Digital Business

Digital Business insights: Reality gap


I have said it before, but I will say it again. The customer has changed. Power has shifted to the customer, probably forever.

Digital Business insights CEO, John Sheridan.


"We know," everybody responds. But do you really?

It is not enough just to say something. To be meaningful it has to be followed by action...appropriate action.

Because if power has shifted to the customer, then everybody with existing customer relationships (and that is most of us) has to consider what that means to them.

One thing it means is actually listening to what your customers are saying. Or doing. And responding accordingly.


Recent Adobe research found that only 8% of people paid attention to online ads. No surprises there. Print ads in newspapers scored 26%. TV ads scored 22%. Radio 16% and Billboards 14%. Ads in apps and games scored only 5%.

And I even managed to ignore completely the ads spinning and moving and trying to drop into my field of vision on the web page where I found the research described above.

I was aware of movement, but no clue what was moving. So I am one of the 92% who ignore online ads successfully.

So if that is what customers are doing, shouldn't that initiate a rethink by vendors on the value of their online investment?

Another example:

Over the last six or seven years DBi has asked businesses and non-profits how they get information and advice on ICT and how they would prefer to get information and advice.

The options range from friends, colleagues and families through media and industry and government websites, advisors and consultants.

Consistently, when asked about technology and innovation CEOs and other senior managers say they would prefer information to be sent to them by email, would like to experience new options "hands on" in workshops and seminars and would like to speak with somebody one to one.

These options out-perform all other options by a considerable margin and have remained consistent for many years.

If people have no choice they will compromise, but on the whole the preference for over three quarters of respondents is outlined above.

So does anybody listen and respond? Not usually. Government, for many different reasons (mainly cost saving) does the opposite and tries to encourage people to come to their websites.

This would be great if the websites were full of valuable and relevant information, but they are not.

Nearly all government information on digital economy is vanilla flavoured, generic and "cleaned up" by legal, PR and policy advisors, leaving little of any real value.

In the real world, there are "comparison-sites-a-plenty".

Products and services of all kinds from holidays to cars and insurance are rated and compared helping visitors make decisions.

It is still early days with this sort of web service and the validity of the ratings and information may leave much to be desired, but the popularity of the sites demonstrates a real need.

People don't seem to care much about the validity, they look at the comparisons, good and bad and make their minds up anyway. It seems that any advice is better than vanilla advice.

So, government is stranded in the 20th century and doesn't move on. It is not easy for them. It means doing things differently, thinking outside the box, even outsourcing services and that is not something they are good at.

This example is not unique to government.

There is a digital reality gap. It is a gap between what the new customer says they want and what the old vendor delivers.

The old vendor is not really listening and tries to carry on business as usual, but with a few digital bells and whistles.

Into the digital reality gap now marches a competitor. Somebody who hasn't just listened, but heard.


Appliances online. Australia's largest online appliance retailer marched into the digital reality gap left by Harvey Norman and other appliance retailers.

Now, they all have a new problem they could have done without.

John Winning created the site because of conversations he had with his customers. He listened. He acted. Now he employs 500 people to fulfil demand.

In the retail sector it will only get worse for retailers that don't listen. And it will even get worse for retailers that do.

The customer has changed and no sector can afford to leave a digital reality gap between them and their customers.

So talk to them. Listen to them.

And bridge the reality gap with action.

- John Sheridan, July 2013

* John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights, an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping organisations and communities adapt to, and flourish in, the new digital world. He is the author of Connecting the Dots and getting more out of the digital revolution. Digital Business insights has been researching and analysing the digital revolution for more than 12 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs.


Australian farmers can reap harvest from broadband technologies to seed global food markets

NEW CSIRO research has revealed far greater productivity benefits from latest generation 'digital' agribusiness technologies than was previously estimated. Australia's science agency researchers believe Australian farmers are well positioned to reap a huge harvest by adapting these systems, energised by greater broadband access, to meet the needs of global food markets.

