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New technologies like digital workspaces and artificial/business intelligence (AI/BI) are changing the way we work. Legacy companies must adapt to these new ways of doing business — or be overtaken by a wave of technological disruption that shows no signs of slowing down.

Telstra — the largest telecommunications company in Australia — is working to stay ahead. With a worldwide presence of 30,000 employees and 150 subsidiaries, the company has had to adapt its business model to new tech before: it began life in 1854 as an operator of telegraph lines. But the technological changes disrupting their market today pose an existential threat, not just to Telstra but to traditional businesses all over the world.

Silicon Valley companies are doing business differently. By fostering innovative corporate cultures, arming their workforces with digital tools and organizational frameworks, and leveraging data to make better business decisions, tech giants and startups alike are defining how successful companies operate in the 21st century. To learn about these trends and how to apply them to their own business, a group of a dozen Telstra executives came to SVIC for a custom, 3-day immersion program focused on three key learning priorities:

  1. How do large companies stay lean and innovate?
  2. How do traditional businesses utilize new technology to ready their workforce for the future?
  3. How do companies use AI/BI to make more meaningful business decisions?

We created Telstra a varied program targeting these priorities, and introduced them to the companies and experts addressing them in Silicon Valley today.

How Large Companies Keep Innovating

Telstra wanted to know how large organizations can pursue new opportunities without ignoring their traditional businesses. To start their program, the executives saw how giant tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Cisco maintain corporate cultures that encourage innovation and experimentation.

At Google’s headquarters, the Telstra team met with an Innovation Evangelist on the company’s approach to innovation, startup engagement practices, and talent retention. The executives found this meeting “outstanding,” as Google’s ability to steer a massive tech company in new directions is exactly what Telstra hopes to achieve with its own business. As the executives learned, Google is not immune to the classic “innovator’s dilemma” of deciding between improving existing products or investing in new ones. But by prioritizing a spirit of innovation and accepting that failures are inevitable (and instructional), Google keeps its top talent engaged and in constant pursuit of the company’s next success.

The tech industry is so dynamic that the moment you stop taking risks is the moment you get left behind.

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube

The Telstra executives also visited Cisco, another telecommunications giant leaning into the technologies of the future. For Cisco, corporate innovation is so critical that the company has ten dedicated “Innovation Centers” spread around the globe — each focused on a different industry like Health, Education, or Finance. Cisco uses these Innovation Centers to explore new transformative technologies like cloud computing and IoT, engage in rapid prototyping, and partner with startups, accelerators, and universities in bringing high-tech solutions to general markets. As the Telstra executives learned from Cisco’s Corporate Strategic Innovation Group, the company’s innovation strategy is simple: “build, buy, partner, invest, and co-develop.” This strategy has allowed Cisco to compete in the constantly-changing networking space, and given the Telstra executives a clear path forward for doing the same.

Key takeaway from Google and Cisco: in order to succeed in the intensely dynamic tech industry, large companies must prioritize innovation and be willing to take risks by investing in new technologies and partnerships.

Enabling the Workforces of the Future

To revitalize its corporate culture, Telstra will need to bring its whole workforce on board — not an easy task for a company of thousands. The executives visited HPE, LinkedIn, and Slack to learn how the trend of workforce enablement is ensuring employees are connected to a company’s goals, engaged in achieving them, and productive in so doing.

First up, another tech company with a long legacy: HP, founded in 1939. Specifically, the executives visited Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), one half of HP’s 2015 split into two distinct businesses. HPE provides Hybrid IT environments to enterprise customers — secure cloud infrastructures, IoT solutions, built-in data analysis, and more. The company’s mission resonated with Telstra: “technology innovation that fosters business transformation.”

