Tech Leaders Talk Podcast

Peter Auhl

Smart Cities

It’s not what smart cities can do for dyslexia but what can dyslexia do for smart cities.
Peter Auhl - Smart Cities

Episode description

In this episode of Tech Leaders Talk we chat with Peter Auhl about getting to know your customer and smart cities. We also chat about diversity in the technology world.

About Peter Auhl

Peter Auhl received feedback from Steve Wozniak and Sir Richard Branson for being a disruptive innovator.

Peter is the 2019 Digital Innovator of the year, 2017 CEO magazine National CIO of the Year and One of the top 5 CIOs in AsiaPAC 2016.

He was responsible for the 10 Gig Rollout for the City of Adelaide to help kickstart investment in Adelaide.

We talk more about the Adelaide 10 Gig project, smart cities, women in technology and much more.

In this episode, you will learn

  • 02:24 - Learn About Peter’s background growing up.
  • 06:20 - Peter talks about mentors in his life.
  • 09:00 - Developing a career plan
  • 14:00 - Learn who Claire is and how she helped shape the Adelaide 10 Gig project. Peter discusses how the Adelaide 10 Gig project used design thinking to help drive outcomes.
  • 18:30 - Learn about Peter’s interest in smart cities
  • 25:00 - Peter talks about “The government getting out of the way”, what it means and how it came about.
  • 38:30 - Peter talks about women in technology and equality.
  • 50:42 - Peter talks about Dyslexia

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Ernst Pelser:

Good day listeners, welcome to Tech Leaders Talk show, where we get to know technology leaders on a personal front. We also talk about their careers, some of the big challenges they've faced, and how they've overcome those challenges. Please help others find the show by rating us on your favourite podcast engine. Hello, ladies and gentlemen. My next guest has received personal feedback for his disruptive innovation from Steve Wozniak and Sir Richard Branson, and one of the top five CIOs in the [inaudible 00:00:32] back in 2016. He was also responsible for the 10 Gig roll-outs for the city of Adelaide, which is a world first for cities. Please welcome, Peter Auhl, CIO of Central Coast Council.

Ernst Pelser:

In this podcast, we talk about Peter's background, smart cities, women in technology, and much, much more. Welcome to Tech Leaders Talk podcast. I'm your host, Ernst Pelser. Peter, how are you doing today?

Peter Auhl:

G'day Ernst, doing really well, thank you, here in sunny Sydney. Lovely to meet you. Looking forward to having a chat today.

Ernst Pelser:

Awesome. Been looking forward to today. So Peter, do you just want to give us a few minutes of background, introduction of yourself?

Peter Auhl:

Sure. Yeah, look, I'm a country boy from the southeast of South Australia. I was brought up on about a 10,000 acre property as a child. My daily commute to school was about an hour and a half on a bus. Yeah, quite an interesting background, but I guess the beauty of having that sort of environment to grow up in is it really helped me understand the importance of problem solving. I think in my industry, having that sort of background's really quite important.

Peter Auhl:

I have always been a South Australian up until recently, when I moved to New South Wales, but started my career actually as an opal miner. I started studying nuclear medicine, I didn't really enjoy it, and thought maybe there's a better life out there to do something a little bit different, and somehow ended up in Coober Pedy, which is in the middle of Australia, making bombs every morning, and mining at about 76 feet underground as an opal miner. That was supposed to be for about six weeks, I think.

Peter Auhl:

At about the 12 month mark, I had enough of it, so came back to Adelaide and started studying technology but put myself through studies by working in the hospitality industry with the Stamford chain. I was there for about seven years, so again, similar to my background in farming, also having that customer service background in hotels, I've always said you see the best and the worst of people in customer service. It's quite interesting. Always the best at the early times of the nights, and sometimes the worst as it gets later into the night, and a bit more alcohol's consumed. It's a very interesting environment to be around.

Peter Auhl:

I was working in the hospitality industry as a waiter, but also at the same time, at night putting myself through some studies in IT. I was actually promoted into I guess the supervisor or team leader of the maintenance department across our hotels, so that's the group that does all of the plant management and the air conditioning and managing any upgrades to the asset itself. That was quite interesting, nothing to do with technology, but I guess again they could see some benefit in my problem solving techniques.

Peter Auhl:

At one stage ... back then, it was probably in my early 20s, the IT manager left, and the CEO came up to me and said, "Oh, I heard you're studying technology. Why don't you be the IT manager?" And I said, "Okay, let's do that." I did that for a couple of years and realized, gee, I had no idea how to be an IT manager, so I thought I better go out and learn the trade and actually go back a bit so I could actually not plateau my career.

Peter Auhl:

That brought me into local government. Spent about seven years with the city of Tee Tree Gully, which is quite a large council to the northeast of Adelaide. And really there, I was in a service delivery function, looking after customer service and infrastructure, IT infrastructure, really learning my trade, particularly around telecommunications infrastructure. Really quite fascinating, and I really, really valued that time, because as I developed my career, I could always draw back on those experiences when I'm trying to motivate staff, to let them know I've been there as well. I think that's really important, and certainly a part of my nature is that authenticity to ensure that people can see that no, I'm just a human at the end of the day.

