Six months ago I "downsized" from the national broadband network (nbn) - Australia’s wholesale broadband provider, to join Superloop - the independent provider of connectivity services designing, constructing and operating business, residential, and wholesale networks throughout Asia Pacific.
As a Government owned company, nbn, and my time there, was focussed on building out the capabilities that would allow all Australian businesses to access fast broadband as soon as possible, at an affordable price. The significantly enhanced availability of nbn fibre has now given Australian businesses new options, both technical and commercial, and a significantly greater level of retail contestability. I was really impressed with the speed and agility that Australian business leaders demonstrated in the shift to remote work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and the nbn was critical in supporting that. Now that flexibility in our personal and professional lives has become a priority for many Australians, the importance of connectivity has escalated, with 74% acknowledging they couldn’t achieve the balanced lifestyle they are looking for without access to fast and reliable broadband.
The scale of our landmass and availability of high speed broadband to the entire population is quite unique compared to the rest of the world. It's not just about speed, it's about equal distribution of access. What this means for Australian businesses is that it’s no longer necessarily those with the deepest pockets that can win. It is whomever has the best ideas. With this 'democratic' availability of connectivity - an interesting opportunity for real organisational and personal transformation emerges. In an environment where high-level technological capabilities are accessible to all, teams with the highest-level cognitive capabilities combined with the emotional performance to use them effectively and meaningfully, will gain a competitive edge.
I see my role at Superloop as part of the evolution of the fibre network more broadly. My focus now is all about driving the utilisation of this network that's been built, and providing businesses all over Australia with the tools to succeed via fairer, more flexible access to extensive carrier-grade and metro fibre networks, and in the process, create an "Ideas Meritocracy". Let me explain why this is so critically important.
Legacy Telco Services
Traditionally, businesses both large and small have had very different levels of access to competitive fibre in Australia. Previously, broad scale access to information with enterprise grade connectivity was really only available from a single privatised network built by the incumbent national Telco. Competitive options were indeed available however on a relatively small scale and only in the parts of the country with the densest penetration of businesses. This near monopoly led to the practise of "Zoning", or putting a price premium on users based in rural or remote areas where there were limited providers offering means to connect.
Penalising users because of their geographical location meant only the biggest, most sophisticated corporations were able to access enterprise grade application software to manage their operations. All of the productivity benefits of enterprise workflow management, CRM etc managing everything from inventory and supply chains, to customer relations and financial processes, were available only to those businesses and workforces located in the higher density, metro areas.
Thousands of small and medium sized businesses and sole traders were left underserved and their potential for growth, severely restricted. Despite the steps nbn has taken to remove this unjustifiable region tax, there are still many thousands of businesses throughout metropolitan and regional Australia that will pay higher retail pricing because of their location and legacy zone pricing. Read more about how we're trying to change this here.
The Rise of SaaS and an Ideas Meritocracy
Our work at nbn contributed to the evolution of Australia's digital backbone. We made it possible for more businesses than ever to leapfrog onto the world's stage, springboarded by a robust, fibre network.
Flattening the traditional pricing structures that favoured capital city centres, the business landscape has been better equalised with fairer and more affordable access to global markets.
Another major trend to be considered simultaneously with the greater access to enterprise grade fibre is the unstoppable shift to the cloud and in particular the rise of Software as a Service (SaaS).
Unlike fixed and inflexible assets within an on-premise data centre, the cloud model brings greater flexibility to businesses and applications can be deployed almost instantly. Unlike traditional Enterprise software applications usually requiring substantial up-front capital investment, with additional support fees attached, SaaS products are generally priced with a much more palatable per seat monthly or annual subscription fee with very low initial barriers to entry and costs scaling in line with business growth.
Whether they are designed for Video Conferencing, Human Resources Management, Payroll... accessing cloud-based productivity apps, means that all of those smaller players now have the tools to supercharge their operations with best-in-class software systems, enabling them to compete with the biggest fish in the pond.
The Network Evolution
This new era of technology evolution is exciting. Nobody is being locked out or limited because they don't have access to the technology or capital to afford it.
When we speak of an ideas meritocracy - that used to come with the provision of adequate financial means. It's all well and good to have an idea, but without the capital to execute or bring it to market - it remains: just an idea. Now, you no longer need to invest huge amounts of capital to have access to the tools and connectivity needed for yourself and your teams to compete. The world of SaaS is providing fractional ownership of all these application possibilities and the ubiquitous availability of enterprise grade fibre provides access to those tools.
The next generation network capabilities mean that the business landscape is primed to thrive with novel ideas and new thinking. This is now how we compete. An Idea Meritocracy can lead to the highest levels of human learning, thinking, listening, relating and collaborating, resulting in what University of Virginia professor Edward D Hess calls the "New Smart". In an environment that enables smart people to do their best work, wherever they choose, as quickly and efficiently as possible... innovation flourishes and whole industries transform. Now, the real meritocracy begins.