Is Australia being left behind in the tech era?

IMG_8664Sometimes you need some distance to gain perspective.

I’m writing today from a small cafe in a remote town in Colorado, a week after attending yet another amazing SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas.

Once again, SXSW was incredibly informative and inspirational, highlighting cutting edge innovation and thinking from industry leaders and up-and-comers.

But, for me at least, the most noticeable thing at SXSW was what was missing, especially in the enormous Trade Show hall. As usual there were dozens of exhibitors with new technology, plenty of robotics, 3D printing, drones and marketing software.

But this year the Trade Show seemed to be dominated by countries and regions sharing their own tech industry news and start-ups. They were encouraging to 30,000 plus cashed-up, highly educated and entrepreneurial visitors to come and do business with them, to relocate, to support their start-up businesses, to invest.

Besides the many states and regions of the USA on display, there were impressive stands for countries including Ireland, Great Britain, Brasil, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.

Who was missing? Australia. No display, no presence at the world’s biggest technology festival.

In fact the only sign of Australia was the smattering of Aussie accents wandering the city. Many of us made the pilgrimage to Austin to learn more and do business. (In fact, I picked up several business opportunities of my own simply by attending and chatting to people).

But the problem is that most of us are doing it ourselves, with no coordinated industry of government support. It really hit home to me that Australia runs a real risk of being left behind in the modern tech revolution. While we are still arguing the toss over high-speed broadband and seeing little government support of innovation, the rest of the world is taking bold steps to be at the forefront of the new economy.

And here is some perspective on why Australia needs to have a presence at SXSW (and other events…this isn’t just about SXSW) and also fostering similar events at home…..

The impact of SXSW 2014 on the city of Austin’s economy was revealed to be a staggering $315 million.

SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest told the Austin Business Journal that the figure is roughly 65% of the impact that a city like New Orleans sees from hosting the Super Bowl. It’s nearly a third of the net impact that the 2012 Olympics had on London.

And Australia was nowhere to be seen.

To me it is symbolic of the lack of importance our country is placing upon innovation.

This weekend I will be meeting up with some Australians who have relocated to Boulder, Colorado to work on their own start-ups. They’re in Boulder because of the exciting start-up community and tech network and positive spirit of innovation.

I’m sure I’ll be inspired by what I see, but depressed when I think of how far behind Australia is falling.

Learning about digital disruption and transformation

Digital disruption and transformation are my big themes for 2015. And with good reason, we are living an unprecedented era of change, where new technology and business models are emerging daily to threaten our once dominant and secure industries and organisations.

I’ve seen it in my own business and I see it daily with my clients. Disruption can be rapid and unforgiving with whole industries and business models being made extinct in a matter of years.

Digital disruption requires rapid change and agile adaptation on many different levels of an organization, both strategic and tactical. And, crucially, it demands constant research and education.

dig20151-1That is one reason my colleagues and I at DiG Festival have just announced a new theme and format for DiG Festival 2015Digital disruption and transformation – how to survive and thrive.

We are aiming to deliver a truly informative event, providing attendees with a framework to navigate change, not only to survive, but to thrive in the new economy.

And to continue our own education, the entire DiG Festival committee is heading to SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas this month to hear from and meet industry leaders and research new technology.

The SXSW schedule is truly daunting. Hundreds and hundreds of presenters, workshops and sideshows to attend over 4 days. It’s no coincidence that there is a lot of content around “Disruption”, which appears to be a red hot topic this year.

sxswHere are some of the highlights I’ll be trying to attend:

How to Rock SXSW in 4 Hours with Tim Ferriss

How to Remain Relevant in Today’s Digital Age with Charles Barkley

The Emperor’s New Wearables

Content Marketing vs Don Draper: The End Of Ads

And While We Are Asking, Is Media Dead Too?

Digital Disruption: Do or Die

The Art of Social Media with Guy Kawasaki

Secrets of Growth Hacking: From Zero to $50M

Digital Health and Consumerization of Healthcare

Biz Stone on Creativity and Redefining Success

Advocates vs Agitators: the Social Influence

Market to Win: Success The Era of Engagement

How New Media Business Models Can Save Journalism

Evolve or Die: The Traditional Agency Revolution

Next Generation Marketing for Small Businesses

Disruptive Innovators Under Attack

Fixing Transportation with Humanity and Technology

Russell Brand’s Revolution Will Be Televised


How Austin – home to SXSW – stays vibrant with tech and innovation

A growing theme on this blog has been about how to grow a smart and innovative city. Its something we’ve been tackling here in Newcastle as we evolve from our old industrial base to something more vibrant and sustainable.

One model we’ve been looking at is Austin, Texas. Over the last decade Austin was the 3rd fastest growing city in the USA, booming to its current population of 790,000.

