Economy

Australia’s 15 most influential people in ICT

Brad Howarth /

feature-tech-power-200Australia’s information and communications technology (ICT) has an image problem.

While it’s hard to deny the increasing role that ICT plays in underpinning Australian industry, those responsible for its development and delivery are rarely heard from.

While names like Rinehart, Forest and Palmer dominate headlines in the mining sector, and business leaders and politicians are prominent in economic debates, it can be hard to identify those who speak for the sector that is fundamentally transforming Australian business and society as we move into a digital age. And this is despite ICT being the centrepiece of one of the largest infrastructure projects being undertaken anywhere in the world – the $36 billion National Broadband Network.

They are out there however, and their voices are growing louder.

What follows is SmartCompany’s list of the people we believe are people of influence within the IT industry. Some you may never have heard of, but as IT’s prominence in our lives increases, it is likely that you’ll start to.

1. Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

He may be best known as the man who elicited $36 billion from Kevin Rudd for the National Broadband Network, but listen to Senator Conroy and you’ll hear an underlying message that the internet is transforming Australia – and that we’d all better wake up to the possibilities and challenges.

Conroy’s program goes beyond just building the network – he has also secured millions in funding for various skills development programs to help everyone from local councils to the elderly to get on board with the digital revolution. Although he has been at the centre of a sustained attack from the Federal Opposition, his efforts have nonetheless been recognised globally, with the international think tank The Intelligent Community Forum naming him Intelligent Community Visionary of the Year for 2012, following luminaries such as the founders of Wikia, Angela Beesley and Jimmy Wales.

Senator Conroy has not been afraid of a good fight either, taking on contentious issues such as internet censorship and media reform.

2. Michael Harte, group executive, enterprise services and chief information officer, Commonwealth Bank

IT is vital to the running of a modern bank, but few heads of IT have ever been as prominent as Michael Harte. Since 2006 he has led the Commonwealth Bank on a transformation of its IT infrastructure which includes the replacement of its core banking system with one capable of delivering real-time banking, an effort labelled by the analyst firm Gartner as “world-leading”.

Harte has also driven the adoption of newer technology concepts such as open systems, cloud computing and on-demand infrastructure, and become the de facto spokesperson for these trends amongst his peers. In a sector known for its conservatism, Harte has led from the front and been a prominent advocate of these technologies, while also playing a role in their overall development through his membership of development organisations and boards.

And he is getting results – IT spending on infrastructure at the bank has fallen from 50% of total IT spend five years ago to just 25% today (the balance is focused on customer initiatives), while ‘severity 1’ IT incidents have fallen by a factor of 10.

3. David Thodey, chief executive officer, Telstra

David Thodey became chief executive at Telstra back in 2009 and immediately brought a more temperate tone to the role following the confrontational style of his predecessor, Sol Trujillo. He’s rebuilt bridges with politicians and suppliers, and taken steps to redress Telstra’s woeful customer service.

But the Clark Kent act masks an iron will that has seen Telstra take on one of the greatest challenges it has ever faced – the National Broadband Network – and turn it into an $11 billion windfall for his organisation while offloading its decaying copper phone network. The market has taken notice too, with Telstra shares hitting a four year high in July.

4. Mike Quigley, chief executive officer and director, NBN Co

With a multibillion dollar expense account at his disposal, Mike Quigley brings a lot of buying power to any negotiation. But the highly political nature of the project he manages has seen Quigley subjected to a level of scrutiny that few executives have ever had to endure. And he has done so with aplomb, refusing to lose his cool or his focus on the project at hand.

Not everything has run smoothly however – the most recent report card on the NBN showed it to be over budget and behind schedule, and facing the possibility of being scrapped should the next election deliver a change of government. But none of that seems likely to prevent Quigley from getting on with the task at hand.

5. Malcolm Turnbull, shadow minister for communications and broadband

Malcolm Turnbull was given the shadow communications portfolio following the Liberal Party’s defeat at the 2010 federal election and instructed to wreck the government’s highly popular NBN – very possibly the policy that saw Labor retain power.

He has taken that poisoned chalice and used it to reshape the views of his own party towards the deployment of broadband in Australia, winning support for a modified NBN proposal that would deliver broadband at slower speeds but with a faster rollout time – although full details of the policy, and its costs, have not been released.

Turnbull brings deep experience of the technology sector to his role, having been chair of the internet service provider OzEmail from 1994 to 1999, and a director of the technology company FTR Holdings Ltd until 2004.

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