2015: Snapshot of a year in digital policy

As the year draws to a close it’s worthwhile to reflect on some of the action behind the scenes in the digital policy arena. Policy can be forgotten with all the excitement around digital disruption and start-ups and this year has been very busy for both.

In 2015 we have seen the continued rise of digital disruptors like Netflix in the subscription video on demand market and Uber in the ride-sharing market in Australia. This has placed pressure on existing infrastructure, policy and regulatory frameworks and, of course, on the traditional competitors.

Then there are also the good news stories about innovative Australian tech ‘start-ups’, like Atlassian and Nuix, who have done particularly well overseas.

Not to be outdone by these achievements, we have heard in the news about the traditional large players investing in new digital opportunities – whether through digitisation, coopetition, venture capitalism, collaboration with start-ups or research institutions, increased research and development, or diversification of business portfolios into new markets.

We have also seen leadership from the Federal Government in this space, with its new Digital Transformation Office, Bureau of Communications Research, and its digitally flavoured National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).

Against this backdrop we have been involved in a number of policy and legislative reviews that have an impact on a more digitised economy.

We supported the Federal Government’s removal of redundant legislative requirements in digital television regulation. The outcome of this should empower TV broadcasters with the ability to offer immediate efficiencies to consumers, particularly through improved picture quality.

With data becoming the new asset enabled through advanced digital technologies, there has been particular interest from governments for open access to data for economic benefit, as well as for the storage of data for the purposes of serving national security and law enforcement interests through the new data retention laws.

And with greater access to data, the issues of protecting consumers’ rights and privacy are naturally raised, as is the need to address these issues in ways that do not stifle investment in our more digitised economy. In this context, we questioned whether the impact of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s decision to define “personal data” in broad terms (which has potentially wide implications for businesses and governments) is the suitable way to provide that policy equilibrium.

Associated with privacy concerns, the Federal Government commenced its national cyber security strategy review. Ai Group is advocating for a light-handed approach that encourages proactive collaboration between governments and industry for sharing information, and looking for opportunities for innovation. We’ve seen a flavour of this in the Government’s recent NISA which introduces an industry-led Cyber Security Growth Centre.

The Federal Government also introduced a telco cyber security bill this year. Unfortunately it proposed a more heavy-handed approach that could have negative impacts on digital technology investment in Australia. Following concerns raised in our joint submission with a number of other industry associations, we have received indications from Government that they will work closely with industry to develop a workable and practical solution.

There have also been other important digital policy activities, including in the area of STEM, intellectual property, innovation, tax, workplace relations and international trade – just to name a few – that Ai Group has been involved in. All of these important areas fit within our recently released Digital Policy Priorities Statement, for which we received extensive and invaluable input from our members. This statement is proving to be a very useful platform for engagement with all levels and sides of governments.

With bipartisan messages promoting an innovative economy, there is much to look forward to as the new election year unfolds. Along similar lines, we welcome Internet Australia’s call for bipartisan support of a national forum to bring together all parts of Australian society to find an agreed path towards Australia’s digital future. We will participate in this positive initiative and urge others to do likewise.

But at the end of 2015, challenges still remain for many businesses. Some companies have embraced digital technologies into their businesses and found ways to generate significant benefits. Others are still trying to discover what those benefits are, and whether their businesses will remain sustainable and competitive in the future.

To inform this discussion, among other activities, we expect that our recently completed survey into business uptake and readiness for digital technologies will provide us with valuable insights. This will build on the information we collected when we last surveyed businesses about this in 2013.

There are also a number of other digital technology activities that we hope will provide additional value to our members, both in the ICT and non-ICT sectors. Watch this space in the New Year.

What were the major digital technology issues that had an impact on your business this year? Are there any digital technology issues that you’ll be interested to hear about in the New Year? Share your experiences and thoughts below.

And are you making the most of the opportunities that digital technologies can provide to your business today? See our Digital Business Kit for free advice.

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Charles is Digital Capability and Policy Lead at Ai Group, concentrating principally on policy relating to technology and digital issues. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including energy, broadcasting and telecommunications. Previously, he advised on energy policy for the Australian Energy Market Commission, and was Assistant Director of Engineering for Free TV Australia.

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