New 'digital' farming techniques are part of the modern curriculum. Image: University of Qld, Gatton.

From monitoring soil moisture to measuring oyster heartbeats, a new CSIRO report has revealed Aussie farmers can help to tackle the global food shortage and significantly increase their productivity by taking advantage of new smart farming technologies enabled by next generation broadband networks.

The Smart Farming: leveraging the impact of broadband and the digital economy report compiles research from a number of Australian first agricultural projects which indicate that, by connecting farms to broadband-enabled sensor networks, farmers will be able to take more control of their operations by analysing the wealth of new information made available in easily accessible web tools.

"With food demand predicted to increase 50 percent in the next 20 years according to the National Food Plan Report 2013), the main challenge facing the agricultural sector is not so much growing 70 percent more food in 40 years, but making 70 percent more food available on the plate," said Colin Griffith, director of The Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation (ACBI).

He was referring to the United Nations 2012 report on Food Security and Australia's National Food Plan research of 2013.

"To tackle this challenge and help farmers make better decisions, we're trialling new broadband-enabled technologies such as cattle tags to track livestock as well as a range of sensor networks, which measure water salinity, soil moisture and even the heartbeat of oysters," Mr Griffith said.

"Initial studies indicate that these tools can help increase farming productivity in crop and pasture yields by targeting the use of water and fertilisers as well as in livestock production through better rotation of animals and pastures.

"For example, we have seen cotton growers using the soil moisture sensors almost doubling their yields per megalitre of water when they vary irrigation rates according to the localised needs of the soil and plants, rather than taking the one-size-fits-all approach for a whole field," he said.

National Farmers' Federation 2050 Committee chair, Hollie Baillieu said the digital economy presented a game changer for Australian agriculture.

"Not only will technology-driven productivity improvements help feed a growing population, but the innovations will also help improve farmers' bottom line and led to more profitable farm businesses," Ms Baillieu said.

"It doesn't matter whether we're talking about a cattle grazier from the Northern Territory or an oyster farmer in Tasmania, the benefits of emerging technologies provide opportunities for the entire farming sector."

The Smart Farming: leveraging the impact of broadband and the digital economy report is designed to help government agencies, IT professionals, farmers and related businesses to better understand the potential of smart farming technologies in Australia's agricultural and upstream service and processing industries.

It describes opportunities and benefits for Australia's rural sector from the broadband network and the digital economy. Some of these emerging opportunities have been explored through demonstration smart farm initiatives, outlined in the report.

These projects have also pinpointed the key drivers and barriers for adoption of this new technology in the agricultural and related industries.

The Smart Farming: leveraging the impact of broadband and the digital economy report will be officially launched to industry and government stakeholders during the Digital Rural Futures Conference on Wednesday (June 26)


CSIRO and the University of New England have set up a demonstration Smart Farm in Armidale, NSW to investigate and demonstrate the impact of broadband and related digital services for Australia's rural sector.

The initiative is lead by the ACBI, a collaborative research initiative established by CSIRO, and UNE's Precision Agriculture Research Group.

The Kirby Smart Farm is a 2800 hectare working commercial farm located 10km north-west of UNE's campus at Armidale. The farm focuses on merino wool and beef cattle but various grains for livestock feed are also produced.

At Kirby it is a mixture of native grasses, introduced clovers and developed rye-grass and fescue-based mixtures. Productivity on a farm of this kind is highly dependent on pasture management because it provides the main food source for the livestock.

The farm was also one of the first mainland farms connected to the NBN terrestrial wireless broadband service -- initially at 12 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream with a planned future upgrade to 25 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream.

Another research case study is taking place at the Queensland Digital Homestead.

Through CSIRO's Sustainable Agriculture Flagship a ‘Digital Homestead' in Townsville, Queensland, is being developed to integrate multiple disparate sources of information from on-farm sensing of soil, vegetation, livestock and the environment as well as from external sources such as climate forecasts and market information into a simple and usable cloud-based decision support systems for farmers and agriculture advisers.

