Digital Business insights by John Sheridan >>


I HAVE ASKED this question before. And I am asking it again.

Because there is a lot in this simple question that remains unanswered.

We are all familiar with seeds. But if we weren’t, and somebody was trying to tell us that there was great value and potential in a handful of small, dried up, wrinkled specks of dust, we would probably prove hard to convince. 

Because what is a seed? Does it in any way demonstrate its true potential? No.

Because the seed carries within itself the programming to turn brown dirt, and colourless air and water into something so different it is hard to believe the seed had any part in it.

Acorn into mighty oak. Apple pip into apple tree. A small, hard, brown husk grows into a supple green plant…covered with bright coloured flowers. 

We don’t think twice about this miracle. We have learned the relationship. We appreciate the transformation. We understand the time scale involved. 

But what about the seeds of potential planted by the digital revolution?

We are not so good at estimating the value of the unfamiliar and the new. We measure it by what was…not by what might be.

We measure by things that have been done within the constraints and restrictions of a familiar environment not by what might be done in a new digital environment without those restrictions. 



There are two issues in play here.

One is the potential of the seed. The other is the potential of the seed planted into a new and changed environment. A new interconnected, collaborative and integrated, networked environment.

What is the potential of a network? What is the RoI of something without edges and boundaries?

Nobody really knows and most people lack imagination. They need help. Pictures. Stories. Examples.

How do you define the potential of something if you can’t describe where it starts and finishes, begins and ends… because it doesn’t?

What is the potential of a digitally interconnected sector, region or country?

What is the RoI of that seed?

Is that novel? Is that something new? Of course it is. We have never seen that before. It is a new potential expressed in a new condition.

And extremely difficult to judge or evaluate.


There is a vast gap between the technological “connection”, “collaboration” and “integration” of the digital revolution and the associated “thinking” that goes with it.

The digital revolution is full steam ahead. The connected “thinking” still lags way, way behind.

We live in an increasingly joined up and connected world, but we still run our societies using disconnected, disjointed strategies – across regions (geography), industries (sectors), government (departments) and time (political timescale). We don’t always think of them as disconnected, but they are.



We talk about smart cities yet continue to build dumb ones. A city is not smart because the parking meters or the traffic lights are smart.

A city is only smart as a result of joined up thinking across all societal dimensions and we haven’t yet begun to consider what that might mean.

Is it smart to allow cheap cladding to “pretty up” buildings and create firetraps? The architect, developer, builder and council planning department are all participants in the approval process. It all joins up. But the thinking doesn’t. And disaster is the result.

Manufacturers select cheap and vulnerable chips for their products and consumer devices and create the hacker paradise that we all now live in. And your fridge, your car, your router, your modem, your camera, your meters, your phone, your credit card, your children’s toys, your garage door, your library books or your office key are all ready to play. All because we used 25c chips versus $5 chips and a new Y2K disaster beckons.

Only this one will actually happen.

The revolution is outstripping the thinking. The revolution outstrips the governance and management. And in a joined up world, we are all shareholders, and responsibility doesn’t stop at the front door.

Legally it might in the short term, but we can do better than that.

We can start by “joined up” thinking.

We can start by talking “between” as well as “within”.

We can start by sharing and collaborating.



For the digital revolution powers on, ignoring departmentalism, nationalism and parochialism, continuing to join and connect.

The revolution is all-inclusive not all-exclusive. That is what makes it so disruptive. The connectivity creates new options with no reference to existing historic relationships.

So the whole 'C suite' has to invest time for joined up thinking. It’s not the CIO’s job. Nor the CMO, the CFO or the CEO alone. It has to be an informed collaborative discussion. The whole cabinet. The whole council.

And that means looking at how the digital revolution does disrupt, might disrupt and how it can offer new opportunity. It means collaboration with others. It means generating joined-up ideas and trying them. Planting seeds and germinating them.

What is the RoI of a seed? There are two points of view. The brown shrivelled view (what it is) and the green, leafy view (what might be).

Current thinking. Keep digging up the seed to see. There you go…still brown and shrivelled – no RoI there.

With any seed, there is an element of vision, hope, expectation and trust in a process. Demand the RoI too soon and there isn’t any. Measure it by past example and it doesn’t make sense either.

In a connected 21st century world where the implications of universal connection are impossible to map let alone evaluate, it is difficult for 19th century thinkers to keep up. They ask the wrong questions.

19th century thinkers probably weren’t even very good in the 19th century when the first commercially viable locomotive hit the rails. The top speed of the Blutcher was 4 mph…not very impressive, but ultimately it led to British Rail. So what was the ROI of the Blutcher?

And Stephenson also understood that ultimately all rails would connect into a railway network.

What was the RoI of the railway network in the 19th century? Was it the value to the railway company of passenger and freight? Or was it what happened as a result of the railways connecting the isolated towns and villages across a country transforming commerce, jobs, and creating new industries like tourism?



Business is not just about shareholder value. It is about the sustainability of shareholder value. And we are all shareholders.

Farming value, not mining value. Focusing on the medium and longer-term, not short term, next quarter bottom line.

Most farmers have always understood this. Value adding. Conserving, collaborating, investing and improving, applying a sustainable approach to agriculture that can be passed onto future generations.

Digital enforces a slow but steady shift in attitude. Not yet for everybody, but apparent in those early adopters of digital technology, the innovators and the young digital natives.

This 20 percent of organisations - the agile, the smart, the informed and the adaptable – recognise opportunity when it stares them in the face.

The RoI of a seed.

The other 80 percent actually have no choice in the matter, but have failed to recognise that fact…so far. The digital currents of transformation carry us all in one direction only.

