The ability to work from a seaside town without feeling disconnected, make eye contact while chatting to Eastern States clients, ditch the costly, high-maintenance network servers and collaborate with colleagues anywhere in the world.
That’s the promise of the National Broadband Network for many businesses in WA, businesses who often have to cope with the tyranny of distance, being two hours behind the rest of the country and the ever-present skills shortage.
Industry leaders say the far-ranging benefits of the NBN go way beyond just the promise of faster internet. The $36 billion fibre network has the potential to transform business models, and in turn change the way we work.
But to catch the wave of change as the first super-fast connections start to go live in Perth this year, business owners and managers need to prepare now.
Microsoft Australia chief technology officer Greg Stone said the NBN was about doing a whole lot more, all at once. “One of the constraints that business is currently hit with is they can use the internet for simple things, but in many ways the current situation has inhibited them from doing anything with these powerful internet-based technologies,” he said.
“They are unable to do a whole lot of things at once, like Voice over IP (internet protocol) at the same time as collaborating with a colleague out in the bush or someone on the other side of the continent.”
Amcom chief executive Clive Stein said while the Perth-based telecommunications company’s big business and Government clients already had access to private high-speed fibre networks, the NBN would help connect them beyond Amcom’s city reach.
Amcom’s 1700km fibre network covers the CBD, fanning out to satellite business areas, including Joondalup and Fremantle, but is generally only affordable to high-end users.
The company has to buy access to other networks, usually Telstra’s, to connect to its client’s regional offices.
“What will make it easier for us is that in some areas, beyond the outer metropolitan area, finding reasonable speed networks,” Mr Stein said. “The further you go beyond the metropolitan areas, the more challenging it gets to provide a customer with a good solution – and that’s where we see it as very complementary to what we are doing today.”
Mr Stone said businesses should investigate what was already available in anticipation of getting connected. “Don’t wait until the NBN actually arrives,” he said.
“The second thing is, how will it impact your organisation, or how can it change your business model? A really good example of that is you may currently have 25 employees who all drive to your business because of the way you are set up and organise work. You are paying for a building, your people are constrained and have to come into work every day, but what if your current employees can start to work from home, for example, and start to fit your work in around their lifestyle?”
The next step was to start thinking about business as being unlimited by boundaries.
“What about your potential to operate in Asia? What about your potential to straddle time zones?” Mr Stone said. “Those are the areas that I think are critical and it’s particularly the second one that very few businesses are focusing on: what is the business model and operational impact.”
Mr Stein said the most basic consideration for businesses would be telephone systems, which would need to be NBN-ready.
Mr Stein said integration of video into phone systems would become cheaper, easier and higher quality and the first decision businesses should make was whether it would enhance their communications. “In our view it’s a game changer and the investment pays off very quickly,” he said.
Mr Stein said video integration into phone systems would lead to better quality communication between employees and clients.
Mr Stein said he would then begin to look at cloud options for services such as email – which would become more widely available to small and medium businesses once they were connected to reliable high-speed broadband.
Mr Stone agreed. “Where they have to have a lot of infrastructure in their own business, on their own premises, there will come a time when the NBN is there, where cloud services will start to liberate people from running those IT services,” he said.
Cheaper cloud-based services would change the way employees and clients worked together.
“You have the ability to use not only voice and video but also share part of your desktop, share an application, multi-author documents in real time and bring in people from outside of your organisation,” he said.
Mr Stone said businesses also needed to look beyond website connectivity and keep in mind the range of devices available.
“If you look at the way mobile now is such a critical part of everyone’s business and personal existence,” he said. “We are also right on the cusp of digital TV, so you look at the confluence of all these devices at the edge of the internet and then the internet connecting them all and people moving between those devices.
“You put that in the context of small businesses and all of a sudden you start to liberate a whole lot of different ways for individuals to be able to live their lives and work in ways we haven’t envisaged before.”
“All of a sudden you start to liberate a whole lot of different ways for individuals to be able to live their lives.” Greg Stone