Technology first, please

Technology first, please

The morality of an economic downturn

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 fi tting 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 fi rst’ 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.

New infrastructure programs such as road and highways also need to incorporate this thinking – putting technology first means assessing the need against the potential for telecommuting, looking at the value of incorporating smart technology to drive traffic flow and inform maintenance and so on.

Economic impact Putting technology first is not only the right way to develop appropriate solutions to current problems and secure best value for investment dollars. It is also the path to economic stimulus and revival through increased productivity in the current financial climate.

In a comparable economic context, recent studies from the US demonstrate that an investment of $US30 billion in American IT infrastructure – including widespread rollout of broadband and smart energy grids, and electronic healthcare – will directly lead to the creation of over 900,000 jobs, more than half of which will be in small business.

Investment in smart infrastructure and digital technology solutions will not only stimulate growth in the short term, it will return exponential benefits for years to come in the form of new jobs, higher employment, better business effi ciency and more competitive industry.

During the current Queensland election campaign, the ICT Industry Workgroup – a consortium of state and national industry bodies, including AIIA – recently took out a one page ad that provided a 10-point plan for the state ICT industry to create 30,000 new jobs. The ad also points to the success of Ireland, India and the US in driving job creation and economic revival through ICT industry development. These themes were followed up by a strong industry presence at the ‘Leaders Great Debate’ between Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, and Opposition Leader, Lawrence Springborg.

Embedding a technology first approach, and investment across the ICT industry, is essential if Australia is to remain competitive – beyond the resources boom that is now ebbing – in an increasingly digital global marketplace.

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