Ahead in the Cloud Podcast
Ahead in the Cloud: Cloud, Technology and Leadership with Debbie Taylor
Debbie Taylor, Chief Information Officer at NBN Australia discusses how NBN is bridging the digital divide in Australia. The discussion also covers Debbie’s leadership story and NBN’s journey to cloud.
Hosted by Chad Watt, researcher and writer with the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“We see the public cloud as a key enabler for us allowing our technology teams to take advantage of the agility, the scalability that cloud offers. It leads to many benefits that we've seen improved delivery timeframes.”
“Cloud capability has absolutely been a game changer for us.”
“I would say just because everyone is talking about moving to the cloud and cloud first, have a clear reason why you're moving to the cloud and what success looks like for you in your particular circumstances.”
“Just because you've moved something into the cloud and you think you've optimized it, it doesn't stop there because the technology keeps improving and shifting. And so you need to stay current with what the technology is offering and don't rely on what's happened in the past.”
- Debbie Taylor
- Before NBN rollout started, most areas of Australia that could get anything resembling for band were on a DSL, an average of eight megabits per second. Vast portions of regional, rural, and particularly remote Australia had virtually no internet at all.
- NBN has already connected 17 million or over 70% of all Australians on high-speed broadband.
- NBN has adopted a hybrid model to their cloud using both public and private.
- Standardization has simplified NBN’s developer and operations experience. Their next steps will be to look at self-service capability. So they can really reduce the time to set up new environments.
- Levereging cloud-based technology helped NBN in the early phases of COVID. Because they have offshore people working and they were then working from home. So having cloud technologies enabled NBN to really support the services that they provided in a very quick and very seamless way. So that's another way that they support their customers and their retailers.
- Moving to cloud requires a different way of thinking. And you need to think about that upfront.
- Companies need to leverage the experience of their partners and cloud providers to learn new things.
- Firms need to think strategically about what to move to cloud. They need to have clear guidelines and policies around that.
- Organizations that are at the early stages of their cloud journey need to be strategic and take a long-term view, understand their company strategy and align their cloud strategy to where the company is heading. They need to think about their specific circumstances and the uniqueness of their company.
- Cloud is such an exciting space. It has incredible potential for organizations, and it is continually uplifting, providing more and more benefits. It is important to stay current with what's going on. So companies can maximize the value that they get from the cloud.
Debbie explains how NBN is bridging the digital divide in Australia.
Debbie takes us through her journey to becoming CIO at NBN.
A woman in a technology organization, when she goes into that meeting, how does she avoid or deflect being the note taker? She's not the secretary. She's not the note taker. She's not the coffee getter. How do you advise her to make that happen?
Where is NBN on its own cloud journey? We've talked about your broadband journey. Now tell me about the organization and how you guys are putting cloud to work.
Debbie talks about the expectations of NBN’s customers.
Are there some kind of common pitfalls you can identify that companies should try to avoid when they're moving there?
Is there something you shouldn't shift to the cloud?
If you had to give some advice for an organization that's at the early stages of their cloud journey, where should they start?
Chad Watt: Welcome to Ahead in the Cloud where business leaders share what they've learned on their cloud journey. I'm Chad Watt, Infosys Knowledge Institute researcher and writer. I'm here today with Debbie Taylor, Chief Information Officer at National Broadband Network. Debbie, for our listeners outside Australia, could you explain how NBN is bridging the digital divide in Australia?
Debbie Taylor: Yeah, I should first explain that NBN is Australia's national broadband network. It was set up as a government business enterprise in 2009. And through a combination of government equity and a government loan we are commissioned to build the national wholesale broadband network and effectively deliver ubiquitous high-speed broadband across all of Australia. We are a wholesale only company, which means that we provide services through retailers. We don't go directly to customers and you'll hear how this plays out in terms of how we deliver capability through the cloud. Now, let me pause for a moment to outline the Herculean task that was in front of us when we started out. The Australian continent covers a landmass of more than 7.7 million square kilometers, it's a big place and it has how's this 25 million of us. It's almost the identical size to the mainland USA, which has about 275 million people.
Debbie Taylor So that should paint a picture that rolling out broadband to a country, as large as Australia is. But with a much more sparse population than the U S with logically mean that it's just not profitable in the more remote areas. And that's why it was so important for the government to create the NBN, because we wanted to ensure that all Australians had access to high-speed broadband, and that simply wouldn't have happened if we left it to capitalistic forces. Before NBN rollout started most areas of the country that could get anything resembling for band were on a DSL, an average of eight megabits per second, and vast portions of regional, rural, and particularly remote Australia had virtually no internet to speak of at all. And as I mentioned, a large portion of these areas were considered uneconomical by many private telecommunications carriers.
