In this episode of the Disrupt Podcast, Gavin is joined by Markus Hafner, Manager, Social Media, NSW Department of Industry.
We talk about the New South Wales Government’s new startup hub, the role of government in the innovation ecosystem and what it takes to shift the dial within and outside government.
Markus has been involved with the Australian digital industry for over 20 years, holding leadership positions across technology, marketing, and strategy.
Founder Disruptor's Handbook
Gavin is a marketing technologist, strategist and advisor. He is the founder of the Disruptor’s Handbook – a strategy and innovation firm that brings the best of startup approaches to the enterprise.
Gavin: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Disrupt podcast Markus Hafner. Could you please introduce yourself.
Markus: [00:00:04] Hi I’m Markus Hafner. I am a digital strategist, by background, I’m currently working in government have been in government for the past year or so. It’s the first time I’ve played in government organisation. My background is actually in private enterprise working a lot in startups from the late 90s probably through start up land to 2012 also did some public service work at the ABC as well as some digital agency work. But I’m here now in government.
Gavin: [00:00:38] Here now in government and that means lots of different things to lots of people, but when we’re talking about innovation and disruption you would think that government is not really the land of innovation and disruption.
Markus: [00:00:51] Look I think that I think is ripe for it is perhaps the right way of expressing it. I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for it and there are some pockets of government that are doing some amazingly innovative things as a government. The NSW government itself has actually started a large fund that’s around about 200 million dollar mark for an enterprise called Jobs for New South Wales and now that’s a combination of government backed and private linked enterprise and they’re in the business of actually providing funding for a whole lot of enterprises to go off and build innovative companies where ideally all of which will result in jobs building up the NSW economy. So they are sort of directly involved in powering a whole lot of innovation that would be one example of governments being innovative and actually sort of helping to disrupt the status quo.
Gavin: [00:01:58] So part of that obviously is the startup hub that’s come down down the path right.
Markus: [00:02:05] Absolutely yeah. So the startup hub is going to be out and there’s going to be absolutely awesome. So that’s going to be done by Wynyard green and it’s going to have 11 levels of start ups, incubators, accelerators that’s going to mean two and a half thousand people working in the one building on building really new cool shit. So anchor tenants in there are some of the major and well-known accelerators the likes of stone and trool tanks room lamps, the studio. There is going a whole lot of really interesting things that happen. I think that when you start to throw a whole lot of people together well you can’t necessarily predict what the outcomes are going to be. But it just seems as if there will be sort of a whole lot of bubbling of really great creative energy and ideas.
Gavin: [00:02:57] It’s drawn upon. Like you said a range of different groups and bringing more together so we’re getting that we’re finally getting that density that everyone has been talking about in one space.
Markus: [00:03:08] Yeah absolutely so with that it’s a lot easier now to start actually give a start up going to get a business going than it was 10 years ago. So I recall having my own business with a business partner about 10 years ago and things were quite difficult at that point. There was there was there was more admin, there was very little support. Whereas nowadays there’s the ecosystem in Sydney has evolved a lot. There’s a lot of people a lot more people are actually looking at startups as a viable option with them including directly from school or university. There’s a support network in place that wasn’t there previously I’d suggest that you know whilst it’s easier to get things going now. It might actually be harder to necessarily get the same cut through as previously.
Gavin: [00:04:01] Right, so start ups are sexy now.
Markus: [00:04:03] Yeah well start ups are sexy now and everyone has a start up and some places it’s like if you know if you’re not involved with three or four start ups then hey what are you doing.
Gavin: [00:04:11] Three or four is that all?
Markus: [00:04:13] Yeah exactly. Yes I think the start up hub I’m really looking forward to it. That’s I mean over the next year I think it’s going to have a profound impact on the Sydney. There’s going to be a lot of the whole congregation of people in one space is going to be a lot of activity and ideally well hopefully everyone is going to sort of embrace each other. Hopefully it won’t be too much competitiveness well if there is a competitiveness it’ll be in a positive manner. So yeah exactly.
