By the end of 2009, the GFC was already retreating into the rearview mirror, ushering in a new decade which would see ecommerce and mobile technologies take hold, and money pouring in venture-backed start-ups like Facebook, Uber, and AirBnB. That created a new generation of cashed-up disruptors looking for incumbents to make miserable. 

Indeed Facebook had only 150 million users in January 2009 having overtaken MySpace as the top social network less than a year earlier. Today it claims it has 2 billion monthly users across its family of apps (although the decade also taught us to treat Facebook’s reporting with a touch of skepticism).

Cloud computing took a solid hold, smartphone penetration skyrocketed, 4G and the price of data dropped and companies with new business models emerged to take advantage of these technologies.

To mark the end of the decade Which-50 asked our readers for their perspectives on the predictable and unpredictable ways in which the digital revolution played out over the last decade. 

While the technology trends were clear, the pace and enthusiasm that businesses in Australia have adopted them has been slower than many had expected at the beginning of the decade. 

In 2009 Kate Carruthers, Chief Data & Insights Officer at UNSW and Senior Lecturer (Adjunct), School of Computer Science & Engineering was freelancing as a digital strategy consultant, coaching c-level executives on the use of social media in a business context.

Kate Carruthers, Chief Data & Insights Officer at UNSW and Senior Lecturer (Adjunct), School of Computer Science & Engineering

Asked to describe an example of how things hadn’t turned out as she expected, she said, “The biggest one was about how fast organisations would understand and adopt the principles of digital transformation. I was totally wrong about this. ‘Not many,’  is the answer. We still are really only just starting on the journey towards digital transformation.” 

I [also] had not predicted the huge growth in malware, especially ransomware. But once I understood that ransomware is the new bank-robbing  it all made sense – they are just going where the money is.” 

Annette Slunjski, Managing Director, IAPA thought that businesses would be quicker to embrace analytics as new digital technologies emerged.  

“In 2009 IAPA was just five years old (as was Facebook) and the community then was much smaller. Business could see positive results from analytics but wasn’t quite sure how to use it beyond obvious use cases.” 

Annette Slunjski, managing director, IAPA

According to Slunjski, it was clear that businesses would become more data-driven, especially to improve decision making and efficiencies – and we’d have the technology available to help us do that. 

“I’m not saying we’re at a perfect state today, but the drive to improve, and use facts (data) to guide that improvement, was always going to be an important part of the business landscape.”


A common theme throughout the responses was the rise of the mobile internet – what was unexpected was just how much the pocket-sized devices have changed us as humans.  

In 2009 Emma Lo Russo left her job as president and COO of ASX-listed company Altium to pursue an idea for a startup that eventually became Digivizer, which was launched in 2010. 

Emma Lo Russo, CEO Digivizer

Back then, it was already clear to Lo Russo that mobile use would proliferate and businesses had the opportunity to be successful entirely digitally. 

“You have to remember that the iPhone was barely two years old as a device in 2009, the first Android phone was only a year old, and the iPad still a year away. Nearly every business was still based on bricks and mortar with fixed devices forcing customers and employees to come to an office,” Lo Russo said. 

“These early mobile devices and their offspring have driven the uptake of social media in all its formats, and the launch of entirely online businesses which in turn has changed how we socialise, how we organise, entertain ourselves, and how we now do business. Successful businesses are now based on being where your customer is, in a way that adds value to them.” 

Peter Auhl, CIO Central Coast Council (and Which-50’s 2019 Digital Innovator of the Year), admits to initially being skeptical of the appeal of the smartphone.

Peter Auhl, CIO, Central Coast Council

Back in 2009, he was employed by the City of Charles Sturt innovating and testing the boundaries of configuration technology. 

It’s embarrassing to confess but I remember my CEO at the time talking to me about an ‘iPhone’ that his daughter had that was against our corporate ‘Nokia’ standard. He wanted to trial one that sent my Ops team into a tailspin, thankfully we did and the rest is history… I never expected that this device would change everything in such a short period of time,” Auhl said. 

Julian Dell, CTO at OrotonGroup, says a lot was written about the role of mobile in our lives at the time, but the amount of change in that 10 years was perhaps underestimated.

Julian Dell, CTO at OrotonGroup

“The smartphone has overtaken the desktop for a majority of people, and the types of tasks that can be performed are nearly identical. However it is the constant communications, the availability of content and data and the social interactions that, although they were expected, have made such a large change to our society,” Dell said. 

For Tanya Graham, Chief Transformation Officer at Alinta Energy, the way we’ve come to depend on our devices wasn’t anticipated.

