Charles Dickens and Telstra Vantage…? The Future Belongs to the Skilled

September 6th, 2019

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period” – Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities (ATOTC)

These immortal words of Charles Dickens have invaded my thoughts with specific intent on this clear but cool Melbourne morning. I am standing in the epicentre of the main expo hall at Telstra Vantage which is the annual technology experience showcase hosted by Telstra for its partners and customers. Telstra Vantage is a big deal, with 3,850 companies attending who make up 85% of the top ASX companies, which in turn collectively represent 30% of Australia’s GDP. Like I said, it’s a big deal and it is at the end of this rather big deal that I sit here at my keyboard in the expo hall, reflecting on the last 3 days of the event.

So, what does my interlude with Charles Dickens have to do with Telstra Vantage?

You see, when one collocates the background context of A Tale of Two Cities and Telstra’s recent journey they appear very closely aligned.

Let me explain…

In Dickens’ novel, the world as it was known was changing, the French revolution was about to rock everything in France and England to its core. Behaviours that were once understood and observed by society in London and Paris were thrown into the air by a new era of simultaneous uncertainty and excitement which would herald in the future. But it wasn’t clear to French and English citizens at the time what that future would be, and what role they were to have in it.

During his keynote Andy Penn (Telstra CEO) painted a picture of how Telstra had similarly undergone a French revolution of its own by reshaping itself to be a relevant and important player in the new future.

Penn cited that Telstra had a strong legacy which had played an important part in putting Telstra where they are today. Penn celebrated Telstra’s historical achievements including transmitting the first moon landing broadcasts from Apollo 11 via the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales. On board the spaceship that took that incredible journey was a computer that was 100,000 times less powerful than the mobile phone sitting in your pocket today.

However, Penn cited that Telstra’s legacy was not enough for it to succeed in the new future.

“We need to leave our legacy behind and disrupt ourselves, and that is what we are planning to do with T22“ said Penn. T22 is the name of the strategy that is being executed to re-engineer Telstra from the bottom up. This strategy includes rationalising products, digitising operations, and creating new business units to meet the new technology demands of its customers. One such new business unit is Telstra Purple which brings together Telstra Enterprise’s business technology services capabilities and a number of its recently acquired companies to focus on outcome-based, transformative tech solutions. Telstra purple has over 1500 certified experts in network, security, cloud, collaboration, mobility, software, data and analytics, and design.

The T22 strategy is being executed almost as quickly as the French aristocracy by the guillotine in the times of Dickens. Telstra is experiencing considerable structural flux as a result of T22, but they are quickly moving forward to the desired endgame which will come in 2022.

According to Penn, the new decade we are about to enter (the 2020’s), will be when the fourth industrial revolution will descend upon us. The fourth industrial revolution is described as the rise and fusion of a multitude of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Block Chain, Infinite Compute, Robotics, Cybernetics, Biotech, IoT and Virtual/Mixed Reality. The rate of technological change that will occur during this period will unlikely be as slow as before. Penn asked the question “are we going to be serviced by these changes or drowned by them?”.

In order for Telstra to avoid the deluge and ride the wave of the fourth industrial revolution, Penn has mandated that Telstra invest in four key areas:

  • The first is the 5G network, which promises to bring 10 times the capacity of 4G with higher device density and low latency. The network will ultimately be the key conduit for automation, AI, IoT, and robotics services, all of which require low latency and high capacity.
  • The second is the huge investment in the adoption of agile methodologies.
  • The third is the rationalisation of approximately 1800 consumer products down to 20, and the simplification and in some instances the elimination of some of its contracts.
  • The fourth is the investment in new Telstra Business centres to improve the customer experience across the board.

It is the future that Penn and Telstra are trying to capture and shape with its customers and partners. Telstra is hedging its bets that its T22 strategy will place it in good stead to be able to play a part in the new world of the 2020’s.

After receiving the keynote from Andy Penn, I had a better appreciation of the enormity of the task that Telstra is undertaking and how much effort they are putting in to ensure that the journey is a success. I think that mister Jarvis Lorry from chapter four in A Tale of Two Cites nicely sums up the urgency and breadth of Telstra’s transformation when he says:

“A matter of business. Regard it as a matter of business — business that must be done.” Jarvis Lorry – ATOTC

Andy Penn and the Telstra team would agree with Mr Lorry, they are most definitely making the right changes and forging forward to get their business done.