Out into the digital ocean of change. We are caught in an enormous digital riptide carrying us out to sea faster than we can possibly swim in the other direction, back to the safe, solid land of the 20th century, when direction was clear, plans could be made and followed through, KPIs measured and MBAs meant something.

There is no solid land in the digital revolution. We are all at sea.

That is the intriguing thing about this revolution. We are impacted and affected no matter what we do.

The only intelligent option is to use the currents of change for personal, collective and collaborative advantage. And that means understanding what is happening. “Getting it”. Making and taking time to really understand the options and opportunities, not abdicate responsibility to somebody else. 



The major barriers and blockages to the digital revolution are nearly all human, nearly all attitudinal and therefore difficult to modify and change.

Command and control is redundant. But countless managers wrestle with this new fact every day. Unsuccessfully. 

Business loyalty has become hollow. Loyalty now only follows authenticity.

And millions of CEOs still face this disruptive revolution without full comprehension, unwilling to make time to understand what and why and how. “I’m too busy”, they say, from the bus as it disappears over the cliff.

But revolutions take time. And patience is required. 

You can't whip a tree and make it grow. The early adopters will adopt. But then...

This revolution involves technology (tools) AND people (users).

Technology is an enabler. But it has to be coupled with comprehensive understanding, imagination and enterprise.

And the process of change management is not like architecture where we draw a plan, then assemble inorganic elements into a structure. The digital revolution demands an approach more akin to gardening where we never really know what is going to "come up".

We have a general idea of what might be but then have to work with the reality as it emerges. Then water, fertilise, prune.

That is when we see the ROI of a seed. Not the picture on the seed packet.

This is uncomfortable for those who think everything can be controlled. Gardening is intelligent, sensitive management…not control.

The technology is the "easy" bit. But people are hard.

Worse still (or better still), we are now entering a stage of connecting organisations, regions, states, countries, supply chains and ecosystems and that requires even more understanding and a very different collaborative approach that is inclusive and recognises the new currency of authenticity, honesty, consistency and trust. 

And the traditional brokers are broken.

Industry associations, councils, governments have to seriously consider what it means to collaborate with others, and to move beyond merely talking about it, into action…because most current actions are reinforcing the status quo.

Talking about collaboration and working together, and doing it are different things. There are lots of words and discussions…but little action.

That is why we built the RED Toolbox -

It is a platform for discussion. A platform for action. A platform for collaboration. A platform for joined up thinking. A platform to support productive industries.

We are at the next big "bump in the road" in our digital evolution. Get this right and there can be profound benefits in our societies.

It seems to be especially hard for politicians and business groups and industry associations. The polarisation of all viewpoints into left and right, liberal and conservative doesn’t ring true in a connected world. There are good ideas from both side and all sides. We need the best of both.

It is no longer about where the idea came from. Who cares? The issue now becomes “Is it a good idea?” measured against all the wicked problems we face as a society.



The game has changed. Competition has morphed into 'coopetition', into shared value, into collaboration.

Ants operate collaboratively for the good of the nest. The queen does not control what happens in the nest. She lays the eggs. She creates the resource.

The ants forage, find food and manage threats with all the “decisions” being made at the small group level. The ants collaborate to solve problems. There is no central command and control. Yet the result of collaboration at this level is remarkably successful.

Collaboration at grass roots is already happening, not just in Australia, but across the planet. It is a very natural activity. Individuals and groups are collaborating to solve problems. Now we just need to scale up. And take this collaborative approach to the next level.

We can learn a lot from ants. They are successful. They have collaborated for 100 million years. And if the humble ant can manage this so successfully, then so can we.



John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights, an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping businesses 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 15 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs. Now DBi is turning that research into action through a series of digital business development platforms, the first of which launched in 2016, the Manufacturing Toolbox. DBi has now also launched a series of international online trade showcases, promoting Australian goods and services to specific countries and promoting use of those showcases in those countries. The first, just launched, is the Australia-Taiwan Trade Showcase. Coming soon are trade showcases for Japan, Hong Kong-China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and India. Australia's Regional Economic Development (RED) Toolbox has now been launched at

THE NEW VIDEO social network launched by QMI Solutions aims to do a lot more than help drive industry innovation through moving pictures.

The Vuable team believes that fostering ideas, skills and experience will ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for Australia’s industries. The Vuable video platform will interlink small and large business, including innovators, researchers, start-ups and project owners.

Founded 25 years ago as the Queensland Manufacturing Institute – and now a national industry solutions catalyst and technology disseminator – QMI Solutions is well known for taking the lead in introducing new technologies to the manufacturing sector, successfully. 

QMI Solutions managing director and CEO, Gary Christian – who pointed out that QMI successfully introduced the first industrial 3D printing system into Australia 20 years ago – said Vuable had been created in direct response to industry challenges in visibility, market access, collaboration and innovation.

Mr Christian also foresees Vuable having a significant role in connecting Australian researchers with industry and in helping companies market their innovations and products nationally and, eventually, internationally.

“Gary is right about that and it is the research into this area that we used to shape Vuable,” QMI Solutions’ Vuable co-creator Norm McGillivray said. “There is nothing like Vuable currently anywhere in the world.”

Mr McGillivray said the way the market has adopted video – through Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat stories – is an indication of how a well-planned and astutely organised video platform like Vuable could positively impact industry business growth.

“When QMI started to research and investigate a new platform, we looked around the globe to see if we could find anything like it, one that was solely tuned to industries and innovators,” Mr McGillivray said.

“We thought, ah! Obviously, YouTube and other social media platforms serve a diverse range of video content to the masses, but there was nothing just dedicated to industry and innovators.