Debbie Taylor Hence the digital divide was well entrenched when we first started. From a standing start within 10 years, we've made more than 12 million premises ready to connect to the NBN with more than 8.3 million now connected. Now, again, for listening to this outside of Australia, that may seem like a small number, but we have already connected 17 million or over 70% of all Australians on high-speed broadband. And we're now embarking on a program to provide even faster broadband speeds with a commitment to deliver wholesale, download speeds, close to one gigabit per second on demand to 75% off premises. And we're also focusing not only on residential, but also on business customers. And hopefully this gives you a good understanding of what NBN does and why it's so important and how committed we are to play a key role in promoting digital equality.
Chad Watt Gosh, that's absolutely fascinating because you think about the scale of the nation you're dealing in, and frankly since 2009, the definition of broadband and what the customer expects and what businesses can deliver with broadband has magnified, has grown exponentially. Take me through your journey to becoming CIO at NBN.
Debbie Taylor Yes, I guess I've always loved technology and I knew early on in my career, I'd be doing something technology based in the future, but I guess my job didn't really exist when I started out. So, I didn't know what form it I would take. And I guess if I kind of talk about my career journey, I've only worked for three organizations over 30 years. But I gained all my experiences through different roles in the different organizations I worked for. The first one was actually a big accounting firm, and I did IT audit and consulting. So not really what you would consider the traditional, a path into a CIO role. After about six or seven years in the consulting area, I needed a change. So I went to work for a telecommunications company, and I was responsible there for leading big and complex technology projects.
Debbie Taylor I was thrown right into the deep end. This was when we were moving in the mobile space from 2G to G plus, which was really adding data into how we, so texting into our mobile phones, very very new concept back then. Thrown right into the deep end, loved it. I then became the business manager to the CEO. So again, a very different role as well. And all these different roles really helped me to understand how businesses work.
And the third thing, and you touched upon it as well Chad, is around being a female in technology so early on. And there were very very few of us. So, I would sit in many rooms where I was the only female in a room full of many males, who I guess, had an expectation that I was the note taker or getting the coffee. And, you know, it's happened throughout my career, less and less as I got more senior. But you'd be surprised how recently, a few years ago I was greeting some guests. I hadn't had the chance to introduce who I was. I was taking them off to the room that we were going to have a meeting and they were trying to sell me something. They asked me to get them their coffees and waters, didn't even ask who I was. So needless to say, they didn't get any business, but I don't want to leave you with the impression that it's all like that because there's been so many shining moments in my career where I've been really lucky to have amazing sponsors and men who took a risk on me giving me guidance, giving me opportunities that I believe I wouldn't have had otherwise. And I guess I hope through my work ethic and focus on outcomes that I've really shown that I've earned that trust and that support. And yeah, I'm really glad things have moved on in the industry. And we see so many more females now in the ranks and peers of mine.
Chad Watt A woman in a technology organization, when she goes into that meeting, how does she avoid or deflect being the note taker, or how does she manage that expectation and turn it? How do you advise her to basically educate the men in the room and equalize her standing? She's not the secretary. She's not the note taker. She's not the coffee getter. How do you advise her to make that happen?
Debbie Taylor I would say something about the note taking, which I think is really important is there's a power in owning the pen. When people walk out, you get to decide what gets remembered in the room and how it's positioned. So I actually owned that note taking. I made it the thing that actually helped move things along in any initiative. So I got to define what decisions were recorded, what actions were taken. So, I owned that. In terms of the coffee getting, I would say things like, right, the coffee room is over there and the cups are there. And if you need any help using the water dispenser, I don't drink coffee, so I don't know how to use the machine, but I can show you how to get the water. So, it's really about owning the bits that I wanted to own, and then explaining to people that they had the power to do the rest of it themselves.
Chad Watt Wow, so you really took that note taker role from a subordinated delegated job into the position of power. That's very fascinating. I like that. Where is NBN on its own cloud journey? We've talked about your broadband journey. Now tell me about your organization and how you guys are putting cloud to work.