Peter Auhl:

Moved into state government, was in a chief information officer role in my early 30s, which was quite interesting, particularly being in a state government where most of the chief information officers at that stage were probably in their 50s or older. It was a bit like, who's this young kid on the block thinking they can be a chief information officer in their early 30s? I hope over time, they realised that I was actually just trying to do the right thing, and trying to get on with it. After a period of time, I think people got used to me and got used to my nature as far trying to make change and innovate and transform and stuff like that.

Peter Auhl:

My career was splashed through a number of different engagements with both local government and state government, and now I've moved up to New South Wales as the chief information officer for Central Coast Council.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Thank you for sharing that. Your decision to go for technology: what triggered that?

Peter Auhl:

It was after I came back from Coober Pedy. I was very, very fortunate to have a fantastic mentor in my grandfather. My grandfather was an incredibly impressive man. He won an Order of Australian Merit for work that he did around his history work. He was a historian; he wrote a number of books, none of which made any money. It was all for the greater good. And I was fortunate enough to have him in my life at a time that I probably needed some guidance. And ironically he said to me, "Oh, Peter, these computer things, they're starting to take off. I think they're going to be the future, and I think you should go do a course in computing. And here's some money, and I've booked you into this course, now go do it."

Peter Auhl:

Now, it was only a one-week course, but I guess I credit him to really having the insight and foresight to understand that this was going to be an industry that's going to change everything, and it certainly has, so that was the beginning.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Interesting. Thank you. What was your first gadget?

Peter Auhl:

Oh gee, I'm ... My first ... I was always fascinated with pulling things apart, so even before technology gadgets, and I'm not really a gadget person, I'm more a ... probably more came from an engineering sort of mindset I guess, so one of my first gadgets was finding old watches and stuff like that, and having a precision screwdriver and actually pulling them apart, pulling all the cogs out and then trying to get them back together and make them work. And I found that really quite therapeutic.

Peter Auhl:

Any of those sort of fine detail-type activities, I found back then as a young fella quite interesting. But look, gadget-wise, I was always interested in switching and routing and telecommunications infrastructures. My home had Cisco routers and switches that I was playing around with, and I'd set up networks and break them, and I was really interested in making sure I understood how things work, and getting into the detail that sat behind that. So nothing too sexy as far as gadgets were concerned, probably very practical.

Ernst Pelser:

That's interesting. It doesn't actually sound like gadgets triggered your progression into the IT industry, where I think a lot of people that I've talked to, they had specific gadgets that they were interested, which triggered that flow. Let's talk a little bit about your work experience. You mentioned that you went into government. Was that a planned move, or something that just kind of happened?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah. It definitely was planned. Towards the latter part of my 20s, I got some really good advice from a mentor that I was speaking to at that stage, and they suggested that I develop a career plan, and this is advice I give to all people I mentor now. And it was really the thing that changed my career most, I think, sitting down and actually putting some effort into developing a bit of a plan about where did I want to be in five years' time, where did I want to be in ten years' time, and where did I want to be in twenty years' time.

Peter Auhl:

And at that stage, I think I was around 27 or 28, and I gave myself a goal to become a chief information officer by the time I was 45, and I achieved it at 33, I think. So just having that plan in place, and then when I made decisions about my career, I could reflect on, is this decision going to get me to my goal?

Peter Auhl:

And I think having that plan in place and having that mindset around when I'm making career decisions, how does that line up to what I want to achieve in my career, was really, really helpful, and it gave me that sort of bedrock to go back to it and go, right, even if this particular move may be seen as a step backwards ... or when I took a role, put my hand up for an acting role, people will go, "Why did you want to do that [inaudible 00:10:16]?", in my mind I'm thinking, well, I know why I want to do it, because there's a gap in my skillset at the moment and I need to own that, and the best way to do that is to get experience. So I would say not just the move into government was deliberate, but everything that I've done in my career has been quite deliberate, and I've put a lot of thought into the decisions that I make about my career.

Ernst Pelser:

So the decision to go into government, was that tied to the smart cities, or why exactly government, then?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah, look, my first move into state government was into the Department of Treasury and Finance, so you probably couldn't get a more boring agency to actually have your first foray into government. A bunch of accountants, lovely as they may be, it wasn't exactly a dynamic place to work. So I may have messed that up as far as having such an innovative mind, and going into quite a bureaucratic environment. But having said that, I guess again, it gave me some really important building blocks, particularly around political relationships. I was a chief information officer for the Department of Treasury and Finance, but also looking after the Department of Premier and Cabinet as part of that agency, through an SLA, a shared services type arrangement.

Peter Auhl:

I had very constant and common contact with the premier, the under treasurer, the deputy premier, those sorts of people and their offices, so understanding that environment, I think in hindsight, was a fantastic move. Certainly I would love to say I had this grand plan that eventually things were going to turn into a smart city, or ... Really what I would say is, reform that's focused on customer outcomes, and that's really why I ... Probably talk about that a bit later, but that's really where I see smart cities moving to, or are already there at the moment. But yeah, the first move into state government was really trying get into that big, macro ... big, large agency to get exposed and push myself out of my comfort zone.