The project collaborators include QLD DAFF, JCU & QUT, co-funded by the Queensland Government Smart Futures fund.

The project focus is on building a ‘dashboard' that integrates and presents the information in such a way, so that better decisions can be made. The additional opportunity is to build new and adapted businesses in the service sector, and across the value chain, that can be delivered virtually, taking advantage of the two-way real-time connectivity of the system.

Sense-T has been established in Tasmania to test new generation digital sensor networks on farms.

Sense-T is building the world's first economy-wide intelligent sensor network. It is creating a digital view of the entire island by combining different data sources, including real-time sensor data.

Information will be available through easy-to-use apps to help businesses, governments and communities better manage their resources - to help them do more with less, according to the CSIRO.

Sense-T is a partnership program between the University of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Government, CSIRO (through the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation) and IBM.

It is also funded by the Australian Government through the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement. Sense-T establishes Tasmania as a centre for technology and research excellence, where shared data drives new approaches to social, environmental and economic sustainability that can be scaled cost-effectively elsewhere.



Digital Business insights: Privacy. Get over it!

In 1999, Scott McNealy was quoted as saying, "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it."

John Sheridan, CEO Digital Business insights.

That is now almost 15 years ago and what he said was true. Even more so today.

So why in 2013 is anybody surprised about Edward Snowden's revelations? These issues, including the NSA server farm have been discussed openly on Wired for many years. The Patriot Act just made it all possible.

A lot of things changed when the digital genie came out of the bottle and it isn't going back. Privacy or the lack of it, is just one of them.

Privacy doesn't exist in the digital world. It is that simple. So be aware of that and act accordingly. Think "postcard". Anybody who is interested can read it.

Is that a problem for most of us? Not really.

It is an aspect of the new operating condition and just has to be taken into account.

More to the point is whether anybody is really interested in us and what we do.

Mostly the spooks aren't.

But the larger multinationals and corporates are or might be. For obvious reasons.

They want to sell us things and the more they gather information on our movements, buying activity, likes, dislikes, friends, family etc the more easily they can target their promotional messages and offers.

That is how it is.

The other thing to remember and to consider more deeply is that all agencies and corporations with a capacity to gather and scrutinise data are full of people, just like you and me with their whims, their jealousies, their ambitions, their friendships and loyalties.

They are not perfect. They do not always act by the rules. The rules are bent and manipulated from time to time and always will be.

No matter, what sort of constraints you put on them, individuals will find a way to get around them. They always have and always will.

People will use information for personal advantage. Look at the current court action in NSW regarding ex Labor Ministers. Lots of cases like that all over the world.

So why are we surprised?

The major problem with all this is twofold.

One, in the good ol' USA, there is continual movement between government, military and commerce at a middle management and senior level. There has always been a blurring of the roles, there have always been porous walls between these entities.

So is it any surprise that allies at the G20 summit were spied on in 2009 in London? Not at all.

They weren't terrorists. They were allies.

Information was gathered for advantage, political and economic. By the British and the Americans.

It will continue to be gathered and not just by the USA.

As Scott said, "Get over it."

The only difference between then and now, which brings me to the second point, is that one of the by products of continued connection, collaboration and integration is the ability for somebody, somewhere to look at anything and everything.

There are always two sides to things, the good and the bad. Tools can be used both ways. We can't expect to enjoy all the benefits of the digital revolution without recognising the downside.

In the past, information overload dealt with that problem. Even though the spooks had data and information on the terrorists that highjacked and flew the planes into the twin towers in New York, they were unable to process the data intelligently in time to prevent the disaster.

There was just too much data - "noise" - and it was hard to make sense of it.

Today, as the power and speed of processing data increases and the cost of processing data reduces, there is a cross over where increasingly sense can finally be made of masses of information.

