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Into the unknown

Is the National Broadband Network sneaking under the HR radar?

It may be the biggest single infrastructure investment Australia has seen, with the potential to transform Australian industry and society. But for Australian HR directors, planning for the impact of the National Broadband Network has yet to assert itself as a priority.

This is despite a growing recognition that the skills many organisations will need to succeed in a high-speed broadband society could be very different from those possessed by their workforce today.

According to Martin Retschko, executive director, client services Asia Pacific at Hudson Global Resources, many organisations are discussing high-speed broadband at a strategic level. But these discussions are yet to include HR managers and directors.

“At a high level they are thinking about the people they have got today, what sort of channels they currently have, and how high-speed internet access is going to transform the way that they engage with their markets,” Retschko says.

“A lot of them are considering what is going to happen to their workforce, but I don’t think it is consistent by a long stretch. Most organisations are thinking in much shorter time frames today.”

A greater demand for designers

As the NBN rolls out Retschko expects to see greater demand for online developers and designers, digital strategists and analysts, online marketing specialists and also user-experience experts. This will mean reskilling employees and bringing in new skills.

John Vines, the chairman of the Innovation and Business Skills Australia council (one of the 11 Industries Skills Councils), agrees that most HR professionals have yet to turn their attention to the NBN, as that discussion skill resides within strategy groups. But he warns that failing to introduce HR into the conversation may be to the organisation’s detriment.

“HR people should be involved at the early stages so that they are part of the process of understanding the impact of high-speed broadband,” Vines says.

The sectors that are expected to be most significantly impacted by the NBN include healthcare, education and training, transport and logistics, banking and finance, media and entertainment, and the technology and telecommunications sectors.

The last of these is also one that will be among the first to feel the changes, as the NBN restructures the entire service model for telecommunications companies.

Hence it is not surprising that HR managers such as Eric Dimitroff from Macquarie Telecom are working today to ensure that their companies are adequately skilled for the changes to come.

“We are investing more than ever before in recruiting young talent into the organisation,” Dimitroff says. “We have relationships with universities such as UTS where we are bringing the best young talent on board, and we are using that horsepower to start looking very seriously at internet-enabled work practices.”

The company, which has more than 400 staff members, is also investing heavily in retraining employees. Two full-time trainers have been employed to develop skills in product development and sales, and in customer service.

A significant component of Macquarie’s training activity is focused on ensuring that staff members and managers can take advantage of the opportunities for remote working that the NBN presents.

“In many organisations, people’s productivity is time-bound and office-based,” Dimitroff says. “When the NBN really bites you’ll start to see a lot more output and deliverable-based productivity measures.

“So it’s about how managers manage a remote workforce, and what skills they need that they don’t currently have. They need to start thinking very carefully about the way that they lead people and incentivise people.”

Telecommunications companies

Dimitroff is adamant that thoughts about the NBN should not be restricted to telecommunications companies. He sees specific ramifications for people working within their organisation’s IT function, as high-speed broadband makes it easier to outsource components of IT work to cloud-computing services.

“Where previously you had a lot of computing technical skills, over time you need to start moving much more towards developing commercial managers and relationship managers,” he says. “It is important for organisations to really start thinking about migrating to the cloud and the power that delivers them, which obviously comes through high-speed internet access.

And he adds that the fondness that Australians have already shown for transacting over the internet will only accelerate as the NBN is deployed.

“Anybody who believes that one of their key differentiators is delivering customer service needs to think very hard,” Dimitroff says. “It’s not just about the IT groups. It’s for anybody who has touch-points with the customer, because you are going to be touching the customer on so many different levels than what you do currently.

“NBN overall has more permutations in how we do business here in Australia than people at this stage fully comprehend.”


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