[ACS LOGO] Australian Computer Society

Australia's 'Net Futures

By Tom Worthington, President of the ACS

Presentation for the National Press Club, 12:30pm, 11 December 1996

The transcript is available and linked to the slides and speakers notes in this document. Select (T) for corresponding transcript section.

Some photos from the day:

Bill D'Arcy1 Tom Worthington2 Tom Worthington2
  1. Bill D'Arcy, Chair for the Day
  2. Tom Worthington, thinking of an answer to a difficult question *
  3. Tom Worthington, and video screen *

Announcement & Summary

Tom Worthington argues that Australia's future direction on the use of the Internet and on-line technology is drifting due to a lack of direction by our politicians, media, bureaucrats and company executives. He argues that our technologists are amongst the leaders in the field, but are being hampered by a lack of vision from our technically illiterate leaders. Mr. Worthington will present one vision for Australia's 'net future.

* NOTE: This will be the first "multimedia" presentation at the National Press Club. Mr. Worthington will illustrate his speech with material downloaded from the Internet live on-screen during the presentation.

Draft of 11 December 1996

< Contents >

Tom Worthington

< Introduction >

(T) ACS Logo

Thank you for the opportunity to talk at the National Press Club today. When Invited to speak I was asked by Bill D'Arcy to make it controversial. I hope I can do that while still making some constructive comments. But first of all the disclaimer...


I work in the IT policy area at the Department of Defence. Until last Friday I was the Defence Web Master and co-ordinated the policy and procedures on Web use. I am now helping design the Defence Information Management Architecture. However my talk today is in a voluntary capacity as President of the Australian Computer Society, so what I say will be either ACS policy or my opinion, but is not necessarily a Defence or Government position.

Multimedia Presentation

You have had a string of distinguished speakers at the press club tell you about the future of the computer, the Internet and multimedia. They have given you lots of facts and figures. I am not a theoretician, academic or researcher, but a practitioner. I deal with technology which has to actually work. So I have here the technology which I use in my daily work.

This talk was billed as the first multimedia presentation at the National Press Club. That is a bit of an exaggeration, but I have my laptop computer, which I carry around in a briefcase, and a modem to connect it to a telephone line. The laptop is running Web browser software and is connected to ACSlink, the Internet service provided for Australian Computer Society members.

The slides you see on the screen are coming from two ACSlink servers, one in Melbourne and the other in Brisbane. When I select one of the underlined words or images on screen, a request is sent down the telephone line to retrieve some more information. That information could be a photo, some text, recorded sound. In theory I could download a video clip, but it would take too long using a slow telephone line connection.

These slides weren't done by a team of graphic designers in a studio, over weeks, but on my laptop in the last few days. If you read the presentation on-line you will notice it consists of the "slides" for screen presentation interspersed with the speech text. The document stated in mid November as a one paragraph announcement. I then added the text, changing it response to comments and last added the presentation slides.

Most of the photos were taken with this digital camera. Other web pages and photos I will show are coming via the Internet, from around the world.

This is a live demonstration, so lots of things can and may go wrong. Some servers and links may not work, or be slow. This is the 'net as it is now, not speculation on some perfect future.

< ACS Overview >

(T) Worthington, da Cruz & Macdonald

As it says on the ACS home page:
The ACS is the professional association in Australia for those in the computing and information technology fields. Established in 1966, the ACS has over 15,000 members and on a per capita basis is one of the largest computer societies in the world.
While PCs and the 'net may be new, the IT profession in Australia is more than 30 years old. The Australian Computer Society was there at the birth of the industry and has been helping foster that industry for those 30 years. Here's a photo from our 30th birthday party last week at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney (that's Andy Macdonald, Chief Government Information Officer, who gave the keynote address and also spoke at a recent National Press Club lunch).

The ACS does the usual things professional bodies do. It sets Australian IT professional standards through accreditation of courses at tertiary level, with examinations used in Australia and the region. We have adopted a new Core Body of Knowledge for the profession, in consultation with Universities. We have a Code of Professional Conduct and Professional Practice plus a certification program.

