Regional councils and governments have so far taken tentative steps towards embracing the wave of digital disruption brought about by cloud computing and mobile devices. But this is about to change.
“There’s going to be a massive acceleration this year and next,” says David Bartlett, former premier of Tasmania and director of Explor, a consultancy that has worked with over 43 regional communities since he quit politics three years ago.
Bartlett set up Explor three years ago after concluding that ubiquitous connectivity and high-bandwidth internet connections would change many aspects of society as it already had in media, retail and tourism.
“I wanted to help regional communities, their governments and key industry sectors to manage digital disruption and make sure they’re planning for their future and building new opportunities and minimising the threats,” Bartlett says.
Councils and governments have taken longer to make the leap to modernise than small business because of legacy systems and internal fiefdoms controlled by IT departments.
“I’m starting to see in state governments across Australia a real push to smooth out their investment curves. These big capital expenditures with IT departments buying 30 servers and doing it themselves isn’t going to happen.
“The really only logical response from IT departments is to get in the cloud and provide better business processes,” Bartlett says, who was previously chief information officer for the Department of Health.
One of the biggest challenges to modernising business in regional areas is capacity building in the SMB sector. “Getting Australian SMEs to understand (digital disruption) and to act on that is one of the great challenges for productivity across the nation,” Bartlett says.
Explor had set up communities of practice that brought together businesses within the same industry to create action plans, co-fund consulting advice and improve their collective buying power.
“Trying to think you can do it all on your own is a mistake,” Bartlett says. “If you’re a retailer in Geraldton, accessing the local knowledge and trust that you need is pretty hard. The only way you can get that is if the retailers of Geraldton band together.”
Bartlett, who strongly supported the the NBN rollout in Tasmania, sees the high-speed broadband network as vital to the survival of regional communities. “We are massively underserved by bandwidth compared to our nearest neighbour. If we don’t want to see (regional communities) die, if we want to catch up and live productive lifestyles, we need to invest massively in” a broadband network.
Image credit: CSIRO