Ernst Pelser:

So with regards to you moving into the government, I think historically people look at the government as being quite politically ... Now, you're quite an innovative person. How did you find trying to implement things in the government when you started there?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah, incredibly challenging, as it's not the sort of environment that people like me, that are quite innovative, thrive in. Incredibly challenging to push through some of the risk aversion, but I guess part of that was challenging for me as well. So innovating within an environment that is non-accepting of change, was part of the fascination and part of the challenge, which I really embraced. Having said that, I think probably my first real opportunities to truly innovate were when I moved back into local government with the city of [Charles Sturt 00:13:11]. They were really keen to do some different things, had a fantastic CEO, and I reported to a fantastic director at that stage, who was really keen, and gave me really free rein to do some stuff. They'd seen what I'd been trying to do in state government, and just wanted some of that. So we were really able to push the boundaries quite quickly, and really think differently about how we solved problems.

Peter Auhl:

I guess the most fascinating innovation that I do or I love to do is when it relates back to customer outcomes, it relates back to a problem that needs to be solved. When you're actually working in local government, or state governments, there's always a customer at the end of it, and it's really good opportunity for you do something for them, which is incredibly exciting.

Ernst Pelser:

I'm going to pull a little bit towards the work that you've done in Adelaide, because you've already touched on having the customer in mind. Talk to us a bit about Claire in the government, and then also how you manage to convince people to work with that mindset.

Peter Auhl:

Yeah look, certainly Claire's story was a fantastic artefact for explaining or demystifying what technology could do for people. Now before Claire, there was Anna and there was Dave, and those two personas existed in state government, so the idea of actually cobbling together I guess a customer journey from the lens of a customer wasn't new to me, but I think it's Claire's story that actually had the first real traction.

Peter Auhl:

For those that are listening today, Claire's story was an artefact that came out of a pretty comprehensive consultation process to really understand what customers would want in a modern city, so that when we started to design strategy or solutions, we could relate that back to that type of a story. Claire was a fictitious person that lived in New York City, and was thinking about coming to Australia. How could you use information or data from afar to get her to rethink opportunities that existed in this case, Adelaide, from afar? So really exciting ways to take an artefact like that to the political environment, so they could understand ... In not one part of Claire's story, there's a discussion about technology. It's all about data, insights, outcomes, her, Claire.

Peter Auhl:

I guess I knew that it had really delivered some traction in a couple of ways. One, I had an opportunity to pitch to Bloomberg Philanthropies when I was in New York City, and they were absolutely blown away by it. They said they had never seen anything like it in the world. And I actually [inaudible 00:16:02] this seems a pretty simple way of articulating things. They were really, really fascinated about the impact that it had to demystify smart cities, information, data, however you want to look at it, and put it through the lens of a customer.

Peter Auhl:

And I guess secondly, at points in time when we're delivering solutions in the city of Adelaide, customers within the business, not in the IT department, but outside would say, "How would Claire think about this?" And you sort of know ... You knew that you'd actually knitted that into their psyche at that stage, when they're starting to go, every time they're doing something, they're thinking about, well, how would the customer think about this?

Peter Auhl:

I think that was probably one of my more proud moments, or one of my proudest moments in my career, when it wasn't about technology; it was actually starting to retrain people's minds about putting the customer at the centre, and really ... Everyone talks about that now, which is great. I think it's fantastic. But having that to sort of anchor back to, so people can go, "I remember in Claire's story, when she was trying to do this. Now I can how this is coming to fruition." That was a really interesting way of delivering I guess what I would call a video strategy or a visual strategy, where people who not necessarily want to understand all the tin tacks that sit behind technology, could actually understand the meaningful impact that it could have.

Peter Auhl:

And certainly, City of Adelaide elected members were incredibly passionate and supportive of doing things differently. They recognised the opportunity early around Adelaide being geographically isolated, and the importance of actually doing things differently to attract new investment into Adelaide. Certainly Claire's story helped them understand the importance in the smart city space of that agenda particularly, and getting back to really solving human problems.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Interesting. Backtracking probably a little bit, where does your interest in smart cities come from?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah look, I think having come from being in this industry for such a long period of time, I've always been fascinated with data, and in fact, also data and services to customers, even when I was back at Tea Tree Gully many, many ... in my early 20s, we delivered one of the first Wi-Fi networks to a public realm in my early 20s. I'm 47 now, so that's 25 years ago. Back then, that was highly unusual, all right? But that's a smart city project nowadays, but back then it wasn't considered that. But we were thinking about things in ways that were quite different. It was about ... And really, that project came out of ... Imagine if you were a family on a weekend, and you were sitting out in the park in front of the council chambers. And you wanted to watch the kids play some sport, but you also had to do your emails at the same time.

Peter Auhl:

It was at a time that mobile phone technology was pretty rudimentary, and certainly the speeds from the mobile phone network were quite slow. So having high speed internet actually being broadcast 25 years ago out into a park in front of a council was incredibly innovative. I think it's those types of projects that have always been ... They weren't called smart city projects back then, but if you looked at a Wi-Fi project now in a city, it would be called a smart city project. But again, smart city projects for me are using technology to actually solve customer problems, and I think that's something I've always been fascinated by.

Ernst Pelser:

You've already kind of touched on this, but was does smart cities mean to you, okay, and where would you like to see it go?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah, it's a fantastic question. I get asked this very, very often. Smart cities means to me the ability for us to curate information and give it back to customers to make their own decision. If you're looking at an environmental sensor for example, imagine bringing that information together to look at ... there's a particular part of the city that has a high pollen count, and you might have a child that's got asthma. So getting that information out to customers to say, "Hey, be aware if you're going to this part of the city, there's a high pollen count here at the moment, and think about that in the context of your child and their asthma." So for me, it's making sure we're making that connection back to choice.

