For several years I have been surrounded by the disruption being wrought to industry by transformative technology.

In my years at the Australian Retailers Association it was obvious there was a serious need for retailers to understand and embrace the consumer shift to purchasing goods online. Australian retailers were lagging behind consumer behaviour. So I partnered with the Australian Sporting Goods Association to develop a series of industry briefings called ‘Engage in E-tail.’ This effort was recognised in the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s (DBCDE) National Digital Economy Strategy in 2011 (p19).

When I started at communication agency Socom in 2011, my interest in the disruptive nature of digital economy on other sectors continued and I started looking into the impacts on our core clients in local government.

At the time, the key issue for local government was to advocate to the Federal Government and NBNCo to get onto the first and second stage roll out program for the NBN. However, every region across the country wanted the same thing. Apart from a handful of forward thinking officers in Councils, local government struggled to understand broadband as an ‘enabler’ rather than just infrastructure they wanted in the ground.

In late 2011, I was fortunate enough to be commissioned to write the Gippsland Broadband Engagement Plan.

While most Councils understood that high speed broadband would be a good thing for their community, they did not articulate to the Federal Government what economic impacts it would generate or consider their role in engaging with their communities about those disruptive impacts. Gippsland understood that if they didn’t actively engage with their business and residents about digital technology and just sat and waiting for the NBN to come, their region would keep falling behind.

So with the Gippsland Broadband Engagement Plan finalised, they didn’t let it just sit on the shelf. They continued the journey, and the implementation of this plan was funded jointly by the Gippsland Local Government Network and Regional Development Australia — Gippsland.

Since that time, I’ve written several papers on a range of issues including digital capability building, the development of hubs or co-working spaces, teleworking, alternative broadband sources, cloud computing and how social media is re-defining relationships.

However, one of the most encouraging signs that government is starting to actively embrace the economic transformative opportunities of broadband is from the Victorian Rural and Regional Parliamentary Committee. They have called for submissions for an Inquiry into the opportunities for people to use telecommuting and e-Business to work remotely in rural and regional Victoria.

Fortunately I was able to make a submission on behalf of Rural Councils Victoria which outlined some initial research I’d commissioned for a project called Intelligent Communities Supporting Creative Industries.

The hearing is today and I am pleased to be presenting and also listening to hear from a range of people excited about the prospects of growing rural economies through broadband enabled activities like teleworking.

The challenge I throw to the Victorian government is to not just understand and appreciate the opportunities for communities to embrace broadband enabled growth, but to put in place policies and funding streams. They also need to ensure those responsible for developing the policies and approving funding applications are champions of the digital economy.

While more traditional industry sectors are in decline and governments are quick to provide funding to support those affected, there should be an equal focus on supporting economies fuelled by digital technologies.

Digital disruption is now and it’s time to act.

Jennifer Cromarty

Author Jennifer Cromarty

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