Interview: The AIIA on itself, CIOs and Internet content filtering (Part 2)

At the three-day Asia Pacific Digital Innovation Summit (APDIS) in December, an annual trade event which brought together 780 delegates from 21 countries, Computerworld caught up with Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) chairman John Grant and CEO Ian Birks for a rare joint interview. The pair spoke candidly about CIOs, the challenges the organisation faces to remain relevant and the government's proposed ISP-level Internet content filtering.

In 2010, what will be the top opportunities for growth for CIOs and IT managers?

John Grant (JG): You’ve got to answer that question from the perspective of what businesses need to be. So, businesses need to be more competitive globally, and how do they be more competitive globally? They’ve got to be more productive, more efficient and they’ve got to be smarter. So let’s touch on smarter, smarter means being more innovative by capturing more ideas and turning more ideas into outcomes. So businesses need to be much smarter about doing that, and they need to look at processes that they’re doing it by today. They don’t need to look at whether they’re doing it, because the statistics say they’re hardly doing it compared to OECD nations, so this agenda around innovation really needs to be ‘up the ante’, it needs to be upped. So if you track back to the CIO, what can the CIO do to help the company and the CEO be more innovative? Well, there are applications and process they can introduce to the CEOs that will help them to find the ideas, distill the ideas and turn them into outcomes. There are systems around to do that...

Ian Birks (IB): But they need to be framed in a business context, not in a technology context.

JG: Don’t think about technology, this is about using technology and using applications and technology to solve this business issue, which is how do we be more innovative? If the CIO started thinking about the issue of innovation in their company and how they can be more innovative and what tools they can provide for the CEO to get that sort of innovation going - that’s a good thing for them to be doing.

See part one of the interview: The AIIA on the NBN, collaboration and turning Australia into an ICT leader

If you look at, I look at it as two sides of a coin, firstly there’s personal productivity, and secondly there’s organisational productivity. If you look at it from a personal productivity point of view, then that’s me and how I do my job. Now depending on what my job is, most of us these days are information workers, so how I do my job is related to the information environment that I get located in. So that comes down to the tools I’ve got access to and the data I’ve got access to. Therefore, the CIO needs to be thinking about how the information worker in their business actually can do their job better – “what are the tools that they need, what are the pieces of technology I can provide them with and how can I get them access to data which is more meaningful than they’re getting today?” So the CIO has got to be thinking about that.

The other aspect of productivity is organisational, which is really collaboration. Because as soon as you go out of your own work space, you’ve got to collaborate. Again, the CIO has got to provide workers with tools and information around which they can more effectively collaborate, across geographical boundaries etc.

Then if you go back to the first one which was competitive, you’ve got to be competitive. So again, what do you need to do in order for a business to be competitive? If you go to your sales people in a business and say “what do you need to do or have that would make you win more of the business you compete for?” Again there are tools that the CIO can deliver to help the individual and the organisation be more competitive. That could even go to the product development side of things, because a lot of differentiation is created by virtue of the product characteristics you create. I suppose the bottom line is if the CIO is looking at the business imperatives and asking himself the question: “What does my business need me to provide in order for us to win on these three or four fronts?” Then you get the answer.

IB: They’re at a tipping point I think, CIOs. We see a lot of CIOs now who have been sort of boxed into efficiency and effectiveness, a kind-of sand box, where effectively they’ve been told to cut costs by so much each year, and deliver more in terms of business as usual, and that’s what their sand box is and that’s increasingly what they’re doing. If a CIO really wants to get out of that sandbox, they’ve got to show leadership, as John was saying, in terms of understanding the business priorities and then applying them to technology and the capability to deliver those in a meaningful way. Leadership is so critical to the outcomes we’re all looking for, in terms of better technology outcomes for Australia. But we need the right kind of leadership, we don’t need people to sit back, we need people to get out there, understand the business priorities and talk to the salesforce, talk to the people in manufacturing, work out what you can do for them and frame that in a business context and present that, that’s what it’s really all about.

Looking into 2010 and the new decade, what challenges do organisations like the AIIA and the ACS have to remain relevant and remain a force within the ICT industry?

IB: It’s a very interesting question, and again it’s got a tipping point probably for the whole model of industry associations and what their value is. We have a certain historical view of what a value in an industry association and mostly our members say it’s around networking to be frank, bringing people together and giving them business opportunities to link together and so on. That’s been a really powerful force, but what we see is obviously with technology enabling work groups, communication groups and networking opportunities in itself, that’s kind of an interesting thing to reflect back on, what a traditional industry association does, and then how do you then position your industry association against those kind of dynamics. So, I think you’ve got to be part if that, you’ve got to be part of facilitating a modern exchange between your members to drive the outcomes they’re looking for. I mean you’ve got to be running wikis, online conversation groups and we’ve got to be using Twitter and those kind of tools because essentially people look to us to show that kind of leadership, to bring together the membership in that kind of way because if you don’t that will happen outside of AIIA or ACS, and it becomes a challenge then to the value of that association. It’s pretty important that we get with the digital changes and work with that.

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Equally I think another interesting thing is that governments are opening up to conversation more than they have in the past about our industry and we feel we are achieving much greater degrees of penetration and much greater degrees of impact in terms of the ICT debate with governments. That’s a good thing, but we’ve also got to recognise that government will open up to new ways of dealing with citizens as well. The Gov 2.0 taskforce is opening up the potential for governments to directly engage with citizens and again that causes you to ask “well where does someone like AIIA sit in that spectrum?” Because at the moment, if we go and have a conversation with government, we’re representing 500 members, a hundred billion dollars in worth of revenue and 100,000 employees, which is our membership. The whole dynamics of open government and open policy consultation is also an interesting one to reflect on in terms of industry associations. I’m not sure where that goes just yet, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

What are your thoughts on Conroy’s plans to introduce mandatory Internet content filtering?

IB: The AIIA has I suppose taken a higher order view, it’s not an issue that we’ve gotten involved in, in a detailed sense. The higher order view is that we need high-speed broadband as a critical enabler to progress on the ICT agenda. By virtue, we don’t just need the broadband, although we do need that, but we also need confidence in the broadband from community and business. There needs to be a high level of confidence that we can use this thing and that it’s not going to threaten us in any kind of way. That’s a critical thing to think about on a security level and so on. So I sort of put this issue in that basket of things. Our position with the AIIA is that the government is quite within its rights to limit access to illegal material, in fact it’s totally appropriate I would suggest from that confidence perspective that we have illegal material on the web, and that’s quite okay to ban that material and stop access to that material. So that principle is there and believed in.

I guess where you go beyond that becomes more of an implementation issue. So, how do you achieve that implementation? What are the rules, how will it be done, will it impact speed or other things around the technology? We’ve steered clear of that particular conversation other than to say that we think the government has the right to block illegal material and the implementation needs to happen in a way that gives people confidence, not lack of confidence, and it needs to get sorted out very quickly.

JG: The only thing I’d add to that is that it’s quite reasonable to expect there to be some sort of classification material, we have that everyday in the film world and you know what you’re in for before going to a film because it’s classified, and that’s an endorsed and understood and required process. If you see the Internet as a content deliverer, then there should be a similar sort of environment that applies there. So the stuff that’s illegal or the wrong material doesn’t even get in the country. We should have the philosophical position that says “we’d like to give the citizens of Australia the right to understand the type of material they’re about to consume.” There should be a way technologically of being able to, not censor, but to give classification to various types of content. Then the user’s right is to make a decision, and that’s the sort of obligation I think the government has to give the citizens of Australia.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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