Information can be translated into knowledge. Decisions can be informed.

The NSA server farm in Utah has enormous capacity (and growing) and as Super Computers get more powerful year by year, the data sitting in the servers will be queried more often with more valuable results. Because they can.

It is happening and it will continue to happen. That is just how it is.

Is that a problem?

For most of us, not really.

Is it benign? Not completely. But we just need to be aware of what is happening. We can't change it. So use common sense.

Every business and every government looks for advantage. They always have. That is precisely what the Americans are doing. And the Chinese. And the Russians. And the British. And the Japanese. And so on.

The digital revolution just gives them another tool to add to their toolbox for gaining advantages.

Intelligence 101 - political, economic, social, environmental. Everything.

For us, here in Australia, the positive aspects of the digital revolution should be our main concern. Translating and transforming information into knowledge should be the goal for all of us at the single business level, the regional level and for the country.

Privacy? Get over it. It's a sideshow.

- John Sheridan, June 2013.

* John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights, an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping organisations and communities adapt to, and flourish in, the new digital world. He is the author of Connecting the Dots and getting more out of the digital revolution. Digital Business insights has been researching and analysing the digital revolution for more than 12 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs.



Digital Business insights: Shock and awe

Just about every industry sector is now being impacted, threatened, destroyed or modified by the digital revolution.

John Sheridan, CEO Digital Business insights.


A lot of people are in shock. Many refuse to accept that what is happening is real. They sincerely believe that things will return to the way they were, even if it takes a little while.

They won't.

Many others are shutting their eyes to what is happening. They don't see the connection between the bad times and technology at all. They blame other things.

They are wrong.

Others put lipstick on the pig. They acknowledge that something is happening. They don't understand it. But they take advice from the consultants and social media experts (who aren't) and carry on business as usual with digital paint on.

It won't work.

Some lucky industries (a few only) are out of the flood. But even they need to understand what is flooding past their door. The water will continue to rise.

But most industry sectors are in the heart of the digital flood of more connection, more collaboration and more integration.

The three primary currents of change don't sound like much, but the result of those three forces is disrupting the whole world.

Each succeeding current depends on the one before it. Connection is the primary current of change that shifted power from vendors to customers, that provided the platform for Google to dominate information finding and began the process of undermining what used to be.

It is responsible for the destruction of the advertising base of the media industry that has toppled the newspaper empires to the ground. They think they have it under control.

They don't.

They think they can get people to pay for content.

They won't.

The CEOs of the major media still don't get it. They put lipstick on a pig.

It is not enough to add digital to what was, the business model has to change. That has to start with a real appreciation of the shift of power.

New digital business models will only work if they are built from the customer up. Start with the customer and deliver.

Newspapers are a good example of what not to do.

Itunes is the perfect example of what to do in the new digital age.

The control of content was removed from the publisher completely and put into the hands of the customer to do what they chose.

And the process was made easy. Perfect.

The customer could select the tunes that they wanted and construct a new publication = my music. Apple realised clearly that the customer was in control and willing to pay to be in that position.

The publisher did not have a role any more in deciding the content of the album or the compilation. The customer is king.

The same thing applies to every other sector that is disrupted and threatened.

The key to understanding the exit strategy (the way out of the flood) is understanding the new customers and what they want.

Now, for Fairfax and News to continue to publish content under their mastheads and editorial control is old world not new world.

And to think that customers will continue to pay for this for years to come is wishful thinking.

Some will. Some always will. But not enough to replace the rivers of gold. And not enough to be sustainable.

Look what Apple did. They weren't into music. Then they were. Suddenly and successfully.

The principles apply to every sector. Who will come suddenly and successfully into your domain?

What does the customer want?

Ask them. Start there. And listen. If they tell you they want something, give it to them or somebody else will.

And like Apple they will come from left field or right field, not from where you expect or where you are looking.

Collaboration is the next current of change that will sweep us all along.