Debbie Taylor Yeah, so not too similar to most other Australian and I guess companies around the world. When it comes to cloud computing we are the same. NBN was created in 2009 and cloud was in its infancy. I do believe that pioneering companies like Salesforce deserve a lot of credit for transforming the way we thought about computing at the time, starting the concept of software as a service as just normal terminology that we use all the time, platform as a service. So how we use cloud internally, it's such an integral part of ambience technological ecosystem. We see the public cloud as a key enabler for us allowing our technology teams to take advantage of the agility, the scalability that cloud offers. It leads to many benefits that we've seen improved delivery timeframes.
Debbie Taylor We have adopted as many organizations have a hybrid model to our cloud using both public and private. Our journey actually to public cloud started in 2017 and that's led us to having two cloud providers, which hosts about a third of all of our IT workloads in the cloud native web scale systems that we have. In contrast to that, our private cloud environment which we manage internally runs a broad range of platforms, including those that support our active network technology. And that's really important for us to manage it because of needing to provide a certain latency security compliance requirements as a critical infrastructure provider for Australia. Like lots of organizations, we started with a migration program, which sources migrate workloads into the cloud without really thinking about the way to optimize those workloads in those platforms. You know, so we set up our application programming interfaces, our API gateway which would have been a challenge without the cloud capability, the cloud scalability.
Debbie Taylor It has absolutely been a game changer for us. And for the way we interact with our retailers, as I mentioned, we're a wholesale only. So that was really important. Once we moved those workloads into the cloud we've been really focusing on optimizing the way the platforms take advantage of those innate cloud capabilities, providing better outcomes to our customers. Some areas that we are exploring at the moment include replatforming or redesigning our platforms and our systems to take advantage of things like containers, which are just a self-contained area in the cloud that has all the components that will allow, for example, a developer to easily test out new code without worrying about external factors like the underlying infrastructure, that kind of thing. So, we talk about containers and Kubernetes you'll hear about that. Yeah. And it can be used to run anything from a small microservice software process to larger applications. So really by taking advantage of technology that our cloud partners have to offer us such as standardization, it's simplified our developer and operations and operations experience. And our next steps will be to look at self-service capability. So we can really reduce the time to set up new environments.
Chad Watt You know, it's fascinating to think about this because there's really a confluence here of the broadband and Australia recognizing broadband was going to be such an essential service for the nation one. And two, establishing your own cloud, which benefits NBN, but allows you to do business better with your retail providers who connect to the end users. It's very fascinating. Can we talk a little bit more about what kind of the expectations of your customers and their customers are? Again, as we said earlier, what people expected from broadband 10 years ago is different from what they expect today. Talk about the expectations of your customers.
Debbie Taylor Firstly, they expect and deserve a secure and fast internet service that just works, right? So that's what they expect of us. And that's what we provide. And to support this, our partners, our retails, they expect fully featured business to business services that they can essentially incorporate the NBN data, the NBN systems into their processes. So, they can automate from an end-to-end perspective, their transactions. They can make it seamless for their customers, who are the people who use the broadband on the other end. So, we focus on enabling the retailers to provide the experiences that they want to create for their customers so that they can have a differentiated service so that they can put power in the hands of the end customers. And we do this all through our microservices, through our APIs that support their ability to, in turn, provide those experience to the end customers. And you know, if I think about some of the advantage of leveraging the cloud-based technology, we saw that during the early phases of COVID, when we needed to adjust our ways of working really quickly to support the retailers. Because we have say, for example, offshore people working and they were then working from home. So having cloud technologies enabled us to really support the services that we provided in a very quick and very seamless way. So that's another way that we support our customers and our retailers.
Chad Watt Now we've talked a lot about some of the benefits of clouds. Are there some kind of common pitfalls you can identify that companies should try to avoid when they're moving there? And I think we talked a little bit about something I would call lift and shift, which perhaps it wasn't a bad idea at the time, but I think we're beyond that now, would you agree?
Debbie Taylor I would absolutely agree Chad. And really, if you think about pitfalls and it's so important to look at what can go wrong, as well as what can go well. I would say to spend the time as a leadership team to really understand what moving to the cloud means for your organization, what will change from how you work today? This is about not just the technology, it's about people, it's about the process and the technology. So you need to bring them all together. It does require a different way of thinking. And you need to think about that upfront. I would say just because everyone is talking about moving to the cloud and cloud first. I would say that's interesting, but have a clear reason why you're moving to the cloud and what success looks like for you in your particular circumstances. You know, making sure you put the fundamentals in place they're really important.
