Optus CEO’s top three tech trends
by Keris Lahiff
The pace of technology innovation is accelerating faster, and for many, looking through the industry’s crystal ball for a glimpse at the future is a cloudy endeavour. Paul O’Sullivan, CEO of Optus, addressed CeBIT, Asia-Pacific’s leading IT exhibition and conference, on Tuesday to tip the three top tech trends he sees as moulding the shape of the industry’s future growth.
O’Sullivan, using the mobile phone as an example, demonstrated the changing trends in technology development.
“Ten years ago, we were so obsessed with getting away from bricks that as an industry we were focused on miniature,” he said. “We’ve gone from miniaturization to at this stage, 10 years later, focusing very much on a big screen and having that connectivity to the internet.
“What will a speaker be showing here in 10 years’ time?” he asked. “One change I think I can confidently predict is that we’ll have something that is foldable; an electronic version of paper. I’ve already seen it. A number of our vendors are working with electronic paper screens that expand and also shrink depending on the requirement you have.”
O’Sullivan noted three consumer-driven trends that are shaping the technology industry and the direction of future innovation.
1. From the ear to the eye
Just as the phone has changed in focus from miniature to large screen, so too has the way we use it – what was once mainly used pressed to our ear, we now predominantly engage with using the eye.
“For the first time since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it is going from being used on the ear to being used with the eye. Increasingly, these are email browsers, they are internet surfing devices, they have the ability to allow you to do almost anything,” he said.
And, with more products and services moving from the physical into the online space, mobile phones have increased in their abilities.
“A great example is content. Content you once used to be at home or in front of a TV screen to watch is now delivered to you on a mobile,” he said.
During the World Cup in 2010, Optus delivered 400,000 streams of soccer games directly to Optus mobile phone customers.
“Increasingly, the only difference between the computer, your mobile phone and your TV is the size of the screen,” he said.
He also noted the way in which new technology begins to gain traction.
“We frequently see new trends and behaviours manifested in initially in younger cohorts and then like SMS a decade ago, they spread virally to become a universal trend,” he said.
2. The rise of the ‘prosumer’
The younger consumer, he says, is also having an effect on another trend – the rise of what he coins the ‘prosumer’.
“That’s someone who’s moving from being strictly a consumer of information to someone who’s now a hybrid, they also produce,” said O’Sullivan. “They’re highly connected, they have several different devices, they’re highly mobile, they have multiple opportunities during the day to post to social networks. They no longer passively consumer, they’re pushing out all the time. They’re sharing more and more about themselves.”
“These people are blogging about our products and services, they’re blogging about government policy, they are shaping opinion in a way that is far more powerful than the traditional way we’ve spent on advertising,” he says.
So powerful in fact that two years ago Optus began to move call centre expenditure into enlisting people to surf these blogs, “intervening in real time to resolve consumer complaints and issues and indeed to proactively sell product to people who are pleased with what we do”.
3. The way we work
And the third major trend shaping the sector is the way in which we work – something O’Sullivan says is being led by the younger cohorts and ‘prosumers’.
Findings in an Optus research report due for release next week demonstrate the changing nature of the workplace.
“Expect very strong growth in Australians’ desires to work from different or remote locations and at hours that suit them,” he noted. “Forty-two per cent of the IT managers we surveyed said they expect their organization would offer remote working from any external location (and I don’t mean from someone’s home, I mean from any external location) within three to five years.
“Work is moving from being located at the desk to being located with the device,” he says. “CEOs and IT managers see themselves allowing increasingly to use their personal devices to access work networks. Our surveys show that we can expect to see a doubling in the number of personal tablets that staff will want to bring to work from 25 per cent to 55 per cent.”
Finally, O’Sullivan noted the rise of social media and of social networks inside workplaces.
“Today, many companies block access to social networks. Over the next three to five years, many businesses say they will open these up, although they will continue to monitor how their employees use them.”
Optus, for example, recently ran an online brainstorming session with more than 2500 of its employees – that’s one in four of its national workforce – to gauge what changes they would like to see in the organisation. In total, 450 changes were implemented, thanks to the suggestions made by employees.
“There is no way we could have run that whole process so openly, so democratically, so honestly and transparently without leveraging social networks.”
Published on: Thursday, June 02, 2011