ACT News

Future Canberra: DAMsmart founder seeks IT superhighway

DAMsmart boss Joe Kelly says ultra-fast broadband is the key to a hi-tech future for the ACT. This is the second in a four-part series on broadening the ACT's economic base.

Canberra has the ability to become an information technology start-up hub pulling innovators from all over Australia if industry and government partner in a gigabit-capable broadband network, a Mitchell entrepreneur has said.

Joe Kelly, director of DAMsmart, a successful ACT tech start-up, says Canberra has the human talent but needs to build ...
Joe Kelly, director of DAMsmart, a successful ACT tech start-up, says Canberra has the human talent but needs to build the tech infrastructure. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Joe Kelly, the general manager of DAMsmart, said his company recovered and digitised text, image, audio and video records from a wide range of formats for clients all over the world.

The company's most recent major project was digitising 40,000 betacam tapes for Radio Television Hong Kong, the island province's equivalent of the ABC.

Its next challenge is digitising audio and visual records for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

"The RTHK collection covered a whole range of genres," Mr Kelly said. "There was drama, music, news, entertainment, sport – a pretty standard broadcast collection."


The project became a major priority when it was discovered more than half of the tapes had been infected with high levels of mould.

"We were able to demonstrate our capability to recover their damaged and mouldy collection and create a high-quality digital video archive."

The contract, which Mr Kelly said was worth "several million Australian dollars" took six full-time equivalent staff more than 18 months to complete.

Both ends of the process were handled manually, even though the finished archive was in digital form.

"By the time we created all data requirements for Hong Kong, we generated close to one petabyte of data, which is around 1000 terabytes," he said. "That would be around about 200,000 DVDs' worth of data."

There was just no way that much information could be sent back to Hong Kong via the NBN.

"Bandwidth for us is all about uploading data from here to the cloud or to a customer," Mr Kelly said.

"That [uploading a petabyte] would be cost prohibitive. The maximum bandwidth we can get from the NBN is 40 megabits per second."

At this speed one hour of high-quality video would take several hours to upload.

Because of this, DAMsmart currently uses high-capacity physical data storage mediums. These include LTO data tape and, in some instances, high-capacity hard drives.

"We need access to data networks of a gigabit [or more] bandwidth, as opposed to megabits or hundreds of megabits," Mr Kelly said.

"When we look at start-up precincts or technology precincts in other parts of the world, in California or south-east Asia or wherever you happen to be, in many cases they have access to even 10 gigabit networks. Accessibility becomes an incentive to move to a particular area."

Mr Kelly said it would make sense for the ACT government to consider this type of infrastructure.

"I don't think the NBN cuts it at the extreme end of data movement and access to broadband networks," he said.

International investment and the retention of the knowledge, skills and expertise of Canberra's growing army of IT workers were just some of the benefits that would flow from ultra-high-speed broadband.

"In the context of an IT development hub, access to very high bandwidth networks is a must have."

Such networks already exist in Canberra, but are restricted to the federal government, Telstra, defence industries and other players with deep pockets.

"Start-ups and small techs and companies under development cannot afford the connection and ongoing costs," Mr Kelly said.

He believes Canberra is well placed to take on the world with a raft of high-technology industries as much of the infrastructure and human talent pool is already in place.

"What I would love to see, though, is for Canberra Airport to become international," he said.

"Access to international flights would be a great outcome, even if it was just direct flights to Singapore."

Mr Kelly, who praised Chief Minister Andrew Barr's efforts to develop international flight links, said such connections would open up many opportunities.

"In terms of the human factor, we've got access to some of the cleverest people in Australia in Canberra. We are able to leverage organisations like the CSIRO, ANU, CIT and the defence industries, which already attract and retain very talented people."

He said while Canberra was already a smart city in terms of its human capital, the next challenge was to make it a smart city in terms of its technology base and infrastructure.

"I believe the ACT government acknowledges that and understands that," he said. "We are at a very good point if we can get a couple more of the fundamentals right."