The ACS has made submissions to and provided representatives for government committees and enquires for decades. I will touch on a few of the more recent of these, some where the Government took our advice and some where they didn't.

< Pay TV, a policy failure & poor investment >

(T) Andy Hopper

One case where the Government didn't follow ACS's recommendations was on Pay TV. Previous government have struggled to have a coherent telecommunications policy. That job has become more difficult with the convergence of computers and telecommunications (now called Information Technology) and the current Government is still struggling to have a coherent policy.

The essential point which the ACS tried to make and which the policy makers missed, was that Pay TV will not deliver the information superhighway. That is the infrastructure for Pay TV is not suitable for general digital data applications. Pay TV being delivered in Australia is analogue broadcast technology. It is designed to transmit a lot of identical information to a large number of consumers. You need a mass market to justify the infrastructure and programming for Pay TV. Digital data applications by contrast deliver small amounts of different information to, and collect it from, subscribers. You need only two subscribers to start building the network, you can build on existing infrastructure and the subscribers may provide their own programming.

The Pay TV cabling now being installed in Australian cities is designed primarily for carrying analogue pay TV, not digital data. This is not a necessarily a good investment in Australia's future. In submissions to Government the ACS has explained how other technologies are possible to carry data. A few weeks ago I visited Andy Hopper, Director of the Olivetti & Oracle Research Laboratory (ORL) in Cambridge, UK. In this photo Andy is holding a pen operated Network Computer which the lab is connecting by a high speed wireless ATM data network to multiple video and audio sources. Before Telstra and Optus have even completed their pay TV cabling we may see wireless technology make that cable obsolete.

< The Network Computer >

(T) NPC Logo

The network computer in Andy's hands differs from those which Raymond J. Lane from Oracle and Scott McNealy from Sun talked about here recently. In Sun and Oracle's strategy the network computer downloads programs from the 'net and then runs them locally. The network replaces the disk drive in your computer. Andy's unit has no local application processing ability, as well as no disk drive. It relies on remote server computers to run applications. In this way it is even less like a PC and more like an appliance than the network computer.

You need to be very careful over new terms in the IT business, such as the Network Computer. These tend to have more to do with marketing, than technology. The jury is still out on the NC. I am not sure that people will want to give up the independence they gained from the computer center with their own PC and the independence they have from paying service charges. I expect we will see units ranging from video game NCs, NC TVs, to traditional PCs running NC programs. The pen operated personal digital assistant (PDA), which you will remember was going to be the hot product about two years ago, but never was, may have a new lease of life as a hand held NC.

< The danger of imported experts >

(T) Day one: Presidents of BCS, ACM, IPSJ, GI, CEPIS & ACS

One problem which is not unique to Australia, but is sever here is the reliance on imported experts. I am delighted to see that the National Press Club Information Management Forums have featured a number of Australians, as well as overseas speakers. In November I spent two weeks in the UK meeting with the Presidents of the major national IT societies from around the world, as well as visiting researchers and companies in Cambridge. This is a photo of the Presidents of the Association for Computing Machinery (USA), Australian Computer Society, British Computer Society, Information Processing Society of Japan, Council of European Professional Informatics Societies, Gesellschaft fuer Informatik (Germany). You will notice the row of laptop computers at the front, which I thought would be a nice touch for the photo.

Australia has nothing to feel inferior about. Particularly in the area of Internet technology our experts are equal or superior to the best in the world. Australia is heading work on electronic publications and on-line co-ordination for the national IT societies of the world.

I ask Australian CEOs and senior politicians, before you look overseas for an IT expert, look locally. You might find that the world leader in the field is in your city.

< Information Superhighway?: Its the Internet Stupid! >

(T) ACS Logo

Two elections ago I had a telephone call asking my advice about a proposal from the then Labour Government to include fibre optical cabling to each home. Governments aren't good at picking technological winners and I thought mentioning fibre optic cable was too specific and suggested something more general about providing data services. However, it was included in the issued policy. The Labour Party was re-elected, but had the good sense not to just start laying cable everywhere. Instead the Broad-band Services Expert Group (BSEG) was set up to make recommendations.

