Disrupted becomes disruptor: 3 areas where Telecommunications and Media companies should be investing

Media and telecommunications companies have born the brunt of the first wave of digital disruption which has led to reduced profits, distruction of traditional business models, reconfiguration of capabilities and the rise of new digital businesses. Those who have invested in digital transformation (by adapting to customer needs, creating new digital products and services, capturing value from digital and internal efficiencies) and are alive to tell the story are now in a position to invest in the next wave of disruption with the mindset of the disruptor – the disrupted becomes disruptor.

I am sure many media companies are wishing they invested in RealEstate.com early on or for telcos Whatsapp or Viber. Whilst these opportunities are not as apparent in media and telecommunications these days, I believe there are 3 other areas in Australia that are ripe for investment on the basis that the impact of digital disruption to the broader economy would be high, the unmet needs are matched to media and telco capabilities/offerings but they are not yet disrupted or lag the rest of the world in digitisation.

The 3 areas are Democracy, Identity and Health. To emphasise, these areas are not yet disrupted and in each the largest lagging factor is policy and culture. Any investment in digital offerings would need to be accompanied by campaigns to change policy and to culture which media and telecommunications companies are in a strong position to undertake.

1) Democracythe digital voter and politician

The opportunity here is to digitise the democratic process in Australia. Australia is one of only eleven countries where compulsory voting is enforced which means that being informed as a voter is central to better decision making and a better country. Whilst other aspects of our lives have become more transparent, mobile, social and simple – the simple act of casting a vote remains a manual, untimely, and disconnected from the issues. Not to mention the cost to administer the electoral system.

In America there are a number of startups looking at this – POPVOX, Code for America, the Sunlight Foundation and Brigade. Brigade President James Windon says his company is looking at bringing technology to the democratic process to make ‘having your say’ more gratifying, he believes “technology is making people feel increasingly powerful…but politics is making us feel increasingly disempowered”. Brigade, though in its infancy, may have a solution putting decision making, literally in the hands of voters – swipe left for cuts to health care, swipe right for increased health care funding.

What media and telecommunications companies could do here is own the digitisation of the voter lifecycle. Media companies in particular already play a large role in shaping public opinion, it wouldn’t be a big step to facilitate the process. The knowledge gained on voter choice could also influence content and advertising choices.

2) Identitythe digital me

Closely tied to the concept of democracy is the ability to identify yourself online. The opportunity is to have a single identification to all online properties and activities. The old 100 point ID check is still used as a primary means of identification but even that has its flaws in terms of authenticating a user.

In Australia and globally a number of organisations are looking at this problem, but not yet with holistic success. Australia’s greenID uses third party sources and screen scraped data to ‘triangulate’ that you are indeed who you say you are. If you are interested in buying Bitcoin you will be asked to perform a greenID check. Other organisations have looked at vertical specific ID solutions such as Valimo Mobile ID which combined with Norway’s BankID allows high assurance identity checking on all mobile banking apps.

For media and telecommunications companies the opportunity is to provide identification services to consumers and businesses. The power being not only the ability to understand the consumers behaviors but also to facilitate access to networks, content and services which will use networks. One can picture a connected world (SIC: ‘Internet of things’) where humans and machines have IDs which are interconnected and essential to the concepts of ownership and access.

3) Healththe digital cure

It is fair to say that although Australians lead the world in medical and scientific research, we lag the world in the digitisation of medical services. Also tied to identity, the ability to access medical records, services and knowledge digitally is far behind countries such as the USA.

In the US, a company such as Theranos which offers ‘in pharmacy’ (e.g. Walgreens) blood testing and diagnostic labs making transparent, less invasive testing accessible for thousands of people is an example of digitising a basic medical service. The company has plans to personalise this through mobile devices but it is only 10 years into its journey. In Australia there are some fringe examples of medical digitisation with companies like HealthEngine making doctors appointment books more accessible and MyFilmBag allowing patients the ability to store and retrieve their X-rays and scans digitally.

The opportunity for media and telecommunications companies is multifarious. Much of media content is health and lifestyle related (e.g. Biggest Loser) and integration into digital health would be a logical step. Equally, communication services are an integral part of medical knowledge and advice. The ability for media and telecommunications companies to select the right investments but also shape public policy and culture on e-health will be key to succeeding in and digital health revolution.

In the not so distant future the areas of democracy, identity and health will experience the type of digital disruption that media and telecommunications has experienced in the last 5 years. Those who have survived have the opportunity to play disruptor in these areas. It will however take more than creating or buying the next digital business, it will require influencing policy makers and the cultural attitudes of Australians in order to bring about the magnitude of change that we have seen in other industries.

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