 “Vuable serves our stakeholders in the sectors in which QMI is already active – and that is suppliers into major projects, manufacturers and their intermediaries, projects in development and innovators,” he said.

“It is, however, not limited to these industries. We are talking with retail, tech and financial institutions about joining the network as well as major projects and our industry leaders including government departments and research organisations.”


Mr McGillivray said Cisco Systems had released a report earlier this year on the impact of internet-delivered video, estimating that by 2018 people would consume about 80 percent of their online information through video.

The growth of video information has been driven largely by the smartphone, Mr McGillivray said. Industry is rapidly coming to grips with its potential, with many already incorporating video into training and apps.

Mr McGillivray, who has been working with his team on Vuable for just over 12 months, said observations of the video trend is backed by QMI’s investment in the system.

“I see small businesses in general already using video in many ways, along with larger organisations including government departments” he said. “Members of Vuable may initially use it to say who they are, what they do and who they work with. Taking their capabilities from text into the visual space” 

“Research organisations and government departments will use Vuable to show what assistance programs are available, and what research organisations are doing currently.”

He said QMI could also see Vuable impacting the project space, highlighting major projects and being used practically for infrastructure to supply information, for contractors, community engagement, “and social good”.

Mr McGillivray said Vuable would almost immediately enable existing QMI Solutions customers to elevate their ability to market – an ongoing challenge in the manufacturing sector.

Mr McGillivray said in the initial planning stages of Vuable, a concern had been the capability of industry to create quality video updates – but the smartphone had virtually eliminated that concern. He added there would be a requirement of ongoing education to get industry comfortable about creating and publishing content, with confidence coming from seeing peers using the platform too.

There is also a range of “fantastic video editing apps that are either free or low cost as well as desktop computer options” he said.

 “The use of mobile phone is key … You can use mobile technology to get the best outcome, we are practising what we preach and have created our own videos on smartphones” Mr McGillivray said.


QMI Solutions has developed the Vuable platform in just over eight months, utilising in-house developers to adapt open-source software.

A useful feature is Vuable’s search functionality, which utilises hashtags, while full instant messaging capabilities are incorporated.

“This removes the friction from the dreaded cold call, and adds the ability for subscribers to interact, business to business, and arrange anything from meeting informally over a cup of coffee to arranging a site meeting at a business’s premises, we think this is a pretty cool feature,” Mr McGillivray said.

“Suppliers and innovators can come on-board and enjoy a free trial period of 30 days and if they don’t like it that’s fine,” he said. “But if they wish to continue it is a month-by-month subscription that’s $25 and they can upload their video any time they want. It’s very flexible, they have total control to pause and resume their subscription at any time.”

QMI has always been an innovator in technology adoption and dissemination.

The Vuable platform grew out of QMI Solutions’ own re-assessment of where digital was taking industries and enacting its own digital transition strategy.

The first instance of this was the introduction of the CoreValue business evaluation system to Australia and New Zealand. This was followed recently by QMI’s introduction of its Online Procurement System (OPS) that serves procurement for industry through a fully automated procure-to-pay system.

“These products are already successfully in the marketplace – and Vuable is the third product that we are bringing to market,” Mr McGillivray said.

 “Vuable is another first of its kind and in the form of a dedicated video platform for industry and innovation. We are very proud of that,” he said.

 “The vision of QMI is that QMI helps make new possible … Vuable will help us to supercharge that vision.”







DIGITAL disruption is having a debilitating effect on both worker and employer confidence. Employers are worried about skills shortages while workers are worried they do not have the digital skills to guarantee future employability.

In fact, according to human resources (HR) and recruitment specialists, Randstad, one in two Australian workers fear a lack of digital skills.

The quarterly Randstad Workmonitor Report showed over 55 percent of Australians think they need to develop stronger digital skills to guarantee their future job prospects. A further 67 percent believe that digitisation of the workforce requires different skill sets to those available at their current employer. 

With careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) on the rise, and many existing jobs set to become even more digitally focused in the future, Randstad Australia and New Zealand CEO Frank Ribuot said there was more pressure than ever on employers to upskill the workforce.

“Careers across the board are transforming with advances in technology, as we change the way we work, the way we communicate with customers and employees, and the way in which consumers spend and engage with brands,” Mr Ribuot said.

“In response, organisations are adopting increasingly sophisticated digital strategies to maintain a competitive edge and deliver a superior customer experience, but the workforce is not feeling confident their employer is keeping them up to speed with the pace of change.”

Mr Ribuot said if the issue of skills shortages and lack of training was not addressed in the immediate future, Australia risked having a workforce that was not skilled for long-term employability. 

“Organisations across many industries are snapping up talent with these digital skills, but not necessarily upskilling their existing workforce,” Mr Ribout said. “This has led to a gap within the talent pool and that gap will be set to widen if the issue is not addressed. A shift in thinking needs to happen now or we risk a skills shortage in the long term, with a significant section of the workforce ending up unemployable in the near future.”

With 85 percent of the Australian workforce agreeing that every employer should have a digital strategy in place, Mr Ribuot added that focus on training needed to be the priority.

“People are obviously crying out to be upskilled and offering the right kind of training and development will be key to employers attracting and retaining top talent moving forward,” he said.

“This time of year is typically when people reflect and review their careers and consider a change if their needs aren’t being met. Randstad research shows talent is not just attracted to financial incentives, but also skills development, career progression and workplace flexibility.

“While it can seem daunting to train staff from scratch, employers should keep in mind that many skills are actually transferrable.

“Many customer service roles for example have already shifted from interacting face to face, to creating content for social media channels and listening and responding online to customer feedback,” Mr Ribout said.

“The same principles apply, it’s just about shifting our thinking around how service is delivered and how we train and develop our people in these skills.”