Gavin: [00:04:44] Excellent. And what do you think the role of government is? We talk about simple things we say oh we need space or we need support but often what we think is needed is hard to do. We don’t see behind the scenes of what it takes for example to pull together something like a startup hub or provide grant funding or any of those sorts of things from your perspective. You’re seeing a whole lot of levers and a lot of gears and number crunching that goes on behind the scenes. Do you think the startup community understands what is required to make this stuff happen?
Markus: [00:05:21] I think the short answer is No I don’t. I don’t think that people are aware of everything that needs to happen and the complexities that are involved for government certainly, certainly since coming into a government role a year ago my eyes have been opened to just how much goes on and that I guess there’s a whole lot of conflicting stakeholders and so that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to happen right? You might go you might be obvious to what seems obvious to a startup owner, “hey yes we should provide grants we should do absolutely everything that we can do for startup owners.” On the one hand that makes sense but on other hands for people who are maybe more interested in healthcare for argument’s sake it makes less sense for some people more interested in other areas as well. So there’s a lot of complexity to government and getting things done does require does does take time. Right. So I think managing to get some stuff out there is I think it’s a fantastic achievement I think and certainly there’s been a whole lot of enthusiasm and from the start up community about it and I think that’s probably a sign that something positive is going on.
Gavin: [00:06:37] Cool, so when is that likely to take place when are we going to see. So I think we’ve already seen tanks stream labs go in. Is that right?
Markus: [00:06:44] Yes so look at tank stream labs have moved in and now so that’s which is great. It’s good to see that’s happening. The next anchor tenants will be moving shortly unable to provide specific dates. Certainly be going beyond my pay grade to sort of mention any of that. But yeah I think that yeah next year looks very promising with it.
Gavin: [00:07:05] So there’s some critical momentum taking place now in amongst the startup community, the government and the various different organisations, universities, accelerators and associated groups. Where do you think we’re going to see some activity next? Are we going to see some activity or innovation within government.
Markus: [00:07:25] I think that it makes sense for that to happen and I think it a lot I mean I’d certainly like to see that happen. What my observation is so far is that there are still some quite major silos. And so I witnessed something similar at the ABC whilst I was there. There were a lot of divisions at the ABC and there was a few years ago, three or four years ago and that ended out resulting in a large restructure where they were attempting to sort of transform and move away from the siloed approach. I see something quite similar in government. There are different departments. It does differ to the ABC example however and so far as whenever there’s a change of government there’s going to be a change in the structure of the actual way that the departments themselves.
Gavin: [00:08:18] Right
Markus: [00:08:18] So different areas will start and will move from one for example from the Department of Industry to the Department of Premier and Cabinet or somewhere else. So it doesn’t always stay still.
Gavin: [00:08:29] Right.
Markus: [00:08:30] That’s problematic. It means you can’t always get as many learnings on the other hand. On the flip side to that is because of that movement it does actually sort of enable a transfer of ideas rather than theories. So beyond that there seems to be a number of whole of government initiatives and if they can get the right momentum and get people on board which does require playing nicely then you know there could be some great collaboration within the government itself.
Gavin: [00:09:02] So had there been some things that you’ve identified from your experience in the private sector that you can apply into the world of government that gives you a difference or gives you an edge to make that change happen
Markus: [00:09:15] I think one of the key areas is I don’t know if this is specifically based on private sector experience. However there is a lot of scope for capability development and so I have been relatively surprised at the general technology literacy of people and that has also been sort of reflected in some of the systems that are being used. So I’d say that from a digital transformation perspective it’s very early days here. And there’s a number of interesting systems that are being rolled out but you know it’s sort of really the first step of a digital transformation and so yeah I think that it’s good that they’re starting to happen but again I’m surprised, it’s a number of years further back from where I was expecting and it’s certainly nowhere near as agile as any of the start ups I’ve been involved with.
Gavin: [00:10:13] Right right.