And this mission extends inward, where HPE is leading the way in embracing a mobile-first digital workforce. At the company’s headquarters, the Telstra executives enjoyed multiple presentations on how the company is transitioning its workforce from a people and process standpoint. HPE isn’t afraid to to rethink the role of desk-based sellers, retrain employees to use new technologies, and shift resources towards new channels like digital learning solutions. By actively improving the wireless workspaces it provides for its employees, HPE reduces infrastructure costs, increases business productivity, and empowers its workforce to work where and how they do so best — in technical terms, a win-win-win. As the Telstra executives saw, a willingness to embrace new ways of working internally is a powerful tool for adapting to external technological disruption.

HPE shares its approach to workforce enablement with the Telstra executives.

At LinkedIn, the Telstra group learned about the organizational framework the company uses to foster employee-driven innovation. LinkedIn sets company-wide goals using a methodology called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). To wit: Objectives offer employees clarity, direction, and purpose; Key Results support them by being measurable, verifiable, and connected to a specific time frame. This method allows the company to meaningfully address the fundamental questions of every business: “where do we want to go?” and “how will we know we’re getting there?”

From top to bottom, LinkedIn’s objectives are aligned and measurable. More importantly, the entire workforce has a meaningful say in these objectives and a firm understanding of their role in achieving them.

What sounds like a simple strategy has been cited as a key factor in LinkedIn’s stunning IPO and subsequent $26.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft. The presentations the Telstra executives saw at LinkedIn convinced them that connecting employees to a company’s mission can pay off big.

Key takeaway from HPE and LinkedIn: to retain talent and meet operational goals, large companies should use tools that empower employees to engage with their work and objectives in a meaningful, personal way.

Using Data to Make Better Business Decisions

In Silicon Valley, the currency of the day is data. The Telstra executives were keen to learn how large companies are incorporating the collection and analysis of data into their operating models in order to take advantage of hidden insights, better engage employees, and intelligently manage sales outcomes.

To get a taste of this, the Telstra group visited Salesforce: a market-leading Customer Relationship Platform (CRM) that provides a suite of cloud-based applications for administering sales, service, marketing, collaboration, and more. Salesforce’s Director of Customer Evangelism preached the importance of software that organizes all of a company’s data streams in a single place. These types of platforms allow not just for the easier storage and sharing of critical information, but for the possibility of intelligent understanding. CRM programs and their like can automatically make predictions about future sales, customers, and strategies based on complicated metrics both internal and external — and can automatically adapt themselves to a company’s needs. What’s more: the ease, portability, and extensibility of such software makes employees lives easier and enables them to work better, faster, and happier.

The Telstra executives are gathered on a meeting room couch in Salesforce Tower.

In Salesforce Tower, the Telstra executives hear how cloud-based AI/BI is changing the way companies engage with data.

As Salesforce emphasized: “the Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing the way people work.” The ability to intelligently analyze data is as much an effect as a cause of these changes. By taking advantage of existing analytics tools like Salesforce, large companies like Telstra can modernize their workflows and tap into intelligent insights that already exist — but are trapped by legacy systems that don’t know how to reach them.

Key takeaway from Salesforce: by using tools that better connect employees to data, large companies can understand — and act on — the information flowing throughout their entire organization.

From Morse Code to Moore’s Law: What’s Next for Telstra

During their custom SVIC program, the Telstra executives had their key learning priorities addressed by some of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies. From Google and Cisco, they learned that innovative partnerships and a willingness to take risks are the key to staying competitive. HPE and LinkedIn showed them how large companies can keep their global workforces enabled, engaged, and more productive by embracing digital workspaces and methodologies like OKRs. And at Salesforce, the group saw how new technologies can use a company’s existing datasets to produce meaningful AI/BI for future decision making.

Telstra has been at the forefront of telecommunication technology for as long as the technology has existed  — literally. By embracing innovation culture, new ways of working, and the power of data, Telstra can lead Australia into the next century of telecom and beyond. As Telstra knows better than anyone: no matter how much the technology changes, there will always be a market for connection.

Digital Transformation: The Key to Rapid Corporate Innovation


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