The new Information Economy, and South Australia's technology-enabled and skill-driven future.

Commemoration Address University of Adelaide, 17 April 2000

Dr Terry Cutler

Your Excellency, Presider, Vice Chancellor, distinguished Faculty, Ladies and Gentlemen and, most important of all, today's graduands:

I am really pleased to have been invited to deliver today's commemoration address, because I have been working for the past six months on the preparation of an Information Economy strategy, and action plan, for South Australia. Skilled knowledge workers like yourselves, and institutions of learning and research like this University, are at the heart of that strategy and are central to the future well-being of this State in a networked, borderless world.

It is a very good time to be an engineer, a scientist or any kind of well-educated and professionally skilled person at the start of this 21st century and in the early days of a world-changing revolution in work, education and community life.

We are living through a period of profound social and economic change, a tidal wave of change. We have entered the technology and information enabled era of digital citizenship and government, of online communities and an information-enabled society. It is a world defined by the Internet paradigm as a "network of networks", a world of interconnected digital diversity.

Much about the future of this new world is very uncertain. Within the Information Technology and Telecommunications sector, within this engine room of the new world, we talk of Internet "dog" years: normal time and normal business cycles collapsed into virtual annual cycles of mere weeks. In business the old five-year business plan rarely survives half a year. And just when I start to delude myself that I understand what it is all about, some new wave of innovation sends me right back to the starting line, and I am forced to acknowledge that those who talk about lifelong learning may truly have a point. For example, just when I think I have mastered the Internet along come Wireless Applications Protocols, online kitchen appliances, and open source software.

Much about this new world remains uncertain. Much is challenging and truly daunting. In a very real sense every community, every jurisdiction like this State of South Australia, every household, and every new professional such as each of you, all stand at a crossroads between vulnerability and opportunity.

But some things, thank goodness, are certain: and these certainties represent crucial roadmaps for each of you as you leave this hotbed of professional preparation; and these certainties are central, too, in marking out future economic and social directions for this State and for it's people.

First, we need to accept that this new Information Economy is an unavoidable fact of life. It is the new reality. There can be no looking back to the comfort of the past. Personal career paths and State economic development strategies must be plotted against this reality and the new economic rules and measuring sticks for success. We cannot afford to emulate King Canute, and delude ourselves into believing that we can reverse this tide of change.

The second absolute certainty is that knowledge and skills, not natural resources or factories, have become the prize asset and resource in this Information Economy. Having technical skills and being Information Technology literate is a priceless asset in a world where competition for these scarce skills is becoming fierce. At present in Europe, for example, there are more than one hundred thousand job vacancies just for telecommunications engineers that cannot be filled. Every country and every company is fighting to find and keep the essential skills within a digital economy: computer programmers, web designers, network architects, digital content producers, intellectual property and software patent lawyers, accountants who are savvy about intangible assets, business managers who understand global marketing and borderless electronic commerce. Before long, every job will require some degree of IT literacy. Every corporate manager will need to understand the vagaries of doing business globally. The competitiveness of nations is now all about the global competition for scarce skills, for intellectual property, and for innovation.

People flows have become more important than capital flows or natural resources. Capital and corporate investment will flow to and will co-locate with the premier people communities of the world, the hot spots for smarts, not to locations for cheap labour or cheap electricity as in the past. Government investment attraction strategies revolving around bricks and mortar must be replaced by strategies based on people policies and people attraction. Being Net-centric is to be people centric.

Economies like South Australia have to market themselves, and capture global attention, as smart places where people are doing interesting things, and in which highly mobile professionals ­ like yourselves ­ will find it attractive to live and work, or at the very least be plugged into from anywhere around the world.

The third certainty is that value is created by the economics of networks and the network law of increasing returns. The more people who are connected to a network the more valuable the network is for everyone. The more the people of South Australia go online and are connected into the wider world the more all the State benefits. Being online is about people networks, skill networks, networks of experts, networks of global business influence. Networked, online communities underpin the e-businesses, the e-commerce and trade, and the learning networks that are at the heart of our technology-enabled and knowledge based society. You might well argue that all this sounds trite or self-evident, if it were not for the simple fact that little of this has been at the forefront of national or state policies and government priorities. Until now.

It would also be tempting for all of you here today to sit back and start imagining yourselves as the new masters of the universe, the wizards of the New Economy. But with privilege comes responsibility. Collectively, you are the key natural resources for the New Economy; your intellectual capital the key assets for new wealth creation for the whole community.

The tradition of a graduation ceremony is the rite of passage as the formal initiation into full membership of a community of peers. I would like to suggest that it is also an important initiation into a key role within the new Information Society.

Let me close, therefore, by reiterating the golden rule for collective success as a wider State community needing to participate fully and productively within the new global Information Economy.

The successful communities of the 21st century will be hubs for global people networks.

Whether you go from here to work at the Playford Centre on North Terrace, or to Silicon Valley, Luxembourg or Kuching, in today¹s borderless world you can remain part of the core people tribe of a borderless South Australian community. Think of yourselves as a skilled, professional mafia, a South Australian and University of Adelaide knowledge worker mafia. As a global, borderless mafia group you become a key resource for this hometown community and its economic future. So my key message is to be connected, stay connected, and build people networks that matter.

In this networked, online era not to be plugged in means to be disconnected in every sense. This is the crossroads between vulnerability and opportunity for the community into which you are graduating, the challenge for this university, and for this State.

Ladies and gentlemen, a digitally savvy Descartes would have summarised this address simply: I network therefore I am.