It is beginning to have an impact. It needed connection to happen ubiquitously. Now it has. And the tools of collaboration are being used and being newly built for us all to use.

And collaboration is even more threatening to those organisations that have only put lipstick on the pig. Because that is where the power of comparison and sharing and advising will undermine anything that isn't real.

Lipstick on the pig isn't real. It is just adding digital clothing to a business model that is still unchanged.

It won't work.

Now big organisations take time to fail, fall and drown, so they might even believe that they are on top of this, and I have spoken to many that do.

They aren't.

Revolutions overthrow the old but also build and create the new.

The process of digital change is accelerating in an uncomfortable way.

All opportunities at this time begin and end with the customer. Talk to them. Listen to them. They have all the information you need. And all the answers. But do it yourself. Don't let somebody else do it for you.

Ask your customers what has changed. Ask them what their problems are. Ask them what they would like from you. Give it to them.

The new tools of the digital revolution provide the means to create new solutions of many kinds.

Integration is the last current of change and that is even more threatening to the old order, because it joins things up.

It joins up those who want to be joined and it automates relationships delivering even more value than before. And when it is done in a way that satisfies the interests of all involved = shared value, it locks other things out.

It is still a little way off, but it is coming.

We haven't seen anything yet.

- John Sheridan, June 2013

* John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights, an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping organisations and communities adapt to, and flourish in, the new digital world. He is the author of Connecting the Dots and getting more out of the digital revolution. Digital Business insights has been researching and analysing the digital revolution for more than 12 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs.


Digital training, please: Applications called for Gosford, Gold Coast and Wollongong


APPLICATIONS have been called for organisations to deliver Digital Enterprise training to businesses in the Gosford (NSW), Gold Coast (Qld), and Wollongong (NSW) regions.

Cloud computing comes to SMEs.


The Digital Enterprise program is funded through the Federal Government and aims to assist business to learn about the opportunities available to them though the digital economy.

Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, called for applications through this fourth round of the Digital Enterprise program. He said Gosford, Gold Coast and Wollongong were the three largest communities where NBN construction has commenced that are yet to receive funding as part of the Digital Enterprise program.

The Digital Enterprise program offers free expert training for local businesses and not-for-profit organisations to adapt to the online world and gain a better understanding of the many opportunities provided through the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The selected organisations will be awarded grants worth up to $280,000.

“It’s so important that small businesses get online and start thinking about how they can make the NBN work for them,” Senator Conroy said.

“We are already seeing how the Digital Enterprise program is helping small businesses take full advantage of the benefits that come from embracing the digital economy.

“For example, WorkForce Blueprint in Willunga, South Australia, has used the program’s training to improve their online business strategy. Now their entire business, including email, documents and finance software lives in the cloud, meaning their employees can work from anywhere, anytime that suits.

“Another small business established in 2011, Didgeridoo Dojo, participated in the training program and delivers online didgeridoo lessons to 7,500 customers, with a 1000 hours of lessons being viewed each month.

“Many other businesses are also taking advantage of the free training that is being offered. Across Australia, there have been more than 4,800 participants in the Digital Enterprise program.

“I urge local organisations from Gosford, the Gold Coast, and Wollongong, to apply for funding to deliver this important program.”

The Digital Enterprise program is currently operating in 44 communities around Australia. These communities are some of the first in the country to access the benefits of the NBN, Sen. Conroy said.

The closing date for round four applications is 2pm on April 29, 2013. Digital Enterprise Round Four Program Guidelines are available at:

Australian business sees rise in cyber attacks: counter strategies urged by BAE Systems

THE THEFT of trade secrets, business proprietary data, intellectual property and customer information is on the rise in Australia according to research by BAE Systems Detica.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team is a BAE Systems Detica client, protecting its IP.

