Wednesday, 03 April 2019 10:22

Budget generally gets a tick from IT industry

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Budget generally gets a tick from IT industry Image by Luisella Planeta Leoni from Pixabay

A mix of large, medium-sized and small IT businesses have generally welcomed the measures in the Federal Budget that affect their industry, though the government's meddling in encryption — as evidenced in the passage of the encryption law last December — did not exactly earn many cheers.

Michael Devlin, managing partner of business transformation vendor, Certus3, said while additional spending had been announced on a range of transformation programs — from cyber security to upgrading the Electoral Commission core infrastructure — these programs would only be successful if there was a focus on putting strategies in place to measure the potential risk and ongoing success.

“As our economy goes more digital, transformation success has a direct impact on budget spending and community expectations," Devlin said. "The more we spend on digital, the more the public will want to see results.”

“Government agencies have a good opportunity to showcase how well they manage project spending by communicating their strategies to measure outcomes.”

Chris Gibbs, general manager Asia Pacific and Japan for open-source CMS company Acquia, pointed out that the short-term funding boost to help businesses expand globally was a positive step forward.

"But governments increasingly need to take a long-term look at how their investment will create a highly talented, educated, knowledgeable workforce for competing in the global economy," added Gibbs.

"Indeed, organisational structures, departmental interactions, workflow and delivery channels are all being reviewed in businesses of all sizes. Many will also need to be re-engineered or replaced. Streamlining or automating processes will achieve nothing."

He said one question arose: whether the approach to education and investment in digital skills creation would support the rise of dozens of Australian global companies in the 2020s and beyond.

Simon Howe, APAC sales director of US security intelligence firm LogRhythm, said: “This year’s budget underscores the importance of managing security risks. Extra funding to boost agency capability when it comes to meeting an increasing risk from cyber theft and espionage will go a long way to reducing risk.”

He said more and better data analysis could help identify risk factors, with everything from behavioural analysis to trending targets identified, reviewed and "de-risked" with better intelligence.

“The Federal Government announcements will hopefully help increase awareness of risk assessment among the Australian business community," Howe added.

Michael Warnock, Australia country manager of Aura Information Security, said the budget had good news for the country's cyber security awareness and capability.

"Our digital economy is dependent on the security of information and the Federal Government is continuing its commitment to invest in research and technology to help build trust at all levels of the economy," he said.

“A perennial problem in Australia — and indeed globally — is a shortage of cyber security skills. It is therefore encouraging to see more focus on cyber-security education and skills development. What we need is investments in both specialist cyber skills and broader awareness programs.”

Warnock expressed the hope that the $570 million cyber spending boost for ASIO and the Australian Federal Police would flow into other areas of the economy.

"For example, requirements for anti-drone technology for the AFP and AI technology for ASIO could be met with local suppliers," he added.

Laura Doonin, director of e-commerce provider Moustache Republic, also dwelt on the cyber security funding. “This year’s budget has a big emphasis on increasing cyber security capability and numerous digital transformation programs," she said. "These investments present a good opportunity for local companies to deliver technologies and services to assist with the changes.”

Doonin said if one made a start with local opportunities, companies could develop world-leading solutions that could be used by any global company.

"Let’s use government incentives as a starting point for technology development," she said. “This is particularly true for small and medium-sized businesses such as retailers with a focus on digital. With the right support and economic development infrastructure, businesses can go global through innovation.”

Ricoh Australia chief executive Andy Berry said the budget announcements provided a good opportunity to remind business that despite government investments in the digital economy, innovation in every day business is often stifled by the immediate requirement for day-to-day productivity.

"This year’s Ricoh Workplace Innovation Index found that we have a long way to go to develop the digital workplace – an essential building clock for innovation. Yet, everything from enhanced cyber security to rural health improvements can be bolstered with digital workplaces," he said.

“A modern digital workplace helps people collaborate and facilitates better teamwork and the technology is applicable across any location – from a corporate head office to remote sites. “Digital workplace innovation also helps product and service innovation, which is something the government should always be looking to propel.”

Brendan Maree, vice-president Asia Pacific of cloud communications and customer engagement solutions provider 8x8, said what was often overlooked in digital transformation programs was customer experience, and the budget announcement should underscore the link between customer experience and business outcomes.

“STEM education is important for Australia’s future and we need more emphasis on end-user and customer experiences," said Maree. "Good technology is often poorly understood or underutilised due to the experience it offers. A good customer experience can often mean the difference between a project’s success or failure.”

“Perhaps we should add an "X" for user experience to STEM? STEM-X education? That’s something to get excited about.”

Phil Kernick, co-founder and chief technology officer of cyber security specialist CQR Consulting, opined that while more government interest and investment in cyber security was to be welcome, the Federal Government should stay away from mandatory encryption.

