and deal with the many competition, consumer, privacy and news media issues we have identified throughout the course of this Inquiry,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.


“Importantly, our recommendations are dynamic in that they will provide the framework and the information that governments and communities will need to address further issues as they arise. Our goal is to assist the community in staying up to date with these issues and future proofing our enforcement, regulatory and legal frameworks,” he said.

The ACMANerida-OLoughlin jpg, meanwhile, welcomed the Government’s acceptance of the ACCC’s conclusion that there is a need for reform. “In particular, the development of a harmonised media regulatory framework,’ said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

The ACMA’s current role includes regulation of key areas of media content, including in relation to news, classification and gambling. To that end, the ACMA said it’s particularly interested in the ACCC’s recommendations aimed at addressing regulatory disparity between news media businesses and digital platforms; supporting and enhancing the choice and quality of journalism; improving the balance of bargaining power between digital platforms and media businesses; ensuring digital platforms have robust codes and dispute resolution processes.

“We will review the report and stand ready to participate and contribute to the Government’s public consultation process and considerations of the issues,” O’Loughlin said.

During the course of its Inquiry, the ACCC identified many adverse effects associated with digital platforms, many of which flow from the dominance of Google and Facebook.

These include:

  • The market power of Google and Facebook has distorted the ability of businesses to compete on their merits in advertising, media and a range of other markets
  • The digital advertising markets are opaque with highly uncertain money flows, particularly for automated and programmatic advertising
  • Consumers are not adequately informed about how their data is collected and used and have little control over the huge range of data collected
  • News content creators are reliant on the dominant digital platforms, yet face difficulties in monetising their content
  • Australian society, like others around the world, has been impacted by disinformation and a rising mistrust of news.

“The dominant digital platforms’ response to the issues we have raised might best be described as ‘trust us’,” Mr Sims said.

“There is nothing wrong with being highly focused on revenue growth and providing increasing value to shareholders; indeed it can be admired. But we believe the issues we have uncovered during this Inquiry are too important to be left to the companies themselves.”

“Action on consumer law and privacy issues, as well as on competition law and policy, will all be vital in dealing with the problems associated with digital platforms’ market power and the accumulation of consumers’ data,” Mr Sims said.

Australian media businesses and news consumers

The ACCC has made a series of recommendations to address the digital platforms’ impact on Australian media businesses and how Australians access ­­­­­­news.

These include:

  • Requiring designated digital platforms to each provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with codes to address the imbalance in the bargaining relationship between these platforms and news media businesses and recognise the need for value sharing and monetisation of content
  • Addressing the regulatory imbalance that exists between news media businesses and digital platforms, by harmonizing the media regulatory framework
  • Targeted grants to support local journalism of about AU$50 million a year
  • Introducing measures to encourage philanthropic funding of public interest journalism in Australia
  • ACMA monitoring the digital platforms’ efforts to identify reliable and trustworthy news
  • Requiring the digital platforms to draft and implement an industry code for handling complaints about deliberately misleading and harmful news stories
  • Introducing a mandatory take-down ACMA code to assist copyright enforcement on digital platforms.

Promoting competition

The Inquiry notes the acquisition of startups by large digital platforms has the potential to remove future competitive threats. Acquisitions may also increase the platforms’ access to data. Both situations may further entrench a platform’s market power.

The ACCC recommends changes to Australia’s merger laws to expressly require consideration of the effect of potential competition and to recognise the importance of data. The ACCC also recommends that large digital platforms agree to a notification protocol that would alert the ACCC to proposed acquisitions that may impact competition in Australia.

The report also calls on Google to allow Australian users of Android devices (new and existing) to choose their search engine and internet browser from a number of options, as proposed in Europe, rather than being provided with defaults.

Empowering consumers

Effective consumer protections are critical to addressing issues associated with dominant digital platforms. Throughout this Inquiry, the ACCC has identified some problematic data practices with the potential to cause consumer harm.

The ACCC is well advanced with investigations into some of these data practices to determine whether there has been a contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.

To deal with further data practices that do not fit neatly within the existing consumer law, the ACCC also recommends introducing a general prohibition on unfair commercial practices.

“Introducing this broad, flexible prohibition will increase consumer protections in fast-moving digital markets to safeguard consumers’ ability to make informed and genuine choices,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC has also again recommended unfair contract terms should be prohibited and should attract civil pecuniary penalties, and not just be voidable as they are now.