The company's director of its Strategy and Major Client Group division, David Owen, warned "sophisticated attack groups with the motivation and capability to use techniques well beyond mainstream malware" are increasingly targeting businesses through their supply chains. However, he said, there were clear strategies businesses of all shapes and sizes could employ to help protect themselves and it was vital Australian businesses developed a culture of cyber security awareness.

Mr Owen said cyber criminals were constantly finding new ways to steal an organisation's valuable information.

He has seen this trend build in recent years. Before joining BAE Systems Detica, Mr Owen led Deloittes' security management competency team in Australia and has had previous experience with BAE Systems in the UK where he worked in information security for joint venture company MBDA Missile Systems.

"The company's supply chain is often the weakest link and the easiest place to find that information because many of those organisations are not actively looking for evidence of compromise," Mr Owen said.

"BAE Systems Detica has seen a marked increase in attacks on supply chain targets such as professional services companies, legal firms, IT outsourcers, marketing agencies or other third party advisors and companies.

"The main targets have increased their defences so attackers a looking for another route in. Hackers can easily get into an organisation through the third parties a company works with."

According to research by BAE, the factors that have led to the increase in targeted attacks of supply chains include:

  • growing resources and sophistication of attack groups
  • increase of blended attacks
  • low risk of getting caught for attackers
  • increasing difficulty to detect threats and attacks
  • challenge of identifying the specific behaviour patterns of sophisticated attacks
  • lack of resources in the Australian industry to perform sophisticated analysis, follow-up investigation and response/clean-up.

BAE Systems Detica has created a list of suggested best practices to protect supply chains:

1.        Prepare
It is important to understand your so-called trophy information (information that is highly desirable to hackers and corporate thieves), cyber risk, compliance environment and internal cyber capability. These are the first things to assess in any cyber security plan. Based on this knowledge, you can develop strategies and tactics that will help address cyber risks based on priorities. It will also pinpoint whether you need to develop your workforce to become more cyber aware and what additional skill sets might be required. Publish your business rules for cyber security and create awareness of these among your employees and those of your supply chain.

2.        Monitor
Businesses should continually monitor systems and networks for signs of malicious activity, but also keep track of changing business requirements, emerging trends and the external environment they operate in. Make sure you measure the effectiveness of cyber security (technical and non-technical capabilities) as this will help you stay on track.

3.        Protect
It is imperative to design and deploy cyber security solutions that will address risks and enable the business to operate with confidentiality and integrity. However, these solutions need to be carefully developed so they don't cripple your systems by being too secure. Apply sound engineering processes to the selection, development and deployment of cyber capabilities so that they integrate well with your business operations.

4.        Respond
Having response plans in place sounds like a given, but this is often overlooked by businesses. Understand your capability to contain and recover from cyber incidents and make sure you learn from previous ones and that the appropriate feedback is given in order to prepare processes.

5.        The human factor
Companies place a lot of importance on technology when it comes to cyber security it is important not to overlook the human factor. Do employees understand the sensitivity of the data they have access to and the implications if there is a security breach? Getting employees to care about security and understand that they have an important role to play in keeping the organisation's cyber security risk to a minimum is key.

Mr Owen said, "Without the human element, the technological controls are useless. Creating a culture of security is imperative. Companies must always consider the suppliers' security measures to ensure they align with theirs."

BAE Systems Detica's business delivers information intelligence solutions to government and commercial customers and develops solutions to strengthen national security and resilience. Detica is part of BAE Systems, a global defence, aerospace and security company with about 90,000 employees worldwide.
BAE Systems also delivers a wide range of products and services for air, land and naval forces, as well as advanced electronics, security, information technology solutions and customer support services.

One of BAE Systems Detica's high profile clients is McLaren Group, which includes Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, a world leading Formula 1 team. The group has rich and varied intellectual property (IP) that is vital to maintaining competitive advantage and warrants advanced protection. The groups uses Detica CyberReveal to protect the team's IP - including its advanced automotive technology - as well as its partner and commercial information against sophisticated targeted attacks on its information systems and networks.


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