Google Australia and New Zealand managing director Nick Leeder has given advice to enterprise and start-ups trying to make their way into the digital world: keep changing, and test often and quickly.
(Credit: Jesse Taylor)
Leeder said at a speech at the University of Technology, Sydney, last night that he'd noticed that when businesses fail on technology, they're failing because their employees are not bringing their passion for technology from the home into the business.
He said that he knows executives who have an Android tablet, a Facebook account, a blisteringly fast internet connection and the "best device" to get insight into today's technical world — a teenager — but that all of this is only at the front of their minds while they're at home.
"When they get to work, they delegate the internet to a group in the corner," he said.
It is "a fear of losing what they have", he said, and a concern about doing things differently.
It was this inability to harness trends in business that led to Eastman Kodak going bankrupt, while other, smaller competitors have been able to jump on the digital wave.
He said that if Google had the Kodak mentality, it would be in a very different place now. It's an ageing company in terms of the internet, with search being a decade old. When mobile arrived, Leeder said that Google could have stayed in its desktop search box, but instead it engaged with the medium that was changing its technology, in order to enable mobile search, and branch out into photo and voice search.
"Moses did not come down from the mountain and say, 'thou shalt only search the web with a desktop computer and your fingers'," he joked.
Moving with change has been facilitated by Google's 20 per cent time policy, which has led to multiple Google innovations, such as Google Maps, and most recently Google's Art Project, which allows web users to walk the halls of famous galleries around the world virtually.
However, he acknowledged that many of these projects do not succeed, and agreed with the audience there are high levels of failure of start-ups in Australia.
He puts this down to inadequate prototyping.
"People place some very big bets on technology that they haven't necessarily prototyped," he said.
To solve this, he said we should think about "how, as an industry, can we learn to do iterations and testing faster".
In general, he believes that for Australia to profit from the booming internet economy, it needs three things: infrastructure, intelligent public policy and people.
"Ubiquitous high-speed broadband is something we see as essential," he said, adding that although the National Broadband Network (NBN) is expensive, it is a great move by the government.
Yet, the infrastructure would be fettered if we imposed early and restrictive public policy on the internet, he said. "Many of the things we're seeing on the web, we're seeing them for the first time," he said, adding that Google has never before seen around 16 per cent of the searches made on any given day.
In some cases, this is causing stress, such as in the retail industry.
"Is it all butterflies and beer?" he asked. "No."
However, he pointed out that we generally only ever hear about the pain, and don't focus on the successes, quoting a figure that for every job the internet has killed, two and a half jobs spring up in its place.
The worst thing would be to act in a knee-jerk fashion as problems emerge, he said.
"The smart approach is to let things unfold a bit.
"The risk is that we squash all that innovation that we've started to see."
And these innovations won't happen without people who understand how technology works, he said, which means that Australia needs to keep supplying the industry with people who are trained in maths, science and technology subjects.
There is a difference, he said, between someone who can use technology and someone who really understands how it works, pleasing the UTS hosts by saying that students shouldn't skip university to leap into jobs in the tech industry, as they might miss out on this understanding.