Randstad Workmonitor highlights: Jobseeker sentiments in digital age

•        85% of Australians believe every company should have a digital strategy (84% globally).

•        62% of Australians surveyed state their employer has a digital strategy (59% globally).

•        67% agree that digitisation requires different skill sets than currently available with employees at their employer (68% globally).

•        55% believe they personally need to acquire more digital skills to guarantee their future employability (62% globally).




Digital Business insights by John Sheridan >>

IT'S 2017 and according to the ever reliable Roy Morgan Research poll, unemployment (9.7%) and underemployment (8.2%) now adds up to 17.9 percent – a total of 2.4 million people looking for work or for more work.

Not a good start to the year.

We have now set a new record for household debt, which the Reserve Bank chief says is a threat to the economy. Which affects spending. 

Wages growth is historically low. Households are cutting back on consumption, hurting the economy and employment.

Well, duh!  It all joins up.

And coming towards us through the wires and wireless is an enormous wave of change, with robotisation, computerisation and automation set to steadily eliminate 40 percent of jobs. New jobs will replace a proportion of those lost but nowhere near enough.

And what are we doing about it?


Government is good at creating plans. Not so good at action.

And one thing I have noticed from years of looking at economic strategies, roadmaps and plans is that they are all the same.

Change the name and the pictures and a few words, and bingo – another roadmap or plan saying exactly the same as the last one.

Sometimes they ARE exactly the same as the last one – the policy officer or consultancy involved failing to change all the names properly when delivering the cookie cutter report.

Why not download all strategies from the internet and just change the names? It would be cheaper and the outcomes would be the same.



There is a common structure to all economic development strategies and industry roadmaps.

The first section is full of research, the information that defines the uniqueness of a region or industry sector. The next section is full of reviews of what is changing, how the region or sector compares with others, and what the future trends seemed to suggest. These sections are where all the hard analysis and thinking are being done.

The last section is where the cookie cutter comes into action – future plans, the strategy for action and investment. This section is where hard analysis and thinking and uniqueness flies out the window.

That's because this section required imagination and creativity, which traditional planners and policy officers are not trained to deliver.

It’s not their fault.

So they fall back on platitudes and generalities often plundered from other strategies from around the world. And the uniqueness of the solution flies out the window with the rest of it.

Yet when it comes to objectives, there is universal agreement.

“We want things to be better”. Which is hard to argue with.

More jobs, more collaboration, more exports, more investment, better technology, skills and training, more large businesses moving into the area, state or country, more housing, better roads, better aged care, better schooling, more social amenities, more tourism, a better future for our children and grandchildren and so on.

And we want to be leaders in … (insert an issue here).

You name it and put it in. That is what most departments do.

But there is never much detail on how all these things are going to be achieved … just a long list of wishes and dreams wrapped up in a professionally designed brochure, which the Mayor or Minister can be proud of.

Because thinking about the future is tough stuff. Action even harder.



Looking back is easy. Even pulling together all the statistics, tables and charts is achievable given enough time.

Looking forwards is very hard. And invariably wrong. Especially today with so many externalities, disruptions and connections shifting the solid ground we used to rely on.

And creating new solutions to old problems is even harder. It requires a different mindset. A joined up, creative mindset.

By default, we end up with a cookie cutter approach to regional and national, departmental and economic strategy. And the report, plan, roadmap, 2050 brochure is published and then nothing happens.

Which is a problem for us all. 

We actually need fresh creative thinking now like never before.

“We will be the smartest city, state or nation in the world”. We will attract the smartest individuals, smartest businesses and largest corporates to our city or country.”

Dream on

Every city will be the smartest city. Every obvious technological option will be milked by everybody … at slightly different speeds, but by everybody.

And in many cases the followers will become leaders, milking the technological possibilities more quickly because they carry no baggage and leapfrog the smug. The world outside our borders is not static. It is moving on all fronts at speed. We need to move faster and smarter.



The real strengths of any region or state are what they have always been. Its industries. Its people. The climate. Water. Environment. Culture. Access to the ports and airports. The interesting things to see and do.

Technology does not bestow unique advantage, but it can magnify and catalyse advantages that already exist.

That which is common to all is not a strength. But that which is unique could be.

Every region is different and should magnify its difference not copy anybody and everybody else.

In advertising terms, focus on the USP – the unique selling proposition. Polish the stone. Create a gem. Add value. And drop the commodity mindset into the rubbish bin where it belongs.

The fundamentals haven’t changed. Technology is just an enabler. A powerful and disruptive one.

And cities, regions and governments have to accept something has changed forever.

There are no edges any more. The influence of geography is diminished. The power of the media is fragmented. Information is instantly accessible. The customer is informed and empowered.

In a digital environment where any statement or commentary is checkable and discussible … honesty and authenticity is mandatory.

So strategies of all kinds – social, political, economic, environmental and digital – have to align with the new reality to be useful and have to be rewritten to recognise the reality of the change.

This is what has taken politicians by surprise.

Across the planet, along with every other sector in society, politicians and political parties are being disrupted by the digital revolution.

Trump, Hanson, May, Le Pen, Brexit and hung parliaments are all symptoms of this disruption. There is no going back.

I repeat, in a digital environment where any statement is checkable and discussible … honesty and authenticity is mandatory.

And in a digital world where connection, collaboration and integration are inevitable, joined up thinking and joined up solutions are also mandatory.

Which creates a problem for government, because it is not structured to manage the new digital environment. It is still structured for the industrial revolution with its departments (19th century). And the digital world is not organised in that way (21st century).

No departments. Internetworks.

19th century thinking in a 21st century digital revolution is where we mostly live today.