Markus: [00:10:14] Yeah but look there’s great reasons why some things need to be done as they are and a start up, hey you get stuff done you know you get stuff done you pivot you you move you pivot you know that is how you operate, the government quite can’t quite do that. It’s got a lot of restrictions some of which are through legislation. So for example just making sure that you’ve got it so you’ve got the state record keeping the right reason for the headers in case there’s an inquiry at finding out what’s happened and let’s say that which makes a lot of sense. So if something does go wrong people want to find out why. And you’d need to be able to follow that trail.
Gavin: [00:10:56] Right.
Markus: [00:10:57] You don’t need to do that as a start up. You have obviously got obligations from a compliance perspective however those obligations are a lot less than the government.
Gavin: [00:11:09] That’s right. We’re not going through an audit in your own records.
Markus: [00:11:12] Exactly.
Gavin: [00:11:12] Yes exactly. So okay cool, one of the things that I think was interesting in a recent podcast with Jarther Taylor was to talk we were talking about looking at technology as the silver bullet and Jarther’s point of view was really you should break this down into you know these 30 percent chunks and you look at your technology and say so we are going to through 30 percent of our budget on that and then we’re going to do 30 percent on process change and 30 percent on consultants and then we kind of got the whole the whole package that you really can’t just rely on the technology by itself you need a process, you need people, you need change and you need to get sort of that engagement working. Are you’re seeing that kind of thing happening here in government as well
Markus: [00:11:58] I think it’s really … I think it’s a great model and I think with the emphasis I’ve seen has been more it has been more technology driven.
Gavin: [00:12:07] Right.
Markus: [00:12:07] And I think there would be certainly additional benefit of that being more human focused. So unless one can have people adopting the technology and actually really enjoying using.
Gavin: [00:12:19] Enjoying using technology?!
Markus: [00:12:20] Enjoying using it. Yeah absolutely. I mean you want people to you want to make people’s lives better.
Gavin: [00:12:25] Right.
Markus: [00:12:25] Ultimately and there can be no care at all in saying government is a profound impact for big change but even if I was designing any sort of software system people are going to use it, it’s going you want to positive people to have a positive experience. So when it comes down to looking at larger scale changes I think getting the people involved and making it actually really enjoyable for them making them see the benefits and actually have a smile on their face I think it’s going to be more impactful to the greater uptake.
Gavin: [00:12:54] People are smiling and working in government and smiling and enjoying themselves.
Markus: [00:13:00] Well we’re allowed to enjoy ourselves just not too much right?
Gavin: [00:13:03] So it’s interesting that you can see the big levers in government. You can see big levers and big changes that can be made. Are there also small changes that you find are just making things work in the work that you do
Markus: [00:13:18] Absolutely. There are some very basic systems and sort of ways of making sort of minor changes in terms of the forms that are being used and the types of approvals that one needs to go through, sort of adjusting some of those, also then looking at what goes on and asking the question ‘why you know why we doing this?’ And if the answer is hey because we’ve always done it this way that’s not really good answer that’s not acceptable. Sometimes it might be. I certainly found that the ABC, that there were it was a question I would also ask a lot. So why does this occur? Often there would be a really sound reason and it’d go fantastic. I know a lot more now and in the event that there wasn’t a sound reason, it’d one of okay how can we change this? What of us is required. How do we find out more information? The smaller the smaller changes here also really again sort of revolved around capability development so I don’t have a team that I don’t have a large team, I would like a larger team. So what I need to do is I need to ensure that in order to achieve what I’d like to achieve that I can get other people involved and take them on a journey.
Gavin: [00:14:42] Right.
Markus: [00:14:42] And so that means looking at their roles and working out where those changes are. So I’m in a media team at the moment and it is really about up-skilling them so that means beyond having traditional journalistic credentials. Looking at how that’s evolving so providing them with the tools and mindset to sort of start looking at content differently so not just in terms of traditional television news or traditional newspaper news or even traditional online news but I’m looking at how is content changing how how is the whole world of communication changing what’s needed to get there. So looking at again skilling them up in terms of video, skilling them up in terms of podcasts getting them to be aware of how that’s going to change, how it becomes part of their overall storytelling.
