A thoughtful digital economy speech from Australia Post



blog If you’ve been following the technology media over the past 24 hours, you’ve no doubt witnessed the storm of articles which followed a speech by Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour in Sydney yesterday. Various publications published sensationalist headlines regarding the speech and the question and answer session which took place after it, regarding Fahour’s views on the decline of email and the need for broadband infrastructure.

But here’s the thing (surprise, surprise): Fahour’s speech was actually a lot more nuanced than that. It gave a fascinating overview of the way that Australia Post’s traditional mail business is declining because of the Internet, while other areas of its business, such as parcel delivery, are in fact rapidly expanding for the exact same reasons. And of course it also touched on the organisation’s digital mailbox plans and a whole bunch of other areas.

In a wider sense, Fahour had the courage to admit that he doesn’t quite know what change Australia will see as faster broadband is rolled out around Australia. But he highlighted the fact that much of the debate on the issue was focused purely on what type of broadband infrastructure Australia should deploy — rather than the wider picture of how that infrastructure would change everything.

A few key paragraphs:

“What further change are we going to see over the coming decades – as superfast broadband services are rolled out to the entire country? he truth is I don’t know. I don’t think anybody has the answer.

When the printing press was invented we didn’t know it would lead to an era of mass communication and, eventually, the scientific revolution. When the steam engine was invented, nobody predicted that it would lead to mass urbanisation as people moved from an Agrarian life to work in industrialised cities. When electricity was invented, nobody could foresee that it would lead to the light bulb, refrigeration, air-conditioning, telecommunications and thousands of other uses.

Just like those earlier inventions, technology will continue to transform our world in ways that we don’t yet appreciate. Its impact on our social, cultural and commercial norms is still too staggering for us to fully understand.

Most of our public discussion about the Digital Economy here in Australia has, so far, focussed on the political debate about the type of broadband infrastructure we should invest in. To me, investment in broadband infrastructure is a fundamental, nation-building initiative regardless of whether it’s copper, fibre or wireless. But it’s still just one part of the overall picture.

The inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, visited Australia recently and he made a similar point. He said: “It’s a wonderful thing having everyone connected … but it’s only a foundation. The fact you have a piece of fibre optic hanging out from the wall … (or node) … is only the start.”

I’m more interested in the services and applications that will deliver real benefits in a digitally- enabled economy.

If you’re interested, I recommend downloading Fahour’s speech (it’s here, in PDF format) and checking out the whole thing. It’ll only take you five minutes or so to read it, but it’s really worth it in terms of getting an insight into the modern Australia Post and also its relation to the wider Digital Economy in Australia. The nation needs more of this kind of deeper thinking.

Image credit: Australia Post


  1. The guy may be a visionary, but the organisation he’s leading is going from bottom to bottom. The service level of Australia Post’s old style physical delivery is deteriorating fast through overzealous outsourcing; on the other hand, their previously launched digital alternative is repeatedly delayed.
    So he can talk the talk. Big deal.

    • Their parcel delivery service in the field and customer service at the counter is appalling — I always have to struggle to get basic stuff done at my local branch, and as I own a business, I’m in there almost every day.

    • Knowing some people inside Aussie Post and what I am hearing, the place is being set up to fail much in the same way that the US Postal service was. Death by a million slashes.
      The “Master” (whoever that ultimately is) wants Private Enterprises only. It is happening all over Government Enterprises, Federal and State. Nothing new, if you look carefully and notice what is not said.

      • There is nothing in this speech that hasn’t been said many, many times before. Australia Post has not led the way in dealing with the onset of the digital economy but has been follower and while it remains in Government ownership that’s unlikely to change. Where is the vision in converting your business from a deliverer of mail to a transport company just to keep up with the times?

        Australia Post was offered the chance to embrace digital mail years ago but instead chose to fight the Australian who brought his patented idea to them. They were also caught on the hop when Digital Post Australia announced the launch of its mailbox before Australia Post leading to more litigation. Deep thinking indeed.

Comments are closed.