Like it or not, we have to start thinking in a different way.

That means collaboration and that means shared value. It means harvesting the best ideas, and they can come from anywhere.

Left wing and right wing has lost meaning. Connected and joined up is the new operational modality.

Our left hand does not rebel against our right hand. The body politic must integrate for the good of the nation.

One side of parliament does not have all the good ideas. Good ideas are anywhere and everywhere.

The digital revolution demands a management model that reflects the new reality, or we will not flourish in the digital age. Shared value.

In many ways it doesn’t matter what entities we use as the basis for collaboration. We can use those that exist – councils, states and territories, corporates and individuals.

What does matter is the required 'joined up' thinking and vision, and as a result the 'joined up' strategies to reach the 'joined up' goals.



In the absence of visionary government, what can we do about jobs and growth?

We are not helpless. There are a lot more of us than there are of them. Which means access to a lot more brains, a lot more experience, a lot more ideas and a lot more enthusiasm.

And the internet provides a platform for collaborative action that has proven itself time and again. So let’s use it.

And focus on productive industries – agriculture, creative industries, defence, manufacturing, medical and health, METS and tourism. These are the industries that offer the possibility of high value, high wage jobs.

Add value through design, branding, licensing, promotion and advertising. Match productive industries with R&D from universities.

Connect businesses for collaborative action. Share successful case studies and projects across, within and between regions. Connect regions for collaborative action on jobs and regional growth.

Export. Showcase our value-added productive industries to the world. Target the 20 or so major overseas markets with our value-added products and services.

Keep doing the above.

Simple. Pragmatic. Practical. Agnostic.

We need more money for Australia – money to pay for education, health and aged care. For business investment and innovation.

And we need that income to come from selling a wider range of value added goods and services to the world.

So we need to export more things. We need to export to more markets and we need to add value to as much of what goes out the door as possible.

More money coming into Australia will lead to more jobs. More value adding will lead to more high value jobs.



Robots are great. Automation can be a very good thing. Software is changing the world. But we have to go back to basics on this stuff. These are all tools. They are all mechanisms to help us become more efficient, more effective, do things quicker, more reliably and intelligently.

But for what? What is the objective of this vastly increased and automated efficiency?

Health. Happiness. Justice. Welfare. Tranquility. Peace. Add your objective to this list.

We humans are the most important part of the digital equation.

This is a revolution and we are still in the early stages. CEOs, boards and managers have to understand that technology tools are still imperfect. Technology tools do not yet have the agility and flexibility or intelligence that humans do.

And moving too quickly can create more trouble than it’s worth. The Census, Queensland Health and Centrelink are the most immediate examples of poor implementation of technology, but there are many others.

So we should never lose sight of what the revolution is all about. It should be about improving the status for all. Lifting the game. Fair go. Leaving nobody behind.

And leaving the 'room' we entered in a better condition than when we arrived. For our kids and our grandkids. Like farmers do.

We are all heroes in the digital revolution. We have to be a 21st century team of collaborative but independent thinkers.

And our focus has to shift towards shared value so we can all benefit in our much bigger competition with the rest of the world. In the digital revolution no man is an island and no island is an island either, no matter how big it is.

The digital revolution takes no prisoners. And the countries that move fastest to reorganise around share value will be the winners.


John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights, an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping businesses 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 15 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs. Now DBi is turning that research into action through a series of digital business development platforms, the first of which launched in 2016, the Manufacturing Toolbox. DBi has now also launched a series of international online trade showcases, promoting Australian goods and services to specific countries and promoting use of those showcases in those countries. The first, just launched, is the Australia-Taiwan Trade Showcase. Coming soon are trade showcases for Japan, Hong Kong-China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and India. Australia's Regional Economic Development (RED) Toolbox will be launched in March.


Digital Business insights by John Sheridan >>

JAMES KIRBY, wealth editor of The Australian raised some interesting points recently, under the heading 'The four big housing market lies'. It’s worth reading The Australian just for that commentary alone.

He points out that Australians are able to pay their mortgages each month because interest rates are so low. When rates move higher, as they will, there will be a problem. 

Most deposits are 20 percent, which makes saving for a deposit just about impossible, without help from mum and dad. If that help is available.

Nearly 40 percent of the market is in interest-only loans. They rely on price appreciation to make money. Any change in conditions – negative gearing, tax deductions, rising interest rates, China shutting the gate, drop in house prices – and the overall market will shudder, disrupting other parts of the economy.

Anecdotally, Chinese housing investment is a subject that is regularly and quietly discussed in offices, living rooms and at barbecues when the subject of who bought the house at the end of the street comes up…”a nice Chinese couple. They outbid everybody.”

And there will continue to be Chinese investment in Australian capital cities for as long as Chinese and Australian regulators allow it. Blocking the dreams of young Australians to own anything in the city.

Last week, the OECD pointed out the obvious again, stating that Australia risks a rout if house prices fall sharply, which will bring the rest of the economy down with it.

There are some signs that government is waking up to this impending mess, but mainly in mutterings from the backbenches on all sides of the house. As far as action is concerned…

Nothing. Ministers sitting in self imposed straitjackets.

There is a breaking point to anything and everything.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back”. We all know the concept.

At some stage, even a relatively small impact can have a massive effect.

The market is under strain. From many directions.

Chinese investors keep adding fuel to the equation above, driving up prices.


Interest rates will go up this year. More strain.

Now let’s add a haystack of straws to the equation. See what the poor camel thinks of that.

Jobs disappearing because of digital technologies.

Enormous strain.

People need jobs to be able to pay mortgages. Household debt is higher than it has ever been. Wages growth is static.

