The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 16









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Impressions of the Ozeculture Conference, June 2001

by Paul Bentley


Article originally published in Online Currents, September 2001 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd. 

The Australian cultural industry paused in Melbourne last month to check the compass on the e-business map.  Organised by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts to help the industry rethink service delivery in the digital age, the Ozeculture Conference attracted 300 delegates from libraries, museums, arts institutions, broadcasters, multimedia companies and other organisations to survey progress and prospects via presentations on art, business, play and technology.


John Rimmer, National Office of the Information Economy CEO, was the beacon.  The cultural industry, as a facilitator of knowledge embedded products and services, is a potential wealth generator in the information economy.  To capitalise on opportunities, he said, we need to create a better understanding of a sector consisting of project-oriented micro businesses, freelance contractors and a small number of larger production/distribution intermediaries around which smaller producers cluster.  Central issues include the standard problems of all small businesses, new employment dynamics and models, and deficits in entrepreneurial business skills and industry data.

Growth is dependent on successful navigation of apparently contradictory and competing forces, industry restructuring and converging information, communication and broadcasting technology.  The cultural sector needs to:

  • make a better map of its information entities

  • use the new tools to transform business processes and business models

  • move from a value chain model to a value network model

  • develop collaborative networks and clusters linked to distribution channels

  • develop infrastructure and business support systems to promote growth

  • allocate investment funds in a more sustainable fashion

  • develop and maintain creativity in the ‘humdrum workaday world’

  • integrate digital growth products with their industry roots.

Garry Brennan, Policy Consultant to the NSW Film and Television Office, emphasised the  effect of online transactions in the changing economy.  Some industries – the airline and banking industries, for example – were experiencing significant reductions in transaction costs. In the labour intensive cultural sector, however, not much had changed in thirty years: costs are still rising, there are barriers to change, and there is significantly less investment in technology, management and systems than in other sectors.

To compete, Brennan proposed that the industry commodify arts administration, based on shared development of best practice models, business process re-engineering and investment in technology and management.  In contrast to David Walker’s advice (see Reality Check below), his view was that enterprises need to change everything if they want serious gains, focus on the 80% common ground in shared enterprises and make 80% of everything digital.

Jennifer Condon, National Information Director of Enterprise Ireland, oversees the embryonic Irish digital media industry in the Celtic tiger economy. Her blueprint for generating wealth from the chemistry of creativity and technology involves development of 15 industry sectors, including the entertainment industry, investment in free education, availability of graduates and technical degree courses, a productive work ethos, a world class telecommunications infrastructure and low corporate tax.  The driver is content - content creation, content production and content management, coupled with technology development.   One manifestation of this strategy is the Dublin Digital District, a regenerated Guinness brewery precinct that will comprise physical and virtual clusters of high-tech enterprises wired with shared services and broadband technology, linked to educational institutions and media training companies, and fuelled by strong investment and marketing.


The bulk of the conference drew on local experiences and ideas under a number of broad themes. 

  • Web management, digitisation and e-business.  Musician Charlie Chan was the prime example of disintermediation.  She writes and records her own music and maintains her own website to successfully leapfrog barriers created by the record companies.  Libby Jeffery spoke about the OzAuthors online publishing project, designed to prepare and protect creators in the digital distribution of their works utilising digital rights management software.  Michael Tuite outlined ScreenSound’s phased, iterative approach for dovetailing collection management imperatives with broadband delivery of services. Danielle Freeman emphasised the benefits of cross sectoral collaboration demonstrated by the successful PicturesAustralia project.  Neville King, project manager of the Desart website, offered a case study in information literacy – helping remote indigenous communities to make the most of business opportunities through the use of technology.    Kylie Bryden-Smith from the Sydney Opera House, shared her experiences in developing the e-business strategy of a major performing arts venue in which online ticketing currently represents 12% of  box offices sales, a percentage expected to grow to 30% by 2003.

  • Portals and gateways.  In a conference that coincided with the launch of the culture and recreation portal as one of 18 Australian government subject sites, several presenters offered the wisdom of their experience. Kevin Sumption from Australian Museum On Line highlighted the unpredictable, constantly changing nature of site hits. His tips were: use log files to track visitor patterns; redesign and repackage the site annually according to user needs; use metadata; and employ e-lists for feedback.  Grant Malcolm, creator of Theatre Australia, the portal of the Independent Theatre Association, recommended that we engineer a collaborative dynamic in portal sites, remove barriers, and don’t charge for low value content. 