"Individuals and businesses have a right to protect their private and sensitive information and not have it searched without a warrant," said Kernick, in a reference to the encryption law. "In the case of criminal activity, there is almost always more than enough evidence to press charges before private information is decrypted.”

On the plus side, he said the focus of the budget on skills and awareness programs was a positive move, "but we would like to see more support for local cyber security businesses. Companies like ours are at the coalface of cyber awareness and solutions and it is important for the government to incubate and support the local technology and services industry".

Kernick added that a healthy Australian cyber security industry would attract the best talent to the profession and carve out a new export potential.”

Nigel Mendonca, ANZ managing director of interactive data visualisation products provider Tableau Software, said: “Increased education and digital transformation spending in this year’s Federal Budget highlights the need for more data analysis and insights across government agencies and the wider economy. With better analytics, we can make better decisions on our digital transformation programs and the effectiveness of public spending."

He welcomed the move to include more STEM in the education system. "[This] is great news and over time this will definitely show why analytics is important. STEM will generate more data and with analytics we will be able to witness in real time how well students learn and how well the ideas will grow,” he said.

“It would be great to see the government promote analytics as a discipline in itself – the economic benefits are waiting to be discovered.”

Steve Singer, ANZ country manager of software integration vendor Talend, pointed out that the Budget contained many programs which could benefit from better data trust and intelligence.

"Investments in cyber security, digital transformation and STEM education will be more successful if they are backed by trust and intelligence from the data they generate," he said.

“For example, the $220 million from the Medical Research Future Fund for research into heart disease will go further with more intelligence on causes and treatment outcomes, while relying on trusted data to fuel their decisions. With that information we can ensure public funds are working as well as they can.”

Singer said data trust and intelligence was the next frontier for STEM and digital transformation. "With more trust and intelligence we can deliver better outcomes and drive innovation," he added.

WatchGuard Technologies ANZ regional director Mark Sinclair said: “Small businesses are the engine of Australia’s economy and it is good to see more investment from the federal government in cyber security.

"Too often, however, we hear about a small business becoming the next victim of a phishing scam or ransomware attack. That small business could be a medical centre, local court or primary school.”

Sinclair, whose firm specialises in network security, secure Wi-Fi, and network intelligence products, added: “Poor security can affect anyone in our local communities and it’s time we all stepped up to a new level of awareness and action.

"As a result, we strongly encourage the government to reconsider an uptick in federal funding for cyber education and support for small business security technology investment so that business can focus on what they do best rather than worrying about their IT infrastructure.

“Small businesses no longer operate in isolation and most are part of global payment, accounting and CRM systems. Let’s not fall victim to a cyber attack because we think our business is not a big enough target.”

Charles Fortin, managing director of Sydney-based architectural practice Collard Maxwell Architects, found the announcements about spending on infrastructure, but cautioned that the evolution to smart cities was a multi-faceted one that would take time, effort, investment and focus.

"Councils and government bodies will have to work with businesses to understand their own individual value propositions while launching into smart city spending," said Fortin. "Smart spending can happen in areas such as transport, tourism, banking and education, but it must be focused in key areas that do serve and enable people, business cases, and not simply deliver technology for the sake of technology.

"Modern technology can eventually be deployed to establish a city-wide nervous system that allows citizens and public sector bodies to accelerate the sharing of data, knowledge and responsibilities. Only then will the result be more interconnected and open, and democratically led by citizens who are much better equipped to face the challenges and opportunities of the future.”

Bruce Mackenzie, founder and chief executive at workforce management solutions provider Humanforce, said the budget provided slim pickings for high-growth businesses.

"The lack of R&D and tech growth funding is a glaring omission, given the treasurer's statements on the need to build a better, more skilled workforce for Australia," he said. "[Treasurer] Josh Frydenberg called out bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers as the areas with skills shortages to be supported with the new apprenticeship program.

"I feel that these are odd examples to use, given these are some of the oldest vocations in history. While I completely understand the need to urgently address skill shortages in the trades, I was hoping for equal recognition of future employment opportunities in the technology sector, and more support for startups that are all currently fighting over a limited tech talent pool."

Mackenzie said more of a focus on STEM jobs was needed, with specific policies that supported the nation's tech sector. "With the right support, Australia will continue to lead the world with innovative ideas, and ensure a successful and prosperous nation for the next generation," he added.

Dipra Ray, managing director and chief executive at 3D body mapping company mPort, had a somewhat opposing view. "It was a pleasure to see a positive and supportive budget from the government today," he said.

"It provides targeted tax relief to the mass market which should go a long way to boosting consumer confidence. As a start-up that aims to take our technology offshore, I'm delighted to see increased support for the Export Market Development Grant which had been hamstrung in the past.