The BSEG was a reasonable approach, but then an assortment of other government and parliamentary enquiries started looking into aspects of the same issue, including the ASTEC Working Group on Research Data Networks, the Bulletin Boards Task Force, and the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science, Technology, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure.

There didn't appear to be any way to stop this assortment of enquires, so the ACS prepared one submission to the lot. This was called "Vision for a Networked Nation The Public Interest in Network Services",was drafted with the assistance of the 'net community, on-line and had a significant effect on the reports produced (ASTEC even borrowed the title for their report).

The problem of overlapping government responsibilities still exists. We currently have the Information Industries Taskforce at the Department of Industry, Science and Tourism, the Information Policy Advisory Council at the Department of Communications and the Arts and the IT Discipline Research Strategy Study partly funded by Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

In addition the Office of Government Information Technology under the Minister for Finance has responsibility for internal public service IT matters.

The ACS is currently preparing a submission for Information Industries Taskforce and I am proposing that we again force some external co-ordination, by broadening this one submission to cover all enquires.

One area where there has been a useful change is that all agencies conducting these enquiries are routinely using the Internet to issue discussion papers, take submissions and present reports.

< Outsourcing for no good reason? >

(T) Sir William Deane Worthington, da Cruz & Macdonald

The latest management fad from overseas is outsourcing. The idea is that contracting services to a commercial enterprise will impose a commercial discipline and increase efficiency, over that of an internal organisational unit.

However, before dismantling our public infrastructure and selling it off to overseas interests, we should examine if outsourcing really works and if some non-commercial benefits are lost. These arguments apply to outsourcing by both private and public sector organisations.

While professing support for free trade, all national Governments support their local industries. One way this can be done is by funding research, another is by using the government agencies to train staff, test technology and support local industry. Before Australia abandon these mechanisms, we should make sure our competitors are doing the same and playing the game fairly.

L.A. de Looff from Delft University of Technology, presented a paper on "IS outsourcing by public sector organisations" at the 14th World Computer Congress, hosted by the ACS here in Canberra in September. de Looff argues that efficiency comes not from the outsourcing itself, but from the implementation of commercial style accounting. The same efficiencies could be obtained by applying these accounting methods to public sector organisations. Also he warns that the public sector has to react quickly to political changes and private profit organisations may not be as responsive. This is a photo of the Governor General opening the conference.

At the ACS's "Information Systems: Driving Radical Change" conference in Sydney last week several speakers from the private sector talked about their approaches to IT services. Some were using out-sourcing, some had in-house teams operating as profit centres, some had in-house teams considered a core business function and not separately costed. None appeared to consider their approach a failure. That's a photo of Andy Macdonald, Chief Government Information Officer and Marghanita da Cruz, IT Consultant at the dinner after the conference at the National Maritime Museum.

< Radical change for the DoD? >

(T) Tom Worthington at Mallacoota K95 Robert Lester and satellite communications

If outsourcing isn't necessarily going to deliver large efficiencies for Australian industry and Government, what will? I suggest that we grasp the opportunity Internet technology and techniques gives us to change the way organisations work. We need not wait a year or so until this concept has been implemented overseas and then import it. Our Universities and IT researchers have the Internet skills right here. We need to learn to apply that knowledge to management issues for our industry and government; then create an export industry.

Over the last two years a loose consortium of people in Government, industry and academia have put the federal, state and local governments of Australia on the web. This was not done following some top-down policy, but as a grass roots exercise, using the technology to co-ordinate implementation of pilot systems.

The Minister for Defence invited submissions to the Defence Efficiency Review, so I sent one in. In this I propose that the Department of Defence adopt this loose consortium approach to on-line working and foster an Australian on-line industry for the export of Internet based products and services. Just to show you the possible flexibility, these are photos of Robert Lester, from Defence Public Relations in the Northern Territory transmitting reports from military exercise Kangaroo 95 and me on holiday in Mallacoota, Victoria, receiving them with a pocket modem and lap top PC and updating the exercise home page.