  • The intellectual property minefield was traversed in presentations by Delia Browne (Arts Law Centre of Australia), Vanessa Rouse (New Wave Festival), and Vivien Johnson (Centre for Cross Cultural Research).  

  • New spaces, interactivity and games.. Ross Gibson, Creative Director of Cinemedia's Australian Centre for the Moving Image, urged institutions to mobilise audience sensibilities by finding new concepts, rhythms and linkages to shape architectural and infrastructural solutions.  This set the scene for David Stonier to describe Melbourne Museum’s spectacularly successful Ice, an interactive cinema experience, which improved visitor comprehension and appreciation. 

  • Associations and partnerships. Cliff Smith, South East Asia Regional Director of Novell and Councillor at the Australian Business and Arts Foundation, led a session on the subtle dynamics of sponsorship, which is as much dependent on relationships as the bottom line.  Lynne Spender of the Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association, the only  professional industry association represented at the conference,  outlined tentative lobbying strategies through an ICT Alliance.


David Walker’s presentation Keeping an Even Keel failed to attract more than a handful of punters away from the rival stream on virtual exhibitions, but was worthy of plenary status. His thesis: 

  • Hype has been rife. Organisations have given into the hype, have underestimated the cost, and have overestimated needs and outcomes. The promise of easy results has been reckless.  Catastrophic failures have been common.

  • Understanding of the Internet has been woolly. The Internet is a utility medium like the telephone. Usage patterns are well established and are not changing much.

  • Online projects cost money.  Project management is tough.  Ongoing maintenance is tough. Most IT departments don’t deliver what they promise. Management irresponsibility dooms most online projects.

To make the problem worse, he urged organisations to pursue overambitious organisational strategies, follow overambitious timetables, use overambitious systems and believe that huge new changes in online behaviours are just around the corner.

To alleviate the problem, he suggested that organisations define business objectives, start small and grow, remember the Pareto (80/20) rule, use prototypes and adopt the new McKinsey formula for e-business success: find a well defined group of customers, stick to a niche, avoid bleeding edge technology, experiment ruthlessly during the early stages, avoid high-cost partnerships and make websites easy to use. 


The conference was a timely event, particularly as it more or less coincided with a major statement by a departing Australia Council chairman and the release of the ALP’s Knowledge Nation policy.

The digital journey since the arrival of the Internet has been exposed to the vicissitudes of Government turnover, board and management churn and the seductive power of new software and hardware.

In the CD ROM era, the ALP in Creative Nation, released in 1994 by the Department of Communications and the Arts (when information technology had not yet achieved portfolio status), based its cultural policy on traditional support of institutions and nurturing ‘cultural production in an information age’ through the development of multimedia enterprises, co-operative multimedia centres, multimedia forums, and Australia on CD and new media programs.      

With the transfer of the reins to the Liberal Government in 1996 and the explosion of the Internet, government policy shifted the emphasis from well being to wealth creation.  The strategy for the information economy, released in 1999, was predicated on innovation and productivity to boost national income and living standards. This involved development of skill, infrastructure, e-commerce, Australian content, culture and information industries. 

The release of  the innovation action plan Backing Australia’s Ability in 2001 reflected a further policy shift which acknowledged the importance of research and development.  

Australia Council Chairman Margaret Sears, in her retirement talk to the National Press Club in June, rated government performance on cultural policy as one of ‘benign neglect’. She said that governments of both colours had been lazy in developing local content, the culture industry was mysteriously absent from the innovation agenda and education, as a core ingredient of creativity, had been undervalued.

The ALP’s Knowledge Nation blueprint, released in July, suggests the ALP would address  the policy shortfalls in education and  research and ‘strengthen support for the arts and creative industries through funding for the ABC, the Australia Council, the nation’s galleries and other important public institutions.’  Shades of Creative Nation. 

These pronouncements and John Rimmer’s presentation suggest that the pendulum will swing to a rounder view of culture, information management and technology in Government circles over the next few years.  The Ozeculture conference was punctuated by old ideas re-badged as new-found wisdom -  the need for shared information, integrated systems and business acumen – suggesting that other organisations, too, may have learnt the lessons articulated by David Walker. 

The compass seems well placed on the map. We just need to follow the arrow. 

Some of the organisations and websites mentioned in this article
  • Ozeculture conference and papers

  • Arts Law Centre of Australia

  • Australian government’s Culture and Recreation portal

  • Australian Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

  • Charlie Chan Music

  • Enterprise Ireland

  • Lighthouse on the Web

  • National Office of the Information Economy

  • Oz Authors

  • ScreenSound Australia

  • Sydney Opera House

  • Theatre Australia


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