“The biggest surprise for me is how all-consuming the mobile phone has become, and for all generations! I never imagined it would become the platform it is today or how addictive it would become. How many people do you see glued to their phones on the bus or train?”  

Tanya Graham, Chief Transformation Officer of Alinta Energy.

“It’s now the gateway to everything – work, social connection, reading, watching TV, and all things lifestyle-related. Linked to this is the rise of smart algorithms and marketing personalisation. It’s almost at the point that you only need to think of something (whether work-related or personal) and ads and articles magically appear in your various feeds,” Graham said. 

Bridget Gray, managing director of  Harvey Nash APAC throughout much of the decade, also highlighted our addiction to mobile apps as a surprising and scary development. 

Although it is easy to understand the benefits of social media networks and apps that make our lives easier and more frictionless, I never anticipated seeing everyone like zombies glued to their phones, self-absorbed and distant,” Gray said. 

Bridget Gray, Harvey Nash APAC managing director.

“I too am guilty of this habit, but when I look up and see how the ‘connection’ has really made us quite disconnected, it worries me about the impact on our future society.” 

 Jacqui Kernot, Partner – Financial Services, Cyber Security at Ernst & Young, says it was clear the cost reduction of mobile phones and data would drive smartphone growth, to the point where consumers bypass landlines or home internet connections.

And the unexpected trend? “The sheer extent of the global usage of social media platforms to collaborate and communicate, and the associated amalgamation of data, is something that I wouldn’t have predicted.” 

Jacqui Kernot, Partner Cybersecurity, Ernst and Young

“If you had asked me in 2009 whether I would allow an unregulated software company to hold and use my data and personal conversations to make money from advertising and to sell to third-parties, I would have said absolutely no way,” Kernot said. 

“But today I have various social media accounts that are doing just that. As there are so many people using these platforms, it can be quite disconnecting not to be part of it.”  

This social-enabled network is shaping the way younger generations behave, laying the foundations for broader societal changes.

“Our children have a very different view of the world than we ever did at their age thanks to this global connectedness – and that connectivity is incredibly important given climate change and the other critical issues young people are facing,” she said. 

“The impact of a globally-connected digital generation and their ability to change the world via the use of social media platforms is both a necessary and confronting change – and it’s one that is absolutely changing the way we work, live and what we do.”

Changing consumer behaviour

In 2009 Karen Ganschow, head of data sciences at First State Super, was heading up the Telstra’s digital and data plays.

Karen Ganschow, head of data sciences at First State Super

The work involved mastering AB testing with online experiences, an early and unsuccessful trial of ‘order online and pick up in-store’ (what we now call click and collect),  and building an online prepaid recharge capability leveraging a “vending machine” tool which customers discovered and flocked to before the company began to market it. 

Even ten years ago we saw a degree by which if you create a great solution to a customer problem online they will often find it before you have had a chance to promote it. When customers are given great digital alternatives they often move to it of their own volition,” Ganschow said. 

“Word of mouth accelerates this if the digital experience is a good one. [For example] We all piled onto to Google, Uber, and Airbnb without any of them doing any traditional advertising.” 

Along with a major shift in consumer behaviour, digital also brought with it a voracious focus on metrics and measurement. 

“Even 10 years ago we were excited at how measurable digital capability and channels could be – almost too measurable. The focus on digital channel conversion became the obsession because we could – many times at the expense of ignoring online to offline customer behaviour,” Ganschow said. 

Digital Money 

Fred Schebesta, who co-founded of Finder in 2006, was starting to see real traction from customers in 2009, at the now global product comparison site.

Fred Schebesta, co-founder, Finder

“The evolution of digital money was predictable. If I put myself in a time machine, I think I could have predicted the role technology would play in terms of ‘tap and go’ payments and the demise of ATMs. I think the influx of personal finance apps, touch ID and facial recognition technology were also inevitable innovations that were driven by consumer demand.” 

“I didn’t see bitcoin coming and it’s still in its infancy being only 10 years old. There’s still a long way to go before cryptocurrencies will be a common currency but I think particularly bitcoin will be used as a store of value.

“Also video has blown me away. I knew it would be big but I didn’t know it would be this big. And how quickly we can just talk to each other all around the world in one call – this isn’t something I could have imagined.”

“The availability of platforms to automate processes is one I could have guessed. Whether it’s using a HR platform to integrate payroll information or a customer relationship management (CRM) platforms to track activity, there was a real need to help businesses automate admin-heavy tasks and this has led to the range of platforms we see today.”