Unemployment is 9.7% and underemployment is 8.2%. This set of figures is now destined to grow bigger.

Not in a sudden, dramatic tidal wave of change. But in a slow, steady, remorseless one job at a time, “boiling the frog” transformation.

Because the conditions that impact employment decisions are changing.

Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are not being narcissistic attention seekers, when they state very clearly that robots, automation, software and artificial intelligence are going to destroy jobs soon.

They are just being good citizens.

They are much richer, better networked and far better informed than most of us. They have nothing to gain from spreading wild rumours and dissent.

They just happen to have insights, perspectives and experience denied to most of us.

Oxford University pointed out years ago that 47% of jobs were likely to disappear in the next decade.

The uniformed (mainly politicians and economists) looked around, couldn’t see a tidal wave coming, and disagreed. Loudly. Based on “well it never happened before.”

Quite right. That’s why it’s called the digital revolution. With an emphasis on the word revolution.

Who do you believe?

The interesting thing about technology tools is that many of the impacts don’t arise at the invention of the tool eg when the fax machine was sold to the first business, but only when the adoption and use of the tool – the fax machine, became universal.

And the impact isn’t then about the fax machine, it is about the value delivered by all the connected fax machines and their ability to send and receive copy and images quickly, easily and universally.

The same with the internet. New value has arisen as the internet has grown and individuals have connected. Publishing, Search, Access to information. Collaboration. Social media.

But the real impact has been the resulting shift of power from the vendor – the provider of products and services and information to the customer. Customers now have instant access to information from multiple sources and the ability to compare, check and discuss that information with others.

This has disrupted politicians, columnists and pundits enormously. Because opinion can be fact checked instantly, and authenticity and honesty have gained new value. Even Trump can’t avoid that fact.

Many benefits and challenges of technology only arise once there is a critical mass of users. The critical mass creates a new condition, often shifting and transforming traditional power relationships as well as creating new possibilities.

We have seen this with the rise of online retailers like Amazon creating new retail relationships that ignore borders, high streets and tax officials. Or Uber disrupting taxi companies and AirBnB disrupting accommodation.

Uber relies on the universal adoption of mobile phones. Amazon and AirBnB rely on universal access to the internet.

These things we see and understand. And so far the impacts of technology have been largely positive. Phones, games, information, entertainment, shopping, office software, social media – all good.

What we don’t see or understand so clearly is the next set of connected technologies arriving in the marketplace.

When technologies first arrive the final impacts are not appreciated fully. Adoption is often slower than expected. Overhyped and exaggerated. But once critical mass is achieved adoption and use speeds up and the real impacts are revealed.

Robots. We all know about robots. We see them in films and factories. Rows of them lined up, doing specialised tasks, 24x7. Tireless, consistent, reliable.

Robots are now moving into new domains. Moving out of the factory into other environments. Mining. Defence. Agriculture. Healthcare. Warehousing. Transport. They are becoming multi-purpose. Adaptable. Configurable. Friendly.

Artificial intelligence. AI. We know that intelligent machines have competed and beaten humans in Chess and even Go. AI techniques are now being applied in speech recognition, driverless cars and writing articles. So we are already seeing real world applications in action. With more to come.

Smart systems. Enterprise management systems are maturing quickly, replacing legacy systems in government, academia and corporates eliminating administrative jobs like never before. Many full time workers have been shifted onto contracts, into part time and offered redundancy packages.

So the percentages for part time employment and underemployment (almost 18%) will grow, as big businesses, academia and governments finally get their systems in order.

And this isn’t happening in just one industry, it is happening across all industries and at practically the same time.

This is what Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking can see from their lofty perches. And are warning governments about.

In retail and wholesale, in transport, in manufacturing, in hospitals, in universities, in defence, in agriculture, in restaurants and catering, in education, in healthcare, in professional services, in finance and insurance, in mining and energy.

Most of us now have direct experience of this happening in our families, with our friends, and in our networks and our workplaces.

And yes, some jobs are being created as most jobs are being destroyed, but nowhere near enough.

But the quality and value of the new jobs is variable.

There are some high value “Lexus and Mercedes” class jobs, but a lot more low value “pushchair, billycart and skateboard” class jobs on offer. At less pay, less security and with no future.

So throw the “jobs” hand grenade into the same economy as the “housing bubble” and it gets interesting to say the least.

And most people can now see this coming. Or feel it coming. Or suspect it is coming.

We need to remove the “spectacles of delusion” and take a good look at this issue.

Using 20-20 vision. No politics. No left and right. Just listen to what Gates, Musk and Hawking are trying to tell us.

To start with, we need to accept the real unemployment figures – see Roy Morgan for more on this issue.

You need to know where you are, before you can decide where you want to go next.

We can get out of this predicament we have sleepwalked into, but only if we work together.

The solution isn’t quick. There is no quick fix, magic wand. It requires a clear vision, coupled with consistent and persistent effort.

Which we are well placed to pursue.

We have to focus on our productive industries. Agriculture, creative industries, manufacturing, ICT, medtech, greentech, METS and tourism.

These are the industries that offer the possibility of high value, high wage jobs.

Add value through design, branding, licensing, promotion and advertising. Match productive industries with R&D from universities.

Connect businesses for collaborative action. Share successful case studies and projects across, within and between regions. Connect regions for collaborative action on jobs and regional growth.

Export. Showcase our value-added productive industries to the world. Target the 20 or so major overseas markets with our value-added products and services.

Keep doing the above.

Collaborate and act.

That is the equation for success.