The organisations we have now locate people together in office buildings and arrange them administratively in hierarchies. The offices were needed because people had to be able to communicate by talking and passing paper around. The hierarchy was needed to filter information upwards and distribute decisions downwards. The Internet makes these structures obsolete and look as ineffective and inefficient as they are. The trick is to build an Internet secure and reliable for business, and then learn how to use it to run a looser, less structured, but more effective organisation.

This may be a qualitative as well as quantitative change in communications. Elizabeth Eisenstein in "The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe" [1] argues that the invention of printing not only sped up communications, it changed the way people thought about the world. Printing made more concrete geographical, political and cultural boundaries, as well as making the "past" into a more concrete reality. The Internet may reverse several hundred years of print, dissolving boundaries and making the present less real.

< 'net literate politicians? >

(T) Photo of Tom Worthington & Senator 
Lundy, Copyright (c) Canberra Times 1996

One of the frustrations of making submissions to government and parliamentary committees is the lack of knowledge of information technology, and is some cases fear of technology, by politicians and senior public servants. The same situation appears to exist in upper level management of Australian companies. One sector well served is the media, with most of Australia's quality daily newspapers having specialist IT journalists. Also the ABC produces good radio and TV programs on IT issues.

Apart from Senator Kate Lundy, who has trained in desk top publishing and does her own web pages, its difficult to find 'net literate federal politicians. So I asked the members of the LINK electronic mailing list for nominations. They nominated Senator Bill O'Chee as a net user and Bronwyn Bishop (Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel) as knowledgeable on IT issues. Also the Democrats came in for some praise for having both Web pages and e-mail addresses. That makes one member from each major party, both government and opposition, and one minor party. Other MP pages nominated are John Forrest and Duncan Kerr. Also the Parliament's Home Page Member Contact List. Its an okay start, but I think we could do much better.

Senator Bill O'Chee, sends his apologies, as the Senate is sitting. He suggested the effect of secure transactions will have on the revenue base of countries may be of interest to you. The problem is that if Internet transactions become the norm there would be great pressure for companies to move their operations to low tax countries."
I had the dubious honour of demonstrating Internet pornography to a Senate Committee, while they were reasonably able to grasp the issues involved after a day of presentations by experts, why aren't there any experts there already? By the way this is a photo of Kate Lundy taking digital photos from a hot air balloon over Canberra, while I transmitted them via a wireless link. It was a publicity stunt to promote Canberra tourism.

Neither side of federal politics has acquitted itself well in the pay TV and telecommunications policy discussions. The public policy issues are going to get much more difficult next year and we will have weeks or months to take far reaching decisions on Australia's future.

At the same time Australian government agencies and companies can't get by with a few IT experts buried down in the computer room. We need senior executives who are trained an familiar with what the technology can do and how to use it.

< Vision for a Networked Nation >

(T) Swans on Thames Trinity Gate Wren Library

There are many futures possible for Australia in the on-line age. We can keep our cultural cringe and wait for imported ideas, technology and people for our declining economy. Or we can join the world on-line, forming partnerships with other people, organisations and Governments; building on each other's strengths. We have a highly trained IT workforce, a reasonable IT R&D; infrastructure, poor direction and leadership, and poor financial infrastructure for exploiting discoveries. In part it falls to the IT professionals to provide the leadership lacking. The Australian Computer Society will help to discover how to build a networked nation.

Let me leave you with one example. Australia, however much a few in the community may resent it, is a multi-cultural society. One issue which emerged during the meeting with IT presidents in the UK was the problem of adapting the Internet to language and cultural differences. The German and Japanese delegates kept reminding the US, British and Australians that everyone in the world doesn't speak English as their native language. There is an opportunity for Australia to contribute in this area, thereby improving the usability of global networks, improving the world and perhaps creating a new export industry as well.


< See also >

Tom Worthington Tom Worthington
Perth From Mt. Wellington Syndey From Opera House