Here come the robots

Automation was a trend that Gartner analyst Olive Huang could also see coming at the dawn of the decade. At the time she was working for Siemens in their regional office in Singapore as Director of Corporate Automation. 

Olive Huang, VP analyst, Gartner

“Back then we had very big CRM and ERP implementations and the core focus was to enable automation of the processes. That trend has continued till today,” Huang said. 

“The difference compared to ten years ago is in “why do you automate”. Back then organisations automated for the benefit of business, i.e. increased efficiency, improved process quality, and compliance, and enable standard processes across different geographies, and reduce operational cost. Today, organisations set more advanced and balanced goals on automation.”

But, she asks, “Is it benefiting customers? – reducing customer effort, improve experience. Or benefiting employees? – remove repetitive tasks, support complex decisions, reduce errors, and improve employee experience. Benefiting organisations? – not only to improve efficiency and sell more, but also to enable speed and ability to change, connect a customer journey that is supported by otherwise siloed functions and systems, and use AI and machine learning to support decisions.” 

One trend Huang wouldn’t have imagined at the beginning of the decade is the need for businesses to have a purpose in order to be successful. 

“Today companies need to have a purpose to succeed in the next decade. Large companies spend considerable effort and money to act on and explain their role in society, the economic and social impact delivered from income, job creation and veteran support, sustainable development, gender equality, trust, and ethical business practice and technology (e.g. AI) design.”

“We can all be cynical sometimes and say these large corporations have to look good in front of the wider society, therefore they stage this kind of equality in conferences. No doubt there is a certain truth in it. But I think the effort the companies need to take has surpassed the level of “we need to look good”. Gartner research on cultural values shows Gen Z values “identity”, “diversity” and “inclusion” more highly than any other older age groups. They will be 24 years old in 2020 and become our customers, partners and employees. 10 years ago hardly any company needed a purpose and no customers really cared. Today we are living in a very different world.”

The rise of Saas

In 2009 Steve Vamos had just joined the Board of Telstra and had a portfolio of interests in business advisory, start-ups, and speaking opportunities. 

Steve Vamos, CEO Xero

“At that time I believed my CEO/executive days were behind me, only to find that ten years later I am living in Wellington, New Zealand and I’m the CEO of a global technology business that is helping small businesses around the world.” 

He says the adoption of cloud accounting software which was led by accountants and bookkeepers, the advisors to small business and then initiatives led by the Government – like single touch payroll was predictable.  However, the pace of change and innovation in the financial services and accounting industry, driven by cloud computing, has surprised the technology industry veteran. 

Alinta energy’s Graham suggests the rapid growth of behind the scenes technology such as cloud, big data and the shift of business interactions online was predictable

However she also noted, “10 years ago there was still a lot of skepticism about cloud and whether it was really secure. Now we almost don’t think about it and we implicitly trust the security accreditations of the major data centre providers.  This has enabled IT functions to transform and digital services to be truly scalable.”  

Cisco CTO Kevin Bloch was still early into his role, “However, although the title is the same, the role has changed several times. I am still integrally involved in our core technologies across Cisco, but I have also had the good fortune to lead our innovation investments and explore opportunities and applications for technologies in sectors including agriculture, healthcare, and transport.”

Kevin Bloch, CTO Cisco

He shares the view about the inevitable rise of cloud computing.

In Australia, we saw them coming almost before most developed countries with some large customers saying how serious they were and why.

“As an engineer, it was also easy to see the benefits, particularly when you consider what happened about 100 years ago with electric power generation – customer-owned to utility. “ 

On the bleeding edge of tech, Bloch was surprised by the recent rise of an old technology –  artificial intelligence. 

“I studied AI during my university degrees so understood the potential and benefits so I shouldn’t be surprised.

“However, they say AI has gone through three winters. Well, we are now well and truly into early spring at the cusp of the biggest technology transformation of our time, bigger than the internet itself. I had no idea we would be so fortunate to be at this place at this time.” 

Lynna Barrett, head of e-commerce, Dan Murphies

Lynna Barrett, is the newly minted head of e-commerce at Dan Murphy’s. She told Which-50 that the emergence of personalised multichannel digital marketing technologies that now leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive customer acquisition empower consumers was predictable.

As to the surprise development Barrett, who at the start of the decade was the Global Group Marketing Project Manager, Cotton On, nominated the transformative power of digital as her surprise development.

“[That]businesses that employ more digital technology using agile ways of working would capture disproportionate benefits, dramatically elevating their company’s bench strength in delivering exceptional, data-informed and seamless customer experiences.”

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