Peter Auhl:

When we looked at smart parking for example in Adelaide, it wasn't about putting in sexy infrastructure, it was about ... We did the business case that sat behind it, and it was really about focusing on problems around retail attraction in the city. And when we spoke to people, and I guess this is a really important part that a lot of technologists don't do, is actually speak to people, and actually ask them what they need or want. But when we spoke to people, really getting a clear understanding of one of the key reasons they weren't going into the city is because one, it was very difficult to find a car park, and two, if they overstayed just for a few minutes, they end up with a car parking fine. And so we thought ... And we're in competition with a Westfield that was out in the suburbs, so from a retail point of view, how could we change that experience using technology, so effectively giving the control back of that car parking asset to customers to make their own choice?

Peter Auhl:

Park Adelaide, which is now fully deployed, gives control back to people to (a) find their way to a car park in the city, so as you're driving in, it'll assist you to take you directly to where there's a car park that's there, and it'll allow you to top up as well, if you're running just a few minutes late. If you're a mum and dad and you've got an armful of bags trying to race back to your car, again, thinking about Claire's story, again, it's putting yourself in the shoes of the person that's actually trying to consume the service. We don't want people in that situation to come back to a car parking fine. We want to give them the option to top up a little bit, and maybe they only get to do it a couple of times, because we still need movement through the city as well, but again, it's giving control back to customers.

Peter Auhl:

Back to your question there that's around what does it mean to me, well everything that I've done, everything I've tried to achieve as far as my leadership in smart cities, has been very much focused on solving problems or focused on customer outcomes.

Ernst Pelser:

And what do you think is next for smart cities? What would you like to see being implemented?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah look, I think it's about time we made some decisions around scaling some projects. I still think there's an awful lot of people that are piloting stuff, and I think opportunities exist across the nation now for a more common sharing platform around what projects have worked, where's the insight, what's the return on investment, and how people can get things off the ground quite quickly and rapidly to scale. So I'd like to see more scaled projects, but I'd also like to see that relationship back to people.

Peter Auhl:

One of the real challenges is customers don't care about geographical boundaries. They don't particularly know they're in one council area or one city or another. If you're travelling from one spot to another, you don't want to download a different app just because you've crossed the border, or just because you've crossed from one council to another. So I think there is a massive opportunity that exists to start to unify some of the experience, and start to I guess put the swords away, and actually start to think differently about how do we start to bring experience together for people ...

Peter Auhl:

If I'm traveling, and I'm going away on a holiday with my family, I don't want to be thinking about, oh, I've got to download an app to do parking in this different geographical location. Wouldn't it be fantastic if we had a national framework or a national app, a national standard, so everyone can just plug into it, and you've got one platform for [inaudible 00:24:11] that you can use to consume your service? So that's where I think the next wave of innovation has to happen.

Ernst Pelser:

And do you think that's starting to happen, or not yet?

Peter Auhl:

100%, it's starting to happen, and I'm certainly on a number of national task forces that are speaking about this topic specifically, and talking about ways that we can develop standards people can replicate, but also looking at ways that we can really start to show some leadership around sharing. At most events that I speak at, I talk through the concept of being open for business. I'm here, I've got some knowledge, I don't know everything, but whatever I know, I can share. You're welcome to it. I think if we all started to think like that, and how do we actually get information out, and I think it's like anything that's a big issue; it starts with a few people who create a movement, and I think that movement's occurring.

Ernst Pelser:

I love your statement about the government getting out of the way. That must have shaken some trees in the beginning.

Peter Auhl:

Yeah, I think that was probably a thought bubble at a point, and it sort of stuck, I think I said it out loud, and I probably thought I was thinking it. But it sort of makes sense, and it is quite confronting because when you speak to a government about government getting out of the way, they go, "Oh, well what does that mean?" But what it actually means is ... Obviously what it means is that best games of sport are when the referee rarely blows the whistle. And I think you still need a referee in a game of sport, but it's about I guess the concept of government having enough regulation in place to create a safe environment, but not having to put a flag on play every time something goes wrong. How can we entrust people to use information and data better?

Peter Auhl:

Customers are really smart. They're readily consuming services, information, data, now in their personal life. I just think it's a shape shift that's going to happen over the next period of time, where governments are going to catch up to what it is that customers are actually looking for. So government getting out of the way was a little bit controversial, I will say that, but at its heart, it's about how do we provide again those services in a seamless way, so customers don't have to be disturbed in their daily lives?

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Interesting. I do like the whole thinking about ... especially in the government space, about considering your customer, learning from the customer, and then building a solution around the customer. What are those big wins that come out of the Adelaide program? You talked about the smart parking. I know that smart lighting was going on. What else?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah, probably the pinnacle of my career certainly from a project perspective, and the thing that I'm personally most proud of, was the 10 Gigabit Adelaide Project in Adelaide. 10 Gigabit Adelaide was a project that's never been done before in the world, and in fact, the global head of infrastructure in KPMG who works out of London, wrote an article on it that I was incredibly proud to read, that effectively said every city in the world should copy this. And it came out Adelaide, and it actually came out of my wife's art studio in the Adelaide Hills, as again, another thought bubble about solving problems.

