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The "Digital" and "Innovation" Reality Check

Daniel Moisyeyev
Daniel Moisyeyev

We have a big problem in Australia. We learnt to use words like "innovation" and "digital" well. A bit too well. By the term "use", I mean senselessly throw around to be trendy amongst our peers in business. Every man and his dog is a digital expert at the forefront of digital innovation nowadays. Government is entirely on the bandwagon, flooding the market with guides, seminars and workshops as to how to digitise your business when they should be instead focused on getting their own digital affairs in order (e.g. the "COVIDSafe" Coronavirus App & the March 2020 MyGov/Centrelink failure).

Foreign Technology Conglomerates are not your friends

Most of the digital platforms you see around in Australia are owned by foreign technology conglomerates. This is a critical factor to this discussion.

The first thing we need to set straight is that using those massive platforms owned and operated by foreign technology conglomerates isn't "innovation" by any means. It's just typical consumer consumption, and one that is quite terrible for our economy as money spent with these technology giants is funnelled overseas. Australian business operators and taxpayers receive far less benefit than they would if these digital platforms were locally grown, operated and owned. There are virtually no successful Australian digital platforms as our business environment is simply not conductive to their establishment, growth and survival. We don't have an actual culture or system in Australia of (monetary) investment into new and innovative projects - all we have is lip service.

It should be clear by now that these foreign technology giants have dubious ethics and do not have the interests of Australians at heart. As an example, this can be observed by the recent actions of one particular platform attempting to block Australian news content after our government attempted to correct the power imbalance between technology giants and news providers by starting a reform - the "News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code"1. This story is getting more interesting by the minute as serious ultimatums are made - I wouldn't be surprised if by the time you read this article, something major has happened. Our government, at the same time, is promoting these technology giants as be-all and end-all marketing solutions for businesses and spending our own taxpayer money marketing government services on these platforms instead with local providers!

I have just had a great personal experience of having to threaten one of these overseas technology monsters (this one is behind a major cloud email hosting service) for blocking my new business email server (that is hosted with an Australian company at a local data centre in Sydney!) for no reason. It's an act of coercion and abuse of market power: i.e. use our email servers or we will mark your emails as SPAM and they won't reach your customers. I successfully resolved this issue, but had to call them out on their deliberate tactic. I will definitely talk my customers out of using the services of this major cloud email hosting service given their unethical tactics. At the same time, our government is completely deluded as to the true intentions of these technology giants and expects us to negotiate and work with these monsters.

By using these foreign platforms for business purposes and relying on them for services, you are effectively making your business dependent on them. If you build your business to be dependent on these platforms and providers, don't be surprised if everything you worked for is gone because of an algorithm change, a takeover that leads to platform policy or operational changes, or they decide to abandon Australia for whatever reason.

Further to this, these technology giants have got into the political game as of late, and are starting to impose their principles and sneak their political agendas onto their users.

We need to start being independent and turn our backs on these technology monsters. A lot of younger users have already turned away from traditional social media platforms due to privacy and tracking concerns. It's time for Australian business to get with the times and do the same.

Get back to basics and build a website

We are all collectively pretending to be digital, but 59% of Australian businesses still do not have a website as of 20192. We go on and on about futuristic concepts such as artificial intelligence (AI), self-driving cars, internet of things (IoT), smart cities... but realistically most businesses around are still in the digital stone age and can't even get the basics sorted. I come across businesses on a daily basis that don't even have a proper company email tied to their own domain name!

A website is your ultimate digital platform:

  • It's versatile - you can build anything you want. You can have a basic 5-page website for a micro business or a massive online store with thousands of products;
  • A properly built website tailored to your business will self-promote itself via search engines;
  • You can change it as you wish and move it back and forth between hosting providers.
  • The most important factor - it's yours! A website is actually your intellectual property and can be considered a real asset of your business. The same can't be said for a company social media page.

If you are a company jumping up and down trying to be a player in the digital space, but still don't even have a proper website... I suggest you get back to the starting line and seriously re-evaluate your entire marketing approach, and if you have marketing experts working for you, I strongly recommend to take a closer look at who you exactly you are working with.

Focus on reality... not hype and trends!

Remember 2018 & 2019.... when self-driving cars were the rage? This was especially prominent in USA, where every start-up seemed to be somehow related to self-driving cars. Bold predictions were made that in the near future the streets would be clogged with self-driving taxis, humans would soon be banned from driving altogether on safety grounds and truck drivers will need to start looking for new jobs. It's now 2021 and I have yet to see or experience a self-driving car outside of an experiment held at a Sydney expo in 2019.

The end result was such that some of the major companies involved got a reality check. They had to adjust their expectations and re-evaluate development and deployment time-frames. Some actually headed for exits.

The above is an example of a situation where expectations and hype run too far away from technical and economic reality. Will there be self driving cars in the future? Yes. Will they affect or matter to you in the near future? A likely No. If you were to ask a qualified software engineer as to the prospects of self-driving cars, they wouldn't hesitate to explain the extreme difficulties of developing software of this complexity which must also work in an environment where safety is paramount and there is no room for error - and why such technology will take a very long time to be rolled out in the mainstream market.

History is littered with bandwagons that come and go. There was a short period QR codes were all the rage and were touted as a marketing marvel - I still remember some people going overboard and putting them into e-mail signatures. There is nothing wrong with QR codes per se - they have their use as a versatile and adaptable barcode. The issue was that some charlatans decided to sell QR codes as a marketing tool - which they never were and never will be.

The lesson is that you need to focus on things that work. Look at marketing solutions that have a solid foundation and proven to work - leave the hype and experimentation to those who don't value their hard earned money and time, or measure their return on investment (ROI) in social approval and good feelings instead of dollars.

Do your research and ask properly qualified people about marketing and technology concepts that are unfamiliar to you.

Remember, just because some marketing concept is new, it doesn't mean it's good - and it definitely doesn't mean it will bring you any more sales.

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