Telstra CEO David Thodey has issued a call to arms for the ICT industry, saying that although technology should be driving productivity growth in Australia, the industry had lost its way.
"Technology, I see, is truly the enabler. I think it's going to address the productivity issue. Technology changes structures of industries, and that's why we've got to get this end-to-end view of industries, and be able to be the catalyst for change and to be able to have the vision to say how we can change it, rather than sitting back and letting it happen to us," Thodey said in his Charles Todd Memorial oration in Sydney today.
"Is it us that is going to be a part of [technology advancements], or is it a generation out of Silicon Valley?" he asked.
"We as an industry group really need to stand up and say we're part of the answer. Obviously we're not the whole answer, but we need to stand up and be vocal in what we do."
Thodey said that the ICT industry had been stuck onto corporates' back-end, and said that the industry was not leading, despite the fact that it had such an important part to play in changing Australia.
"The mining sector has been wonderful for this country, but it is just one sector. The ICT industry [represents] 6 per cent of GDP. You know what mining represents? Just a slightly bit less. And yet you'd think that wasn't the case at all."
Thodey said that technology is the "true enabler", and would drive productivity and innovation in Australia, but not if companies didn't work together and grasp opportunities.
"We are not collaborating together in any way at all. There is actually more fracturing ... than I've ever seen before. I think we need to stand up and say we have an opportunity to bring this together," he said.
"In the mining sector, [the Australian technology industry] should be one of the great technology innovators in mining, and yet I think I can name two companies that have capitalised on that mining boom in terms of technology."
Retail was another industry that wasn't benefiting enough from technology. For online retail penetration, the chief executive said that he believed Australia was "way down the list" of OECD countries. He said that it was necessary for the retail industry to take the plunge, or they wouldn't see how behind they were.
"It's a bit like security: until you've been compromised, you don't think it's important."
Thodey said that Telstra had a role to play in this, and said the telco was seeking to drive innovation through its chief technology officer Dr Hugh Bradlow.
"We've now re-established Hugh's role as head of innovation. That's not just innovation within Telstra, but also how we can be a catalyst in terms of bringing innovation to many industries, and how we can fund the application of technologies in specific areas," he said.
Telstra will set up an investment group called applications and ventures with between $40 and $50 million set aside for investment in cloud applications that Telstra believes will change various industries, Thodey said. But that wasn't a selfless act by the telco, he said.
"Obviously, there's a business return there as we invest in applications, put them into the cloud and then we can help distribute them."