Peter Auhl:

I guess at its core, that project was again, focused on problem solving, and I put skin in the game by ... I dedicated a day a week or a day a fortnight to walk around the streets of Adelaide and speak to customers, speak to businesses, ask them, "What's your problem? Why aren't you growing? What would allow you to employ more people? And they said, "Pete, we can see when kids are getting home at 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon. We're trying to get to our cloud service. Our productivity is dropping when kids get home from school at 4:00 in the afternoon."

Peter Auhl:

And of course, Ernst, when kids get home from school, they start their homework straight away. No they don't. They fire up Fortnite or Netflix or YouTube or something like that. So effectively, the problem was crafted in a way that took two things: the price point of connectivity was really high in Adelaide, but secondly this idea that if you're a company that's really focused on data and data movement in your business, or cloud connectivity or something like that, at certain times of the day, you're in competition with domestic internet traffic.

Peter Auhl:

That had a palpable impact on productivity. And some of those businesses were talking about as much as 20%, so that was sort of the problem that was there to solve, and I was like, "Wow, that's really interesting. And having that telecommunications background, and having those switches and routers in my home ... And I went, "I reckon there's a way that we could get around this. I don't think anyone's thought about it in this particular way before."

Peter Auhl:

We started to bring together this idea, this concept, of 10 Gig Adelaide, which is effectively a comprehensive fiber network across the entire city. The scope of it's connecting 3,500 businesses together, 1,000 buildings, 3.5 businesses per building, so 3,500 businesses, in a way that's never been done before. So each business would have their own strand of fiber, and that strand of fiber would be broken up into modules. Each of those modules would carry different services, so you might get ... In your 10 Gig circuit, you may have ... I'll have three Gigabits per second of connection to a cloud service using private fiber links called interconnects into cloud.

Peter Auhl:

And you might also be collaborating across the city with another company, so I'll two Gigabits per second of connectivity between this business and that, which are no longer geographically co-located, so they could be at different parts of the city. And I also need a Gig of internet so people can surf the web, and I also do a lot of video conferencing, so I want a separate circuit just dedicated to video conferencing.

Peter Auhl:

The beauty of it was, none of those services interfered with each other. Okay, so when ... If was doing a robotic operation from one part of the city to another, and someone's downloading, God forbid, Game of Thrones on the internet or something like that, it wasn't going to interfere with that. Or if I was collaborating on the next blockbuster film, there's three people that are doing some of the curation of the video content or something like that on a new blockbuster film for the city, you can collaborate through the city without touching the internet.

Peter Auhl:

The price point was absolutely insane, so our first customer went from about ... I think it was about $9,000 a month for a 500 Megabit per second service, so $9,000 a month down to $798. And so that price point differentiator as well was incredible, so around a 90% reduction in a fixed cost to the business, is absolutely huge. That's an employee. The project looking at some of those issues, $9,500 a month down to $798, and your speed increases by four times, it changed the way people thought about particularly in this case Adelaide, because geographically isolated, who would go to Adelaide? But now you're starting to go, well, at that price point with that infrastructure in place, it's a game changer.

Peter Auhl:

And it worked. Leading a project from concept to implementation, leading the negotiations through the contract phase, was absolutely fascinating. I learned so much. But having the resilience ... back to your question around being an innovative person in a risk adverse environment, having the conversations with people, not giving up ... There's often times where you feel like it's going to come off the road, and sometimes there was deliberate disruption of the project because it was “transformationally” different. It's not dissimilar to the way that Uber has disrupted the taxi industry. This deliberate disruption ... When things like that happen, people get fearful, so having that changed-oriented mind and having that background back to my Treasury and Finance days, having again that anchor, gave me I guess the determination to push through.

Peter Auhl:

But also I'm a father, I have kids. I could see where Adelaide was going if something didn't change, and I wanted to do what I could to actually put some significant pegs in the ground so at least my children had a chance to choose Adelaide as a place to start their career or to end their career. And that's not to say that I wouldn't encourage them to go elsewhere, but as it was looking, it would have been very unlikely that they would have had an opportunity to actually start their career in Adelaide, because the economy was really at a cliff's edge.

Peter Auhl:

This infrastructure really changed the way that people perceived Adelaide. We saw commercial properties that had been on the ... up for sale for many years, being bought up by the likes of Cbus Super and Black Rock and those sorts of big institutional investors. And it's just changed the makeup of Adelaide forever. It's something that I guess was born out of a problem again, which is an important part of everything that I've done ... I like to do the work beforehand. I think it helps tell the story as you're going through the project, being able to sit down with businesses and say, "Well, this is a real problem and here are the people that I speak to that actually articulated the problem. And here's how it's going to get resolved by this project."

Peter Auhl:

It was interesting to see when people got it into their minds, what was going on, and certainly the Lord Mayor at the time and I did a lot of work speaking with a lot of different people. It was one of those projects that almost developed a life of its own. I could actually physically see ... I could remember, sorry, the time that the project became less about me having to drive it, and the actual business community of Adelaide took it up, and went, "We want this. We can see this is going to work. We can see the difference this is going to make."

Peter Auhl:

Seeing something shift like that, I'd never seen that before in my career, and I don't think it's something that in my sort of a role, in my sort of industry, you would see very often. But it was just amazing. Like, it's certainly the most incredible project I've had the pleasure to lead, and had a fantastic team around me. Only a very small team: three or four people at its core. Two of them were incredibly talented women, so a very small, niche group of people, determined, pushing, doing things that are world-leading in a city that was punching well about its weight.