John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights, an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping businesses 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 15 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs. Now DBi is turning that research into action through a series of digital business development platforms, the first of which launched in 2016, the Manufacturing Toolbox. DBi has now also launched a series of international online trade showcases, promoting Australian goods and services to specific countries and promoting use of those showcases in those countries. The first, just launched, is the Australia-Taiwan Trade Showcase. Coming soon are trade showcases for Japan, Hong Kong-China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and India. Australia's Regional Economic Development (RED) Toolbox has now been launched at





Digital Business insights by John Sheridan >>

WORK as we have known it is dying. Careers are dead. Offices are disappearing slowly.

Intriguingly, there is still a Careers Advisors Association in Australia, though I wonder what they know that nobody else does.

Work is now contracts, part time and freelance. Even academia, government and professional services are increasingly shifting into contractual insecurity.

There is still stability at the top of course, which is what you would expect with senior managers, vice chancellors and directors looking after themselves, but it is now virtually impossible to steadily climb the ‘ladder’ unless you begin at the top by starting your own business. 

So how easy will it be for our children to navigate this new world of work? We continue to make it increasingly difficult for them compared to how it used to be. Free education for instance.

Are we preparing them properly for this much harsher world or still selling them ancient myths and dreams based on our educational years and working experience?

For what is this madness, that a generation of politicians who received a free education that gave them a chance of success in a job rich world, condemn the current generation to pay for their own education in a world where jobs disappear daily?

And we are doing this to them. It is not their fault. It is our fault.

We are the ones making the ‘business decisions’ justifying offshoring, outsourcing, freelancing, contracting and part time, taking the dubious advice of the ‘Big 4’ and other HR consultants driven by “having to make the most of a contracting budget”.

There is a choice here. But driven by fashion and “everybody else is doing it” we march down the “offshoring, outsourcing, contracts, redundancies” path towards an uncertain future. is a good idea for



THERE IS AN OLD STORY about a King and his Queen. For some reason, his wife wanted to bathe in a pool filled with milk. Maybe it was good for her skin.

So the King asked all his subjects to bring a pot of milk and pour it into the pool overnight. And all night long in the darkness the subjects queued to make their contribution to the Queen’s complexion.

In the morning, the King and Queen awoke to find the pool filled with water.

What had happened? Each person had thought, “Milk costs money. Nobody will notice my single pot of water once it is poured into the swimming pool of milk.”

One pot at a time.

Businesses, corporates, universities and governments are all changing their employment models.

Offshoring, outsourcing, contracts, part time, casual, freelance.

One job at a time, the 20th century, secure, full time career model is disappearing. Forever.

And everybody thinks that their small change in practice won’t make any difference to the greater scheme of things.

One job at a time.

And ministers and policy makers stand and watch.



WE HAVE now moved from an employment environment of relative security to one of insecurity. With a safety net (Centrelink) designed around regular full time employment.

Work continues to evolve before our eyes, with two things happening at once. Jobs are disappearing (50 percent of them on the way) AND contractual conditions are changing at the same time. Lose. Lose.

Leading to far fewer jobs. Far less job security.

For most people a job is about identity and purpose, about finding a meaningful place in society, a place where effort is rewarded by a feeling of accomplishment as well as financial recompense.

So unemployment is a problem that undermines society, identity, self-respect, confidence and meaning. Unemployment acts like an illness, sapping strength and motivation.

For we tend to measure our value by what we do, not by what we are.

“What do you do for a living?” “Where do you work?” “What are your goals and ambitions?” “What have you achieved with your life so far?”

Now whether that is right or wrong, it is what most of us have come to believe … that our value and meaning in society is measured by what we do, how we earn a living, and the contribution we make.

All contributions are ultimately of portions of our most precious assets – our life, our time, our energy, our attention, our thoughts, our words and our deeds. We exchange our life for reward of some kind – money, fulfillment, recognition and other symbols of achievement.

That is why work is important. And why lack of work is a problem.



AND THE NATURE of work has changed.

The traditional skills – of ‘hand’, ‘eye’ and ‘brain’ – now all demand ‘brain’.

But even the ‘brain’ jobs won’t deliver protection from digital disruption.

For automation is now poking its digital fingers into law firms, hospitals, schools, accountants, engineering, government, universities and mid-tier administration in corporations. A large proportion of the current work ‘force’ will very soon become the work ‘enfeebled’.

Who will look after their interests? Not the unions, because these are not traditional workers. Not the business associations or chambers of commerce, because they are not businesses either.

The self-employed and occasionally employed are trapped in the ever widening, policy gap between government, unions and business organisations, with no organisation looking out for their future.

They are part of an ever-growing host of people swept to one side by the currents of digital change, and the shortsightedness of policy makers.

Half the working or non-working population, whichever way you want to look at it.

The game is now rigged in the wrong direction.

It is like a perverse game of musical chairs, but without the music or indeed any sense of entertainment. Each week thousands and thousands of Australians are out there somewhere looking for a job.

And each week thousands and thousands of Australians don’t find one. Is this because they are not trying hard enough? No.

There are not enough jobs to go around.



DISAPPEARING JOBS. Disappearing wages. Disappearing loyalty. Disappearing security. And this process is happening under our watch. Under the government’s watch, who seem unaware and unable to do anything about it.

No wonder people have lost faith in politicians. They talk. They watch. But do they see?

And digital has driven the change. And the continuing impact of computerisation, robotisation and automation is eliminating 50 percent of existing jobs.

And they are not being replaced. New low paid, part time jobs are arising but nowhere near the numbers or the quality required, to replace the dispossessed.

And it is not just full time jobs disappearing. Wages in the existing jobs queuing for elimination or transformation have stagnated.

The result?

Roughly 12.5 percent of people in Australia now live in households below the most severe poverty line used in international research – about 2.5 million people. In the USA it is close to 25 percent.

