Social media has increased transparency and broken down the staff hierarchy inside Telstra, according to Paul Geason, Telstra group managing director for enterprise and government.
"Social media is just going crazy," Geason said at an American Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday in Sydney. He named social as one of several key technologies including videoconferencing and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications that will drive productivity at Australian businesses and government bodies.
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Telstra has 25,000 of its workers registered on Yammer, the Microsoft-owned social network platform for businesses, Geason said. It has increased access of workers on all levels of the business to the company's CEO, David Thodey, he said.
Thodey loves the social platform, Geason said. "He is on Yammer just about every single day of the week, and there is not an issue that hits that site that he won't pick up and direct ... to get it to the right place to have it dealt with."
"Our people love it," he said. "They would never have imagined that they could get that level of access and level of input and intervention from the CEO."
Social media is not just "another site like email," Geason said. "Yes, it is another online environment for communication, but we're finding that it's such an entirely different tone."
While platforms like Yammer increase staff engagement, Geason warned that it can create challenges for management "in having to deal with that level of visibility that had not been there before."
Geason pointed to telework and videoconferencing as two other rising technologies that increase business productivity, but he said implementing them may require cultural change in the business.
With better fixed and mobile broadband access today, people can more effectively telework than ever before, Geason said. But the question remains whether businesses and employees are ready to embrace the capability, he said.
Working remotely can greatly increase productivity but the employee may still feel guilt because they were not in the office, for example, he said.
"It is very much about this cultural change in the way that we work. The technology in many respects is here and now."
Similarly, videoconferencing has business benefits because it reduces travel costs, but faces resistance in many businesses, Geason said. Many people liked travelling for work and hesitate to video conference because of "lasting memories" of poor experiences with earlier iterations of the technology, he said.
The Department of Finance in Canberra, a Telstra customer, has deployed telepresence sites around the country, Geason said. The technology has greatly reduced costs of Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meetings, he said.
"They've taken out something like 700 meetings a year and are now at a point where they're saving about $5 million per annum just in travel costs alone."
A growing area with much potential is M2M communications, said Geason.
"Machine-to-machine is one of the most interesting, exciting yet under-explored opportunities here in Australia."
Coca-Cola, one of Telstra's customers, has Telstra SIMs in all its vending machines to notify the vendor when it's time to restock, Geason said.
"The opportunities are absolutely endless," he said. "I think that will be a very significant growth sector within technology over the next five years."
While mobile broadband continues to improve, Geason said he does not see it ever completely replacing fixed connections.
"Fixed networks will remain incredibly important," he said. "Mobility only runs the distance from the tower to the device. Everything else is on a wireline network ... The future is how we combine the two."
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