Ernst Pelser:

Interesting. I think you said it started in your wife's art room? Can you talk about that story?

Peter Auhl:

I probably can, but I probably shouldn't tell the whole truth. I lived in ... I still own property in the Adelaide Hills just out of Stirling, and that's sort of my switch-off time. I get home ... It was a beautiful place, three acre property with a dam down the back, cool, a nice climate. But it was ... When I got home, I'd take my suit off, get my shorts on, put my boots on, go potter around in the garden. And then sometimes go out and listen to some music in the art studio that looked out over the property. And I just remember sitting there one weekend with a white board, and just ... I drank a very nice bottle of South Australian red wine, not at once, but over the afternoon, and started to draw up how I could think differently about solving this problem. So I guess two things: some of the best ideas come after a bottle of red wine maybe. I don't know, but maybe that was part of it. And secondly, I think being in that environment that was very special to me, to allow my creative thinking to come to the front, it was great.

Peter Auhl:

And then once the nucleus of it was formed, like in all high-performing teams, going back to my team, testing it with them, refining it, starting to twist and turn it, looking at it through different lenses. I often talked about ... depending on which way you look through the project, you're going to get a different outcome, whether it was economic, whether it was social, whether it was community ... It didn't really matter whether it was financial. You could look through it in different ways. We spent a lot of time doing that, but yeah look, proud it came out of the Adelaide Hills, proud it came out of solving a problem and really, really, proud of the team that worked ... that we worked together on delivering this project.

Peter Auhl:

But most importantly, proud that it actually worked. This has been an incredible outcome, far exceeding any of the business cases that we wrote, just blew it out of the water. And now, it's probably not a week that goes by that I don't get a call from another city somewhere in the world that asks me questions on 10 Gig Adelaide, and what was it about, how did ... those sorts of things. I think you're starting ... Adelaide's certainly got a competitive advantage because they were first, but it's not a set of IP; it's just again, it's a different way of thinking about solving a problem. And certainly I think it'll be replicated as that head of infrastructure in KPMG talked about out of London. I think it's coming, so yeah, incredibly exciting.

Ernst Pelser:

Awesome. That's an awesome story. Thank you for sharing that. We're going to change subject a little bit. I know through some of our previous discussions, you're very passionate about women in technology. Talk to me a little bit about where does your view lay on that, and why you're so passionate about that.

Peter Auhl:

Yeah. I've been so fortunate to have a very long career in technology, and throughout that career, I've noticed it is a very male-dominated industry. And I've always I guess subliminally tried to correct that, but I guess over the last ... particularly over the last five or so years, I've been more deliberate about that, so I think having a platform like mine is a real blessing, and I think it's important for me to use that platform to raise awareness. So this is making sure that we as leaders recognize the importance of calling this out, and motivating people to think differently about technology as an industry of choice, demystifying what is technology, and there's a lot of part of technologies that is still quite foreign to people, so I talk often now about the importance of diversity, and it's not just about gender, it's about all forms of diversity. I've often said you can't make a cake from flour. You need lots of other ingredients to make a beautiful cake. So I think as leaders, we've got to be very conscious of the importance and the value that diversity brings to the workplace.

Peter Auhl:

I guess also, I've got a six-year-old daughter, and she pulls watches apart, so there's a fair bit of me in her, and similarly with my son, he's got that similar mind that he wants to think through problems and solve things, and I would love my daughter to be in a world where there is a myriad of different opportunities for her to pursue. But I guess the most important part for me is I do have a platform. I'm very interested, I'm genuinely interested in diversity of all forms.

Peter Auhl:

Just recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a really lovely person in New Zealand who does a lot of work in the artificial intelligence space. She's a CEO, she's quite young, and I found her incredibly fascinating as a person, and I guess it's about making sure where I see those opportunities, creating bridges between people like her that are inspirational and other women in my team or in my networks from ... on my radar to make sure those bridges are connected, so those particular lessons can be learned from others.

Peter Auhl:

Yeah look, it's certainly ramping up. When I was in New Zealand, and I think we first spoke when I was actually on holidays in New Zealand, and I presented at a conference, and I probably shouldn't have done this, but I did, but that's sort of my style. And I didn't ask the conference organizers. But my daughter was in the crowd. She's obviously over with me in New Zealand, and spoke to the conference organizers about getting her a little badge made up, which they were a little unsure of, but reluctantly they ended up doing it, because I was quite persistent.

Peter Auhl:

It had "Chief Daughter Officer" written on it, so it had my daughter's name, Christina Auhl, and Chief Daughter Officer. And she was loving that. She was beaming and walking around like she was the bee's knees, which was excellent. But I guess it stuck in my mind, and when I got onstage, I could see her in the back of the stage with her Chief Daughter Officer little badge on. And I was onstage about to present, and I just went, "You know what?" I just paused for a second, and I asked the crowd; I said, "Look, my daughter's here today. Would anyone mind if I actually brought her up onstage with me today? She's six years old, and I'm interested in women in technology, and I think you can never start too early."