The ACCC further recommends a mandatory standard to bolster a digital platforms’ internal dispute resolution processes and that an ombudsman scheme be established, to assist with resolving disputes and complaints between consumers and digital platform providers.

Protecting privacy

In light of the overlapping nature of privacy, competition and consumer protection issues in digital markets, the ACCC has made a range of privacy-related recommendations, including:

  • Strengthening protections in the Privacy Act
  • Broader reform of the Australian privacy law framework
  • The introduction of a privacy code of practice specifically for digital platforms
  • The introduction of a statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy.

The Inquiry found that digital platforms’ privacy policies are long, complex, vague and difficult to navigate and that many digital platforms do not provide consumers with meaningful control over the collection, use and disclosure of user data.

Problematic data practices include the use of click-wrap agreements and take it or leave it terms.

“We’re very concerned that current privacy policies offer consumers the illusion of control but instead are almost legal waivers that give digital platforms’ broad discretion about how they can use consumers’ data,” Mr Sims said.

“Due to growing concerns in this area, we believe some of the privacy reforms we have recommended should apply economy wide.”

The recommended amendments to the Privacy Act should be supplemented by an enforceable privacy code of practice, developed by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), and address data practices specific to digital platforms.

Continued scrutiny of digital platforms

The ACCC recommends the Government establish a specialist digital platforms branch within the ACCC, with standing information-gathering powers, to proactively monitor and investigate potentially anti-competitive conduct by digital platforms and conduct that may breach our consumer laws, and to undertake rolling market studies.

“We believe continuing scrutiny is necessary given the critical position that digital platforms occupy in the digital economy, their continued expansion and the opacity and complexity of the markets in which they operate,” Mr Sims said.

One of the first tasks of the new branch should be to conduct an inquiry into the supply of ad-tech services and the supply of online advertising services by advertising and media agencies.

The inquiry would identify whether any competition or efficiency concerns exist and help achieve greater transparency in the supply of these services.

“The ACCC branch will also provide regular reports to Government on issues as they arise, work closely with other arms of government to help co-ordinate work in this vital area, and be the crucial link with our overseas counterparts to share learnings and responses,” Mr Sims said.

Expert regulators and agencies to play complementary roles

The ACCC recommends future law enforcement and regulation of digital platforms be dealt with by the current regulators including the ACMA, the OAIC and the ACCC.

“The ACCC, the ACMA and the OAIC are already working together closely and have now built up expertise in the areas covered by this Inquiry,” Mr Sims said.

“There has been global interest in this timely Australian inquiry and the many significant international reports and external developments in the past 18 months. These reports demonstrate the shared concerns and momentum for reform.”

“The world has now recognised the impact of the digital platforms’ market power and the impact this has on consumers, news, businesses and society more broadly. Continuing national and world action will now follow,” Mr Sims said.


Telstra, Lexus to trial Australian-first mobile V2X tech

Telstra has joined forces with Lexus to start testing Australian-first Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) capabilities. on Victorian roads, with the tests including a raft of key driver assist features to create a safer driving experience.

“Basically, C-V2X lets cars talk to each other, and the environment around them, via our 4G mobile network and via direct short-range wireless links,” Telstra added.

Telstra said the trial – powered by  its 4GX network an supported by a A$3.5 million investment from the Victorian government – will see it testing emergency braking alerts, in-vehicle speed limit compliance warnings, right-turn assist for vulnerable road users and warnings when surrounding vehicles look set to run a red light.

download“This technology is proof that mobile and automotive connectivity developed here in Australia has the ability to help prevent accidents on our roads and to potentially save lives,” said Telstra Group Executive Network and IT Nikos Katinakis.

ACCC warns rise of digital giants could lead to competition law overhaul

The rise of high profile digital platforms like Facebook and Google has left competition regulators around the world considering whether current competition laws need to be amended in response,  according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Speaking at the 2019 Competition Law Conference in Sydney, ACCC Chair Rod Sims highlighted a global discussion among anti-trust authorities on how should they respond to acquisitions by big digital platforms of start-ups that, while small, may evolve into significant competitors.

Sims said Google and Facebook had commercial incentives to strategically acquire nascent firms, even if the chance of those firms ultimately posing a competitive threat was small.

“Arguably, Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram eliminated the threat of a substantial potential competitor,” Sims said.