Gavin: [00:15:41] So storytelling is huge right and it’s something that we’ve known about and been thinking about for many years now but we haven’t seen a lot of great storytelling from government except in the news in terms of announcements. But what you’re talking about is a revolution or an evolution of storytelling within a government, big government departments around programs not necessarily just announcements.
Markus: [00:16:07] Yeah I think that yeah there’s this so much that goes on so that it’s really easy for frameworks to go okay we’re going to make this announcement let’s get it out the door. People are incredibly busy amazed at the sheer volume of stuff that goes on. And so whether it’s because we’re resource poor that we can’t do justice to the storytelling. Then again some people said it’s not a bad thing because we don’t want to employ more people in government whether it’s that or because we just haven’t got there. I suspect it’s probably a combination, we will probably see changes. I’d like to see changes to the storytelling that will sort of ideally sort of highlight how all of the government activities all or government activities relate to the individuals involved as well as to the collective. So I think government does have a role in terms of reminding people as to their place as being part of a greater part of a collective so that they aren’t, yes they are individuals and everyone is unique however they also have responsibilities to other people.
Gavin: [00:17:18] Looking across all that you’ve seen and what’s the what’s the thing that you’re most excited about or what are you looking forward to seeing come to life
Markus: [00:17:31] Look there’s a couple of things I think the time there’s a huge opportunity because I see it the amount of activity that goes up within the department and there’s a lot of amazing programs. That isn’t at this point where there’s room for improvement in terms of the communication and making sure that people are aware of what some of these programs are. So on the one hand it’s the awareness of them making people aware of you know the great programs that are there. There’s a lot of people who are trying to get really great stuff happening.
Gavin: [00:18:07] Right.
Markus: [00:18:07] Yet for the benefit of society not for themselves. Plus the other side is really looking at the way of developing connections within government. So I see that as sort of one of the really interesting opportunities and ideally making things happen quicker happen quicker.
Gavin: [00:18:27] I like the idea of that.
Markus: [00:18:30] Absolutely.
Gavin: [00:18:31] So looking back on your career, thus far, has there ever been a piece of advice or an insight you’ve been given, that’s changed the course of events for you
Markus: [00:18:44] Piece of advice? There’s I think that one has to ultimately do something that one is happy doing but that’s really sort of you know that is different for different people but when looking at that sort of happiness it’s really sort of trying to work it out from a ‘is it going to satisfy you?’. In terms of your emotional needs your inquisitive needs, intellectual needs as well as your financial needs.
Gavin: [00:19:15] Right.
Markus: [00:19:15] And what is it that you want to be able to achieve and so before starting in government I was asking myself okay what is it that I want to do next. I had been working on a digital ad agency selling a lot of widgets effectively. I found that some for some parts of that just were relatively uninspiring and so one of the reasons for taking the role here was an opportunity to make an impact and so I thought okay well government it’s an opportunity to have it be part of an impactful organisation and then the role itself I sort of saw as being an opportunity to have an impact and create something new. It wasn’t a brownfields role it was it was a great fields able to set my own agenda effective.
Gavin: [00:20:02] Fabulous seting our own agenda, we all seem to like the idea of that but very few of us ever get the chance or make that chance happen.
Markus: [00:20:10] Absolutely. So I think just with that, I mean it’s it’s not always easy and when people respond to structure and having those frameworks it’s really great if you’ve got those, so being able to then if you if you don’t have it mapped out for you to sort of actually sort of put up the framework start going with it and they’re not all actually actually realize it’s okay to you know break it back down and then you build it up again.
Gavin: [00:20:34] Being agile in government!
Markus: [00:20:36] I know it’s crazy right.
Gavin: [00:20:38] I’d like to be respectful of your time Markus. Thanks a lot for this conversation. Is there anywhere on the web that we can find you particularly?
Markus: [00:20:48] You’ll find me on both: LinkedIn, So Marcus M A R K U S Hafner H A F N E R and Twitter I go by the name of Eskimo_Sparky.
Gavin: [00:21:00] Awesome. Thanks for your time.
Markus: [00:21:02] Thank you.
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