Debbie Taylor So, you can take advantage of the ability to scale up quickly. Take advantage of what cloud native technologies offer. Cloud economics. That's another really big area to focus on. You need to appreciate what it means to move from primarily a capital investment model to an operating expenditure one. How do you consume that? Because you can consume it much more quickly than you would if it's on premise. We saw this, and as you mentioned, as we moved our platforms to the cloud, there was so much transparency and real-time information that enabled us to see the inefficiencies that we had built or that we had migrated over. We then put activities in place to fix what we just moved in. And if you think about the people who've done this before, we work with partners. Leverage the experience of your partners and cloud providers to learn.
Debbie Taylor So we work with the different partners. We have some strategic partners like Infosys. They really help us to understand and learn from what they've done around the world. So, I would say, take the time upfront to say, what does it look like in three to five years, as much as you can, knowing the technology changes, do this strategically, don't do it by stealth. And yeah, just because you've moved something into the cloud and you think you've optimized it, it doesn't stop there because the technology keeps improving and shifting. And so you need to stay current with what the technology is offering and don't rely on what's happened in the past.
Chad Watt Is there something you shouldn't shift to the cloud?
Debbie Taylor Yeah, I mentioned that we're a critical infrastructure provider. So, there are things that we don't shift to the cloud because we need certain things like latency to be very small. You know, I would say looking at what the flexibility can provide to your company is really good. So I would say that rather than not shifting something, really reinforce that you need to consider what type of workload. So for us around our network, that's the type of workload we wouldn't put in the cloud. It's not really designed to take advantage in all the right ways. So looking at the specific use cases for you. And for us, we've definitely focused on what moves to the cloud and in terms of you know, our more outwardly facing and some things around how we assure the networks of our systems to do that.
Debbie Taylor We want that to be scalable. We have really clear guidelines and guard rails and policies around that. And I would say thinking about that upfront, that what you will and won't want to shift to the cloud. And also when you might shift something to the cloud. So, you might not shift everything. You might wait for a trigger, which might be an end of life system, mental life. Which might trigger you then to think. Okay, well, do we want to do something different in this space and add more value to the organization? And will that value be the better place in the cloud versus on-prem?
Chad Watt Debbie, you just said one of my keywords for next year. We've come through a period of disruption and innovation, and now we need some guard rails. We need to take all these learnings and be a little more methodical with it. It has been great experimentation and innovation and adjustments to doing things differently. Okay. But now how do we do this with some guard rails around it? If you had to give some advice for an organization that's at the early stages of their cloud journey, where should they start?
Debbie Taylor Yeah, absolutely. They need to be strategic and take a long-term view, understand the company strategy and align their cloud strategy to where the company's heading. So that they know what they should prioritize and how they should approach it because there's many different ways to tackle this. And what might be right for one organization, might not be right for another organization. So, you need to think about your specific circumstances and the uniqueness of your company, and what is your proposition that you're selling. You know, to look at your organizational goals and to think about planning out your moves very carefully. So, you can really leverage the best amount of capability that's offered within the cloud and know which ones you want to take advantage of. And if I can really leave you with this it's that cloud is such an exciting space. It has incredible potential for organizations, and it is continually uplifting, providing more and more benefits. So really important to stay current with what's going on. So, you can maximize your use in the value that you get from the cloud.
Chad Watt Debbie Taylor, CIO of NBN, thank you for your insights on cloud, technology and leadership.
Debbie Taylor Thank you, Chad. It's been a pleasure.
Chad Watt This podcast is part of our collaboration with MIT Tech Review in partnership with Infosys Cobalt, visit our content hub on technologyreview.com to learn more about how businesses across the globe are moving from cloud chaos to cloud clarity. Be sure to follow Ahead in the Cloud, wherever you get your podcasts. You can find more details in our show notes and transcripts at infosys.com/iki in our podcast section. Thanks to our producers, Catherine Burdette, Dode Bigley, Christine Calhoun, Dylan Cosper, and Yulia De Bari. As we like to say at the Knowledge Institute - until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Debbie Taylor
Chief Information Officer at NBN Australia
Chief Information Officer (CIO) with extensive experience in successfully leading, transforming and managing technology teams. Career highlights include developing and executing on key IT related company strategies across multiple organisations with a focus on leveraging the latest technology trends such as cloud, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and APIs to create business value.
Drove an uplift in IT delivery capacity in one organisation by greater than 66% enabling the organisation to meet its business outcomes, while at the same time increasing employee engagement and internal customer satisfaction. Successfully transitioned an IT delivery team of 1,600+ personnel from traditional waterfall methodology to scaled agile practices resulting in quicker value creation with increased quality.
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