Inside The Expo hall one gets a glimpse of how that journey is currently progressing. Telstra is working harder than ever to align itself to its vast partner network to bring exciting new products and services to market. Some of these cutting-edge solutions were on display at The Expo, such as how Telstra helped SCT Logistics implement an IoT asset tracking solution to combat the loss of containers, rail wagons and trailers.

Another was how Telstra helped Australia Post deploy and manage more than 17,000 next-gen mobile devices to transform their frontline customer engagement. Another was how a Telstra Managed SD-WAN is helping ALDI improve network resiliency and grow its retail footprint.

A more novel capability of technology on display from our friends at Microsoft was an AI equipped Star Wars themed pinball machine. The AI used cameras to monitor the ball and flipper movements whilst people played, and it started to learn how to best play the game. As I had put many a 2-dollar coin into a Star Wars pinball machine during my university years, I was keen to take on the AI. My initial enthusiasm was short lived as I bombed out of the game at 10 million points, the AI bot clocked in at 55 million points by comparison; and I thought I was good at pinball.

Almost everywhere you looked there was a great partner, with a great product or service that solved key business problems. It is a lot to take in over one lap of The Expo. It seemed that every time I went around, I spotted something new that sparked another round of ideation on how a business could benefit from these solutions.

Outside of the mayhem of The Expo hall, there were a myriad of great sessions to be experienced, some of which featured some of the most recognised names in Australian sport, the arts and industry. One such session was Exploring the Future of Australia’s Workforce with Telstra’s Joel Dane and one of Australia’s leading social commentators, Bernard Salt.

Bernard Salt was as entertaining as he was informative as he revealed some interesting takeaways from the last Australian Census, which exposed insightful information on the future state of Australia’s workforce. As we find ourselves in a state of constant change and in constant motion, it can become blurred and camouflaged in its visibility. But after the course of time it reveals itself in a dramatic way in much the same way as evolution by natural selection. Here are some of the key insights that Bernard laid out which were most fascinating. For example, did you know:

  • Australia is scheduled to add 4.1 million people to its population in the next 10 years
  • Australia will increase its GDP by 950 Billion in the next 10 years
  • 46% of Australia’s job growth has come from highly skilled Tier 1 jobs such as Doctors and Engineers
  • Australia added 4.26M jobs in the last 10 years and lost 0.25M jobs in legacy industries
  • Health, social assistance, science/tech, construction and education are the industries where the top jobs will be in the 2020’s

Bernard stated that Australia is going to be one of the most fertile places to be for opportunities in the 2020’s. He also advised that in order for someone to future-proof their career in 2020’s Australia, one needs to make sure that they:

  • Are always upskilling and constantly learning – especially in STEM fields which will be key
  • We need to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship and creative thinking
  • Maintain agility and resilience – embrace change and be comfortable with change
  • Refine verbal skills and articulation – these skills will be required

Bernard’s lasting note to his very captive audience was this…

“The future belongs to the skilled”.

From what I saw at Telstra Vantage, I feel like we are currently sitting at an inflection point, where what we once knew, what we now know, and what we are yet to learn are being challenged, twisted and constantly redefined. It seems that whichever way you turn, one has to constantly recalibrate their compass to successfully navigate the journey into the future. The future is coming ever faster towards us and its coming in ever changing forms. It is a future that is ripe with opportunity, packed with change, and is there to be captured and harnessed to our advantage. This journey will not be easy and is bound to be lined with challenges. Telstra knows this which is why it is undergoing an internal revolution to make sure it is well positioned to capture it. As a Telstra partner here this week, we are all invested in Telstra’s vision of turning the impossible to possible, and the possible to reality for our customers.

The last words I will leave to Dickens, whose description of this bright future of possibility in Victorian times sits perfectly with what Telstra and Telstra partners at Vantage are ultimately trying to achieve:

“A beautiful world we live in, when it IS possible, and when many other such things are possible, and not only possible, but done—done, see you!—under that sky there, every day”.

Until next time.

By John Filippis