Australia has a "once in a generation opportunity to create and accelerate real change", and "needs to have the courage to make bold decisions" says Telstra CEO, Andrew Penn.
Penn has laid out a five point manifesto "to dramatically change our future if we have the courage to make bold decisions." His views were outlined in an Op-Ed titled 'Seizing the Opportunities after Covid", published by Telstra this week. Penn says as social restrictions begin to relax, Australia has a window of opportunity to undertake significant reform.
"Australia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create and accelerate real change on the key issues that will shape our economy, our society and our future.
"Issues on which our progress to date has been too slow, too incremental.
"There is a window now to take significant steps forward which have the potential to dramatically change our future if we have the courage to make bold decisions."
Five Areas of Focus for Bold Decisions
Penn has outlined five key issues he would like to see given immediate attention. They are:
- Accelerating the digital economy
- Reforming telecommunications
- Protecting ourselves from cyber risk
- Building diversity
- Driving meaningful action on climate change
"COVID-19 has driven unprecedented disruption but has also created an unprecedented opportunity for far-reaching reform. The question for Australia now is what type of historical moment will this turn out to be?
"I for one am looking forward to a kinder, cleaner, more empathetic and prosperous world and I believe we have the opportunity to create it if we can continue to make bold decisions in the way in which we have during COVID.
"If we do our future generations will thank us."
1. Accelerating the Digital Economy - don't lose the Covid-19 momentum
Forced isolation and social distancing measures during the pandemic have driven a huge acceleration in digitisation and rapidly changed the way we live and work. Penn points to activities like tele-health, online learning, remote working and e-commerce which have now been embraced.
A good example, he outlines, is tele-medicine which, during COVID, has emerged as an important channel for medical care at a time when visiting a doctor was often not possible. COVID has been an opportunity for the health sector to shift its mental model on the benefits of tele-health and get a better understanding of how easy, safe and effective the technology is, he said.
"I believe that out of necessity we have achieved in three months what might have taken us five years to progress. As individuals we have been forced to become far more digitally savvy in the space of weeks and across our business we are seeing digital interactions with our customers increase dramatically.
"What is important now is not to lose that momentum. Our response as a nation to the COVID lockdowns has seen us fast track a number of policy and regulatory changes, and we should be looking to embed and build on these reforms as we emerge from the restrictions."
2. Reforming telecommunications - critical to digital recovery
Telecommunications has been the "connective tissue" during lockdown and is "crucial to a fast recovery, " says Penn. In fact, telecommunications is "now arguably Australia's most important infrastructure to this digital recovery."
He has called on the Government to create a long term strategy for telecommunications with policy and regulatory framework that will remove barriers and accelerate the roll out of new technologies like 5G, nbn and edge compute.
"If ever there was a moment for all of us to feel unconstrained by the shackles of the past, past decisions, past policies, past investments it is now.
"We sit at the dawn of 5G, the nbn rollout finishes next month, the emergence of edge compute – these are all significant technologies that will play a crucial role in supporting the digitisation of our economy.
"The success of telecommunications networks in Australia over the next decade will significantly influence the success of the economy and nation" Penn asserts.
3. Improving our cyber-defence - Covid-19 has amplified the risk
Penn's third focus is on strengthening cyber security. He praised the Government for its leadership in developing the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy, but warns that cyber security will be become even more important as the economy digitises.
"With robust cyber security critical for national security, as well as our economic growth and international competitiveness, that work will only become more important as Australia continues to digitise post-COVID."
Penn also highlighted Telstra's Cleaner Pipes initiative, which the telco has been trialling for 12 months. .
Cleaner Pipes involves up-scaling Domain Name System (DNS) filtering to more actively block cyber threats on the network that would compromise the safety of customers’ personal information.
Millions of malware communications are proactively and automatically blocked every week as they try to cross Telstra’s infrastructure. This action reduces the theft of personal data, financial losses, fraudulent activity and users’ computers being infected with malware.
4. Build Diversity - promote flexible working arrangements
A key learning from COVID has been that working from home is one of the most important risk management and business continuity strategies, says Penn.
The speed with which remote working solutions have been developed during the pandemic has "required bold thinking" and "is the type of agile thinking that will be required going forwards."
He credits Telstra's flexible working policies as being critical to the successful transition to remote working for its office-bound employees.
"I am convinced it put us in a better position when, over the course of a single weekend, we had to move 25,000 of our Australian office-based staff to working from home during COVID. Even before COVID our office based staff were working from home on average 2.4 days per week."
"We have also expanded new initiatives like our Agents@Home program where in just three weeks we expanded our trial to now allow more than 1500 contact centre staff to work remotely. This is enabling us to recruit outside of traditional urban areas."
5. Meaningful action on climate change - we have seen the difference
Climate change will be the defining challenge of the 2020s according to Penn. The science is clear and now experiences during Covid-19 are proving it. Climate change, driven by greenhouse gas emissions, is creating risks that impact our economy, our environment, our communities and each of us individually, he said.
"I think for many of us the COVID-19 period has provided something unexpected and deeply personal; a chance to experience firsthand a world that is somehow quieter, clearer, less frenetic and also a chance to reflect on the fragility of our world. It’s been a visceral experience.
"In that context, if ever there was a moment for bolder and more significant action on climate change it is now."
He said, changing the current trajectory on climate change will require bold and creative action along with decisive leadership and determination and "the time for that is now."
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