So we don’t have a lot to learn from Obama or Trump on that score.

Because of the way we connect jobs and value in our society, all these individual unemployed and underemployed Australians are deemed worthless. Surplus to need. The surplus humans in our society that we don’t know what to do with.

And high profile politicians judge them. Publicly. They lack backbone. They lack moral fibre. They are lazy. They are bludgers. They sponge off the rest of us … and so on.

And some high profile politicians even support the unfair, automated Centrelink debt recovery system that punishes the customers it is supposed to support.

Are those Centrelink customers bad people? Are those people losers?

Could they have known this was going to happen 20 or even 10 years ago? Did anybody let them know it was coming? No.

Yet the signs were there. And they still are. The digital revolution has barely begun to disrupt the society we live in. We still have a choice – to manage it for better or continue to let it just “do its thing”.

And the trends are clear. Though the predictions are somewhat confused, admittedly with some pundits still glibly writing off the scale of the change, suggesting that the jobs losses will be made up by job gains elsewhere. And most of those pundits have secure tenure in the ivory tower universities they comment from.



THERE CAN be new jobs. There will be new jobs. But the quality of those jobs has shifted from productive industries to services and those services jobs are largely in the ‘wage slave’ categories. And many of those service industries are government funded directly or indirectly.

There will be new high value jobs but only for a new elite – those able to manage and contribute meaningfully with new digital skills – designing the robots, the software and systems to support the new digital world.

We don’t have to accept a passive role in this revolution.

Or a one track view of digital opportunity. It is not all about STEM.

Of course, STEM is important. But we can’t compete head to head with the scale of STEM skills investment in China, Japan, Korea, India, the EU, USA and elsewhere.

We have to be smarter. We have to build on our intrinsic strengths – agriculture, mining, tourism, isolation (clean, green, governance and quality control), innovation and ideas.

The real money in the digital revolution comes from origination. From design, innovation and creative ideas. And from the transformation of creative ideas into productive industries, with all that entails – investment, design, engineering, branding, more design, marketing and sales – the complete package.

Developing the skills of ‘hand, eye and brain’ in a coordinated way. Not championing one at the expense of the others. Aligning these capabilities together to produce, market, sell and support – holistically.

That is where policy should be directed … towards whole of industry development supported by interconnected TAFEs, Design Schools and Universities. ‘Think tanks’ aligned with ‘Do tanks’.



SOME COUNTRIES do this really well. We don’t. Currently our innovations and ideas are being highjacked.

We push our inventors out into the new world alone to be picked off, seduced and mugged. The vulture capitalists fly in and fly off with our IP and we seem to consider this a success story.

Well it’s not. It’s a story of failure.

Failure to build a sustainable, productive industry base here in Australia.

We have become a nursery for ‘IP harvesters’ from all over the world, who fly in, pick up and fly off with our future.

Rather than a nursery for Australian IP, innovation, growth and production. It’s not good enough.

Our strategy is wrong. We need to be nurturing a broad mix of skills and capabilities to support sustainable, productive industries and that means designers and advertisers, it means artisans, trades and craftspeople, as well as STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.


It all joins up.

Put these skills together in the right way and new things will be created. We need to create ‘hot houses’ for innovation. ‘Think tanks’ and ‘Do tanks’. More than just incubators. We need to orchestrate serendipity.

Incubators are fine. But we need to create catalysers – places where complementary skillsets are deliberately brought together to create and explore new options.

Creative collaboration works. Creative teams have long been an important part of advertising and design agencies, successfully bringing different skillsets to bear on any predefined challenge.

The more we can own and manage the high value parts of the manufacturing and production process, the better.  And the more all the different people involved continually meet and discuss the production process the better. Collaboration.



WHEN PRODUCTION is moved away from design, opportunities to learn and improve on the job disappear. The closer the better. Clustering.

We have to identify and support the scaleups (roughly 5 percent of our businesses) – the over five year old, high growth businesses that generate 50 percent of the new jobs. We must add value to them through a strategic program of design, branding, marketing and advertising.

A NESTA report from 2009 offers some interesting insights. High growth companies represent roughly 5 percent of the business population but generate 50 percent of the new jobs.

High growth companies are roughly half high-tech companies and half low-tech. The majority are at least five years old. These companies are disproportionately innovative and the innovation appears to cause growth.

Innovative companies grow twice as fast (in employment and in sales).

High growth companies also affect the surrounding business environment – a 5 percent rise in employment from high growth firms leads to a 1 percent increase in the surrounding region.

This is a network effect. And a network effect that we should leverage and implement.

We have to create things, grow things, design things, make things, brand things and market goods and services to the world.

And we have to promote and export. Hard.

We can all do something.

And collectively we can do rather a lot if we put our minds to it.

To support start-ups and scale-ups. Share “what works”. Retain Australian innovation, ideas and IP within Australia. Vegemite is a case in point.

Add value to our goods and services. Showcase our goods and services to the world. And export more goods and services to more countries.

To earn the money to support new jobs.

To replace the jobs that are disappearing.

One job at a time.


John Sheridan is CEO of Digital Business insights, an organisation based in Brisbane, Australia, which focuses on helping businesses 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 15 years and has surveyed more than 50,000 businesses, conducting in-depth case study analysis on more than 350 organisations and digital entrepreneurs. Now DBi is turning that research into action through a series of digital business development platforms, the first of which launched in 2016, the Manufacturing Toolbox. DBi has now also launched a series of international online trade showcases, promoting Australian goods and services to specific countries and promoting use of those showcases in those countries. The first, just launched, is the Australia-Taiwan Trade Showcase. Coming soon are trade showcases for Japan, Hong Kong-China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and India.





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