Peter Auhl:

Of course, I think the conference organizers went, "Oh my God, what's going to happen?" What do they say? Never work with children and animals or something like that? The crowd was very lovely, and no one ... I don't think they really had a choice to be honest, but no one actually said anything to the contrary, so I took that as a yes. There's about 120 people in the room, and I just called Christina up ... This wasn't pre-planned, it was just spontaneous. She didn't bat an eyelid. She just walked straight up, straight onstage, sat down next to me. I delivered my presentation, and I think it's those sorts of moments that as leaders, I think presenting messages like that to broad audiences ... I certainly put a post on it on LinkedIn afterwards, and I got incredible feedback from people about that. In fact, I've spoken to a few people about the potential of using the Chief Daughter Officer title as a bit of a platform for women in technology.

Peter Auhl:

And so it's those little serendipity moments, back to your question around me and my passion around raising awareness around this. I think it's going to take people like me that have had blessed careers, have done some pretty interesting stuff, to harness those serendipity moments and actually do something different. And if it just ... I'm sure a bunch of people went out of that room, going ... Some of them probably went, "What the hell was he doing?" But I'm sure a bunch of them went, "Wow, that was amazing." And I know that for a fact, because I got ... There was a line-up of people wanting to speak to me as I got offstage, commending me for doing that. And it was just ... Like I said, Ernst, there wasn't anything pre-canned, it was just on the spur of the moment.

Ernst Pelser:

And I bet your daughter was talking about it for days afterwards.

Peter Auhl:

Actually, she wasn't. She ... I don't think she cared less. I don't think she actually understands ... I think it was more important to me than to her. She was probably more interested in going rock climbing or something else, than ... Yeah, it was a bit of a ... It was certainly a moment for me.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay, okay. I don't really get this. I don't understand why this is still a problem in our industry, but when we spoke before, you said it's not hard labor, it's not a physical job, and it's also not like we discourage women in technology. But why do you think it's still an issue?

Peter Auhl:

I think it's probably a few things that I think ... One is the way that we train technologists through university. It's still a little ... It's a little complex, I think, and we need to think differently about how we deliver university training. I'm not sure if it's going to be so much of an issue in the next generation, but certainly it is now. I'm genuinely not sure; all I'm sure of is there's something that I can do about it.

Peter Auhl:

In Adelaide, I was doing guest lecturing at the university in design thinking. I was getting out and speaking to schools. Recently, I've been doing some work with a local school, and kids in year 11, and all of those things are important to get awareness out there about the industry, and how as an industry that's accessible to everyone. And I think sometimes I guess history repeats itself, and it's about creating an intervention. So rather than there's a particular problem, I just think there's an intervention that needs to happen to demystify technology as a career choice.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. And then what do you think companies can do? What are some of the small things that they can do to help a situation?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah, I think again, the awareness is a really critical part of this, but identifying where you've got any type of diversity. We've talked about that before as well, Ernst. It's important that leaders are trained in recognizing diversity. Now whether that be your psychometric profile, whether that be your gender, whether that be your style, whether that be your personal circumstances, that diversity is the essence of everything in my mind. I think what industries or what companies should be doing is ... And certainly that was a turning point for me in my career as the first time I got a really comprehensive psychometric profile on myself, and be formally taken through it by someone was when I was at the city of Charles Sturt in Adelaide, and I guess that started my good to great leadership style in my mind, really understanding the nuances between particular types of styles, and then recognizing those when I was recruiting, and being quite deliberate in that as well; not just recruiting someone for their skills, but recruiting people for their fit, and then considering the nature of the team, and how they're going to fit into the team.

Peter Auhl:

But also, I can't tell you the amount of times I've walked into an organization and uncovered the most amazing gems that have actually been inside the organization for some time, that just haven't had a voice. So I'd encourage companies to think about your approach to accessibility as far as getting access to leadership. I think the days of having monolith departments are gone. People need to feel like their leader is accessible. They need to be able to feel like they're going to get time to actually talk to them, because that's important. And having those honest conversations, and being vulnerable and all of those things that are sort of contrary to risk aversion, and probably shouldn't be part of my vernacular, it's those sorts of things I think that you've got to be really conscious of as a leader, because it doesn't take too much spark to create ignition. That's what I've learned. The fuel's there.

Peter Auhl:

You're always going to have some people that won't get on the bus, but there's always going to be a plethora of people that just need a bit of leadership and a bit of help, and someone that's empathetic, really is thinking about their best interests as well as the company's. That's that human side. I love Richard Branson's talking points around training people so that they could leave the company but treat them like they'd never want to leave. I can't remember the exact quote he uses, but it's something along those lines. And it really comes back to that cultural element, to make sure the culture's there to allow all types of people to flourish.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Awesome. We've also in the past talked about dyslexia. You've got an interest in it. We spoke about Richard Branson, that also suffers from dyslexia. What is your interest in this space?

Peter Auhl:

Yeah look, I struggled through school, and I found the school system quite counterintuitive from my perspective, and it's ... I've been reading a lot about dyslexia, and the power of dyslexia more importantly, and how dyslexics' minds are wired very, very differently to non-dyslexics'. There's some quite incredible people like Einstein and Richard Branson and Bill Gates and others that have got dyslexia, so learning more about that, and understanding the importance of that, but I guess also acknowledging there's probably some of the challenges that I experienced through my life ... Again, it was ... I think I got lots of epiphanies in New Zealand for some reason, but I was introduced to a book called The Gift of Dyslexia, which I listened to over Audible or one of those sorts of platforms while we were traveling around.

