John Grant is the managing director of Data#3 and chair of the Australian Information Industry Association.
The worldwide economic downturn provides an unwelcome but telling lens through which to view the value of the technology industry. Efficiency has become (another) top priority as families, businesses, governments and nations set out to meet the challenges at hand.
Those challenges, as always, are significant – from balancing the family budget to developing a globally competitive nation in the emerging digital economy. A complete reassessment of the traditional ways we conduct business and solve problems is demanded.
And the principles are clear. We need to work smarter and ensure that investments are well considered and provide the right foundations for the future. Spending money to repair traditional business models, when our success will depend on new ones, is folly.
The mantra as the challenges of the 21st century are addressed must be ‘technology first’. This is equally true whether working as an individual or a nation, and for developing approaches to economic, social or environmental problems alike.
Placing technology first challenges current problem solving strategies by forcing the question: “Is there a technology-led solution available that can solve my problem?” – first. In this context, it is disappointing to see we are missing important opportunities as a country. The recent economic stimulus packages have been announced without reference to the importance of technology-driven solutions, and this must change.
Education is a good example. The Teaching and Learning Capital Fund targets capital expenditure for the development of teaching and learning spaces in Australia’s universities to ensure they are physically and technologically appropriate for 21st century approaches to tertiary education.
Traditional responses to this will see funds allocated to building new physical spaces as well as fitting them out with the appropriate workplace equipment and technology; in other words the actual technology will only get a portion of the funds and the impact it can create will be in proportion to this investment.
Putting ‘technology first’ would see the creation of ‘virtual’ spaces leveraging emerging ‘cloud’ based computing and would see almost 100 per cent of the available funds allocated to technology with a considerably more significant impact for the same level of total investment.
The Digital Education Revolution is a great initiative. Supplying laptops to students, though, is only a small part of the picture. We also need to actively plan and fund the infrastructure to connect students to schools, to connect schools with each other and the community, and to ensure the skills of teachers are where they need to so that the best possible outcomes – and best return on investment – are realised.