Over the past 12 years, Facebook acquired 66 companies for a value of US$23 billion, Sims noted. Between 2004 and 2014, Google acquired 145 companies for a value of US$23 billion.

One question being posed was whether the forward-looking test for proposed mergers, which questioned if a transaction would substantially lessen competition, remained adequate in these circumstances.

The challenges involved for competition authorities in dealing with such issues should not be understated, ” Sims said.

“Some have argued that preventing large digital platforms acquiring small start-ups interferes with the incentives to innovate in the first instance,” Sims said. “This perspective appears to be based on a view that large digital platforms are uniquely placed to develop and monetise the innovations of small start-ups.

“In my view, merger law should focus on whether the acquisition interferes with the competitive process and recognise that the process of competition for the market is not the same as the process of competition within the market,” Sims said. “If the prospect that the target will become an effective competitor is small, but the potential increase in competition and consumer welfare is large, greater weight should be put on the potential for competition.”

The ACCC will provide its views on the importance of potential competition in the final report of its Digital Platforms Inquiry, to be provided to the Treasurer on 30 June.

Sims also addressed the current debate about whether the objectives of competition law should be broadened to include issues like consumer privacy, economic inequality and even political influence.

“While the aims are admirable, indeed compelling, I do not believe that broadening the objectives of competition law is the best way to promote them,” he said. “Widening the objectives of competition law is likely to reduce its effectiveness. If we try to get competition law to achieve everything it may end up achieving nothing.”

Touching on two recent competition law matters, Sims said the ACCC was considering its options in response to the recent Pacific National-Aurizon judgment, in which the Federal Court allowed PN to acquire Aurizon’s Acacia Ridge Terminal on the basis of a behavioural undertaking offered by PN.

“The failings of behavioural undertakings are recognised globally,” Sims said.

In the mobile services sector, where the ACCC recently decided to oppose the merger of TPG and Vodafone, overseas examples have demonstrated that markets with four competitors often result in better outcomes for consumers.

“We see this currently playing out overseas in markets as diverse as Canada and France,” Sims said. “Indeed, recently the Canadian Competition Bureau has said that mobile wireless pricing is much lower in regions where there are four players; prices are high and stable where there are three players.

“In the commentary on the TPG-Vodafone, I think there is reflected a belief that the scale or financial strength of a competitor determines their competitiveness. We don’t agree with this. A stable three-player market facing no threats will likely lead to stable and so-called rational pricing.”

Rational pricing should not be confused with the consumer interest,” Sims said. “Consumers need the benefits of vigorous competition in order to obtain competitive pricing and the innovation that is in their interests.”

Vodafone Hutchison Australia, meanwhile,  has just filed a statement of claim with the Federal Court to seek approval for the proposed merger with TPG. “We believe the merger will create an entity that can compete more aggressively in the mobile market and will increase our ability to invest in networks, new technologies, and competitive plans and products for Australian consumers,” a VHA spokesperson said.

OpenText CEO: ‘We’ve lost the privacy war’

‘GDPR will be ubiquitous and unsuccessful’

Opentext CEO Mark Barrenechea is asserting that the battle to maintain some reasonable chance of safeguarding our privacy online has been lost, due in part to advances in cyber crime, a lack of concern around submitting personal details online among Generation Z, and the sheer volume of available data.

Speaking to media and analysts on the sidelines of the firm’s Enterprise World Asia summit in Singapore,  Barrenechea said that the European GDPR privacy measure was at least an attempt to try to put in check the rights of an individual to be to be forgotten or opt out.

“But you can’t…  not participate on the Internet,” he said, adding “I think it’s generational as well; I think GDPR will be ubiquitous and unsuccessful.”

The OpenText CEO and CTO similarly was not hopeful that the California Privacy Law stood any chance of making inroads where personal online privacy is concerned.

“You know, technology moves,” Barrenechea said. “People keep volunteering their data. And as long as you’re volunteering your data, there’s going to be no regulation to keep privacy in check.”

“Generationally, people are uploading their Facebook data, and their DNA – I don’t think anything like GDPR can keep it in check.”

“We probably need a new technology, maybe it’s identity containers,” he mused. “Maybe the Internet or the World Wide Web needs a law [around] some notion of an identity container. ”

“A law isn’t going to protect it. It’s got to be some new technology; a new standard around identity containment,” said Barrenechea.

Richard van der Draay is in Singapore as a guest of OpenText