Atlassian's Mike Cannon-Brookes has a warning for politicians on the scale of tech disruption underway

The Day After Tomorrow, © 2004 Twentieth Century Fox via IMDb

  • A Senate committee on the future of work in Australia was holding hearings in Melbourne today.
  • Atlassian co-founder Cannon-Brookes flew in to make sure tech industry had representation.
  • He said: “This is not a technology industry problem; it’s going to affect every industry”.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes is worried Australian businesses aren’t accepting they will soon almost universally be technology companies.

Cannon-Brookes was in Melbourne this morning to address a Senate committee on the future of work in Australia. He “came across it a week or so ago” and decided to make the trip to Melbourne to be a part of the inquiry.

“We didn’t actually put in a submission formally but we thought it was important to turn up and explain things as we see it and give a technology industry perspective,” he told Business Insider.

He was glad he did.

“One of my worries was when we looked at it last week, there was a lot of industry representative groups, unions or thinktanks or groups representing certain types of industries,” he said.

“A lot of researchers… Like these are all the types of groups that should represent, don’t get me wrong, but there was very, very few actual businesses and actual workplaces actually representing.

“And very little representation from the technology industry.”

Cannon-Brookes, who together with his Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar joined the list of the world’s 500 richest people after their company’s stock soared on Friday, has had his share of frustration with trying to get the Australian government moving in terms of innovation.

In particular, he’s had a running argument with federal immigration minister Peter Dutton over 457 visas. Around a quarter of the company’s 1000-strong Australian workforce are on 457 temporary migration visas, and Cannon-Brookes says Australia needs those workers if it wants to be in the business of creating some of the primary technologies.

“I think it’s going to be very hard economically for us to maintain our position in the world, our standard of living,” he says.

“We have a lot of advantages going for us in becoming a primary creator of technology but we’ve got a few things ahead of us that have to change.

“Obviously skilled immigration is a big issue for us, and our standard of education and these types of things. And I also tried to draw a connection personally between the issues the technology industry is facing today is specifically skilled migration.”

If I’m Myer and David Jones I look at that and think ‘Shit, I’ve either got to give up or try to contend by hiring engineers and using software, automated costs and efficiencies’

Cannon-Brookes said the biggest mistake the government and businesses were making right now is thinking automation and technology are problem only the technology industry has to face.

“As every company becomes a software company, technology became a true source of advantage a genuine source of competitive advantage. It doesn’t matter if you’re a media company or a bank or an insurance company or a doctor, some form of technology’s going to be there,” he said.

“Hence most of the problems that we (Atlassian) are facing are going to be faced by almost all of the broad spectrum of business, and hence society, and I wanted to make that clear to them.”

“This is not a technology industry problem; it’s going to affect every industry – banks hiring ever more engineers to become more technology driven; manufacturers…

“We talked bit about retail and how Amazon is very disruptive because it’s a technology-driven business, and if I’m Myer and David Jones I look at that and think ‘Shit, I’ve either got to give up or try to contend by hiring engineers and using software, automated costs and efficiencies.’

“And I just don’t see them moving that fast yet.”

Cannon-Brookes says he doesn’t think automation and AI are problems that are unique to Australia.

“Most technology disruptions that come along generally create more jobs than they destroy,” he says.

“Almost always that they come with a huge amount of benefit for their achievements – the cheaper goods, faster deliveries, safer roads whatever it is.”

That’s a positive note on the future he shares with Eric Berridge, the Co-founder of Bluewolf, a company that helps businesses adopt and get value from transformation technologies like AI.

Berridge was in Australia just last week presenting at the 2018 Salesforce World Tour in Sydney. He said while jobs in the future will change, it should be for the better.

Eric Berridge, cofounder of Bluewolf, in Sydney this week. Picture: Supplied

The problem is how well Australia is planning for that future. Bluewolf found 83% of Australian organisations have not yet invested in AI, compared to 65% globally.

“I just don’t know (automation) has been talked about enough,” Cannon-Brookes says, “and we’ve gone through it and training for this sort of thing is not something governments are actually pretty bloody good at.”

“Our concern is not so much the automated future but the planning for it.

“The societal benefit is there at large. But it’s the job of government and society to help us get through these transitions with the least amount of individual pain and social unrest.”

While society has gone through the anxiety of an automated future many times before, Cannon-Brookes says this time will happen “in a different manner and quite a bit quicker.”

“Second the jobs are quite portable now and that’s a new phenomenon when you’re looking at this much potential disruption.

“One type of the most obvious example of automation and one we’re probably closest to is automated mobility. So, self-driving cars.

“30% of the Australian workforce involves some form of driving and whether that’s five years or 20 years that’s a huge amount of change to deal with.

“There was a lot of talk about the gig economy and worker protection and all these things that are very important, but it’s more like ‘Okay what if all those workers were not workers?

“Let’s look a little further ahead, you know, a 10-year out future or the 20-year out future; you don’t know when it’s going to arrive, but you can pretty much be assured it’s going to arrive, and how are we setting up for that?

“And I wanted to make sure the government’s thinking about this.”

You can read Cannon-Brookes opening statement online here:

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