Peter Auhl:

It was just absolutely fascinating to learn things like dyslexics can think 4,000 times faster than a non-dyslexic, process information in that way so again, getting back to that diversity topic, how do you blend people that are ... those strategic thinkers that can see over the horizons with the risk adverse people with ... Building that cake mixture to make the most perfect cake is incredibly important. So learning more about that, recognizing I guess the signs of that, but also being passionate about the adaptation of our education system to embrace that also, I think's going to be really important.

Peter Auhl:

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. Dyslexia's almost like machine learning. The way that dyslexics think and the way they process information is probably what they're trying do with computers now around machine learning. I found that comment that my friend made quite fascinating, but I reflected on it and went, "Wow, you're spot on," so she thought about it in that way, and I went, "I've never thought about it in that way, but I think you're actually spot on." Having the power to think differently like that, I think's incredibly important to embrace, and then I've also had many different types of people on my teams before. I've had employees that have been ... had challenges of a personal nature.

Peter Auhl:

I've also had an employee once that had Asperger's, and a friend of mine had Asperger's, and I was trying to coach this ... He was actually a trainee, and I coached through ... actually coaching myself through understanding how I could get the best out of this trainee that had Asperger's. The way that his mind worked was just absolutely incredible. And so if you could harness that and actually help him get the best out of himself, but also the organization recognized the importance of that diversity in their makeup ... And I think, back to your original question around what companies should be doing, and I think educational programs around diversity more broadly would be fantastic.

Ernst Pelser:

I'm going to put you a little bit on the spot here. What do you think smart cities can do for dyslexia?

Peter Auhl:

I don't think it's what smart cities can do for dyslexia. I think it's probably what dyslexics could do with smart cities.

Ernst Pelser:

Ah, that's interesting.

Peter Auhl:

I think there's actually a company in the UK now that's recruiting for people that are only dyslexics. And so we're starting to see some shifts in the way that people are thinking about that diversity question. This particular company, it's very much focused on strategic ability, and they're recognizing that to get the best out of people, someone that has that mindset or the way of thinking like is critical.

Peter Auhl:

The smart city movement is around big data. It's around services and integration of systems and services. To have people that can think strategically about how that can actually impact people's lives, but also can see the patterns and how that all knits together, I think's going to be critical. So I would say not what the smart city can do for a dyslexic, but what a dyslexic can do for a smart city may be a quote that's quite important.

Ernst Pelser:

Fascinating. So what's next for you?

Peter Auhl:

I don't know. I'm probably at a point in my life that I'm keen for another challenge, something different. I'm not sure what that feels like yet, whether that's in a different industry, whether that's doing something completely different, whether that's just pushing boundaries of where I'm currently at in my career. I think the beauty of the technology industry is it changes so often.

Peter Auhl:

The changes I've seen over my blessed career have been just unbelievable. When I started in my early 20s, we had a room that you could book the internet for 30 minutes, and we had our email server dial up every hour, and then up- and download emails, and everyone would be sort of waiting on the hour for their emails to flood through and out, coming into the organization and then out. I decommissioned my first mainframe when I was 22, and those sorts of things to now, we're starting to see accessibility of compute power is everywhere. Our smartphones have more compute power than the PC that I had when I was in my 20s. It's just incredible.

Peter Auhl:

I think I've got a lot to offer, and I've been in this industry for a long time, and I think the beauty of being in the technology industry is you see across the business. You're not really sitting in a silo; you're actually working across the business, and that comes with its own challenges at times as well, because you are working across the business, but also it gives you exposure to things that not everyone gets exposed to. So when you're in normal discipline area, you're sort of seeing your service as quite ... I won't use the word "silo", but quite unique.

Peter Auhl:

When you're working in technology, but particularly as a chief information officer, you're seeing the way that data, services, processes need to integrate across the business. And I don't know; I think there's going to be a movement in the next five to ten years where people that have had careers in technology will be seen differently, as far as their ability to move into CEO roles. We're already starting to see that, particularly internationally. I think it's coming from that ability to see across the business. Most people in technology have got pretty rounded and honed skills now, albeit it's still quite an infant industry.

Peter Auhl:

What's next for me? Look, I sometimes miss the Adelaide Hills. I miss my little mini loader, my little mini Bobcat that I used to drive around and move dirt from here to here, and I miss pottering around, so I think whatever the future holds in my career, it'll certainly need to be blended with some pretty interesting downtime on the weekends, where I get the suit off and pull on my boots and go get dirty and muddy, and weld some stuff together or build some furniture or plant a tree. They're the sort of things that I really find really relaxing for me.

Ernst Pelser:

Awesome. Well, Peter, this was your first podcast, right?

Peter Auhl:

That's right.

Ernst Pelser:

Hope you have enjoyed the process.

Peter Auhl:

It's been fantastic. Thanks so much, Ernst.

Ernst Pelser:

Peter, thank you very much for your time. Have a great day.

Peter Auhl:

Thank you very much.

Ernst Pelser:

Thank you for listening to the Tech Leaders Talk Show. I'm your host, Ernst Pelser. If you've enjoyed listening to the show, please help us by rating the show on your favourite podcast platform, and share it with your friends. If you have any feedback or questions, please reach out to me on LinkedIn.

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