Thursday, May 21, 2009

NBNCo and the MFP

Many years ago when I worked for Telecom Australia (1987 to be precise) I was called by my boss to do some reserach on a policy that Australia had just received from the Japanese Government's MITI for a thing they called a "multi-function polis" or MFP. The idea was a high tech city - though in part it looked like just a giant retirement village. Part of the pitch was that the new location was to be environmentally attractive - like the Queensland coast. One of these days I'll put my copy of the original proposal up on my website.

As the Australian Government got into the detail there was a bidding war between the States, then the concept was floated of a "vitrtual" MFP so it could have bits in every state! In the end the cause of marginal seats in South Australia won out and a swamp near Adelaide was chosen for a proposal that never happened.

On Wednesday night at the Fibre to the Home Council Asia Pacific conference "Gala Dinner" the representative of the Victorian Government gave a speech which was a repetition ad nauseum on why the NBNCo head office should be based in Melbourne. This was wildly inappropriate for the audience, and probably a waste of syllables because no one who could make it so was in the room.

Apart from the similarity with the MFP, the other bit that struck me was how misrepresented the material was. See every advantage that the Vctorians claimed was really the consequence of one "accident" of history. The accident was the fact that telecommunications became a Federal power in 1901, because of the international dimension of the services, nothing else. The first Federal Parliament met in Melbourne and all epartments were established there. With the foundation of Canberra and the move of the Parliament in 1927 Departments were progrssively relocated. The PMG never was, an so with the split of Post and Telegraph both Commissions established HQs in Melbourne. Only HQ made purchasing decisions so most supply firms built facilities in Melbourne. In 1987/88 Telecom finally addressed its dysfunctional Federal Structure and built customer facing divisions. The heads of these divisions and the GMs beneath them were smeared across the Eastern seaboard capitals.

When Frank Blount arrived to take up AOTC (that became Telstra) he was pressured to Choose between the Telecom HQ in Melbourne and the OTC HQ in Sydney. In reality he never really chose. He went so far as to have the same phone number in each of Sydney and Melbourne. While Ziggy made Telstra feel more Melbourne again I challenge anyone to figure out how Sol ran it!

The Vics also wanted to claim the regulators are based in Melbourne. Well when AUSTEL was formed by being carved out of Telecom, surprise, it was in Melbourne. When AUSTEL was split into the ACA and the ACCC the teams were in ... Melbourne. But the ACCC Telco commissioner is based in Sydney as is the ACMA chair.

The reality is that there will be no "head office" of the NBNCo. It will have to have big teams in every city. Any return to a "singular" head office would be a tragic mistake!

I'm reliably informed that the speech occurred because the Vics had heard a rumour that it was about to be announced that Queensland would be the head office. That would be a tragic mistake given the lack of staff who already live there, and I don't see any need to provide growth into the naturally growing states.

But most importantly there should be no single hard office. NBNCo should look just like Telstra has for twenty years - two locations from which the show can be run, talent can be employed where talent is - and the technology that is being built can be used.

To announce a headquarters location before a chair, board and CEO would be a farce!

1 comment:

Mark said...

There is certainly a vacuum around the operational arrangements for staffing the NBNCo. There has been little, if any, buzz in the media about how it's all going to come together.

The federal structures do seem to be crumbling. For example, the ACMA in this years budget is pulling out of Perth. In the old nation building, slow travel, non-connected and marginal electorate days this would have been regarded as an unwise move. In this environment, each state is likely to want to make the most of potential (if not real) opportunities.