"It was also great to see a focus on investing in education which is key to any business being able to continue hiring talented staff. Lastly, it's great to see the Budget back in surplus which goes a long way to providing fiscal stability for the economy."

Carl Hartmann, co-founder of intelligent hiring optimisation platform firm Shortlyster, opined that the part of Frydenberg’s speech that was most relevant to the start-up sector was the announcement to increase the Export Market Development Grant by $60 million.

"The EMDG grant is a really important mechanism that helps support Australian companies export their IP to the rest of the world. It has been essential to achieving the first wave of global expansion for local exporting businesses. The $60 million will certainly help drive successful outcomes for Australian companies," he said.

"On the flipside, if we keep companies here, we need to ensure they have the resources they need to build products locally. Therefore, we still need to make sure we have sufficient skilled migration policies to meet the demand for jobs that remain on Australian soil."

Hartmann said with regard to increasing support for female entrepreneurs, anything that promoted diversity would be welcomed by the start-up community. "As entrepreneurship comes from all people regardless of gender or race, investing in a policy that promotes inclusiveness is great. Overall, while the EMDG grant is welcomed, if core issues facing start-ups (such as attracting local talent, and ensuring local funding is available) remain unaddressed, then more work still needs to be done.

"If the government intends on investing in technology, innovation, and future of work, then we need to double down on initiatives actually supporting this vision."

Gareth Gumbley, chief executive of personal finance and budget management app Frollo, said: “It is great to see additional funding announced for the EMDG as the initiative is successful in helping start-ups like Frollo expand overseas. It allows Australian companies to raise awareness and get traction in a very crowded and competitive global market for their unique value propositions."

He said the adoption of 76 reforms following the Banking Royal Commission was also a step in the right direction.

"While it’s fantastic that over $500 million has been allocated to enforcement and supervision via ASIC and APRA, it is also essential to note that central to the reforms is increased competition - which can be achieved through adopting open banking without further delays," Gumbley said. "The government needs to ensure a phased rollout without being slowed down by big banks. It also needs to support regional and tier 2 banks, as well as fintechs, to compete and get Australian’s a better deal."

He supported the statement by Frydenberg that small businesses were the engine room of the economy, but added that more fuel was needed to propel those engines to move faster and be more competitive on a local and global scale.

"This comes back to offering incentives to help start-ups flourish, especially in the early stages of business development. We’re all incredibly proud of success stories such as Canva and Atlassian, but need to remember they were small start-ups once too. If we want to foster and nurture the next generation of Australian success stories, we need to invest in them starting today," Gumbley added.

Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, the chief executive of healthcare software provider Coviu, said while she was pleased the government had announced more funding for mental health, and better access to rural GPs, much of the support already existed.

"I would have liked to see a more specific focus on modernising Australia's healthcare sector," she said. "What the government hasn't yet realised is that change and innovation in healthcare will actually come from digital health and telehealth. It's the only way to scale our future healthcare needs in an increasingly ageing and digitally enabled population.

"What the government should have included in its Budget is broader reimbursements for telehealth and digital health, including video consultations. I do commend the government for committing to further funding to increase participation for women and girls in STEM. This is an extremely important and worthwhile initiative.”

Anastasia Volkova, chief executive of crop heath imaging system FluroSat, said: "The agricultural measures announced in the Budget will certainly help struggling farmers in the short term. What's important is that we see investment in the technology that will make farmers more prepared for hardship, and more efficient with resources, so they can be independent of government emergency funding.

"It's only through technology innovation that farmers will be able to meet not only the current challenges they face, but the even more critical challenge of meeting increased demand for food and clothing over the next few decades."

Dr Elliot Smith, the chief executive of digital clinic Maxwell Plus, said: "This year the government has doubled down on healthcare as part of its budget. I think this is an extremely critical issue, and it’s pleasing to see it take the spotlight. Australia has a strong history of health innovation, and I think this is set to continue with the ongoing support for lab science and, crucially, its commercialisation in the Budget. It is through this process that we will see the growth of new, innovative businesses here in Australia that will have global impact."

He said the increased support for tuberculosis and brain injury, as well as prostate cancer, it would lead to better patient outcomes for millions.

"I'm certainly proud to be part of the Australian healthcare ecosystem, and am excited to see what the future holds,” Dr Smith added.

Tim Bentley, vice-president of Asia-Pacific for email security company Proofpoint, said: "The sophistication and tactics of today’s cyber criminals continue to evolve, and the Australian national cyber security budget strategy is a step in the right direction.

"A cyber incident can have a real, lasting impact and the ability to quickly respond and remediate is critical. The race to continuously secure our nation will continue across the private and public sector.

"Cyber criminals have shifted their targets toward people rather than infrastructure – and it’s essential that both sectors proactively establish a people-centric security strategy that prioritises protecting the most attacked individuals.”

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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