Its no coincidence that Austin is home to the famous SXSW festival, part of which is one of the biggest tech industry events in the world. This has led to Austin becoming home to around 3900 tech companies employing over 100,000 people.

Here is a 30 second video from Susan Davenport, senior vice president of the Austin Chamber of Commerce explaining how technology and innovation have helped build a great city.

Other posts on this topic:

My plan for creating an innovative city

How to build a smart city

A glimpse into the future at SXSW and Web 2.0

Over at the Marketing Magazine site, I’ve posted a story called A glimpse into the future at SXSW and Web 2.0 chronicling the latest web, media and marketing initiatives I observed on my recent US conferences trip. There’s some really relevant information for Australian business considering the Rudd government’s recent National Broadband Network announcement. Please give the story a “Thumbs Up YES” if you find it useful.

SXSW 2009 pictorial

The South by South West Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas is a week of great information, meetings, exhibitions and parties. Here’s some of the action I caught this year at SXSW:
Pre-launch drinks in Austin's Warehouse District

Pre-launch drinks in Austin

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Almost free: how to work & play overseas for a month the Web 2.0 way

I am currently in the middle of a month long trip around North America. Its a mix of work and play and it has cost a lot less than you would expect. Why? Because I have used a few clever strategies and a whole lot of web services and technology so that I can work and play and save money.

This post sets out how its possible to work and play overseas for a month or more without neglecting your business or spending too much.

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SXSW Interactive Festival Wrap

South by South West (SXSW) is the most significant event of the US digital and interactive conference circuit. It attracts A-List bloggers, the biggest and best tech companies, ambitious start-ups and thousands and thousands of the brightest minds in the online community to Austin, Texas for an amazing week of information, presentations and evening events.

SXSW is an extremely stimulating and almost overwhelming experience. Thousands of people constantly move around the Austin Convention Centre heading to the various panels and presentations. Multiple events are held simultaneously, making it hard to choose which to attend. Many attendees attempt to check out more than one session in an hour, while others follow one event on Twitter whilst attending another.

For many, the greatest value of SXSW is meeting and talking with others they have only previously known online, or holding impromptu doorway meet-ups with so many keen minds.

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SXSW Day One first impressions

Austin, Texas

The South by South West Interactive festival is underway in Austin and the tech-set crowd had descended from all corners of the globe.

The first thing to try to comprehend is the size of this event. It is massive. Thousands and thousands of the web industry elite have come to learn, listen and speak. Its like Lollapallooza for the Twitter set.

And Twitter is once again a major topic on everyone’s lips. Two years ago Twitter was launched at SXSWi, but this year it is the main form of digital communication for the attendees. Everyone is tweeting their whereabouts, tracking each other down, announcing flash-parties and recording their thoughts and observations.

BlogTalkRadio interview tents

BlogTalkRadio interview tents

Needless to say, Twitter has been pushed to its physical limits and the fail whale has beached itself here a few times already.

The Austin Convention Center is also a massive venue, taking a good 15 minutes to walk from one side to the other. Rooms are jammed with various interactive panels and sponsors mini-events.

There’s an amazing carnival-like atmosphere throughout downtown Austin and everyone is incredibly friendly. They see the SXSW badges and just start talking.

Given the scale of the event and shear volume of panels, sessions and parties, its nearly impossible to work to a plan. Its best to just go with the flow and be very fluid in your thinking. One minute you’re heading to a panel, the next you’ve been invited to a local bar to have a chat with someone.

The SXSW Interactive Festival officially kicked off around noon on Friday 13 Mar, but Thursday night was already in full swing. Once we picked up our badges/passes, here were several pre-launch parties in the downtown area that lasted well into the morning.

Pepsico SXSW Interactive display

Pepsico SXSW Interactive display

Mack Collier told me prior to arriving that the social events are more important than the panels and I’m starting to believe him. You can suddenly find yourself at a restaurant table or bar stool talking to a dot com start up legend, Weblebrity, or social media guru.You can learn more in 5 minutes there than 2 or 3 sessions.

In the last two nights I have had drinks and chats with (in no order, and I will forget more names than I remember): Dave Armano (@armano), Kevin Rose (@kevinrose), Kevin Gawthrope (@gawthrok), Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee), Beth Harte (@bethharte), Heather Rast (@heatherrast), Jeffrey Kalmikoff (@jeffrey), Ken Yeung (@kyeung808), Jason Baer (@jaybaer), Seth from TNT (@mostlymuppet), Leigh Duncan-Durst (@livepath), and Rebecca Caroe (@rebeccacaroe). There are so many more but its hard to keep track of everyone.

SXSW is a mind-blowing experience. Its almost impossible to take it all in and not suffer sensory overload. Its one event every web-focussed business person should get to.