Success graduates from BRII initiative
Ben Hobby: The BRII program put new urgency behind the Reach development program - and added customers
Itree has launched its secure inter-agency information sharing platform, Reach, following a 15-month pilot under the federal government’s embryonic Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII).
The Wollongong-based firm, which specialises in regulatory and compliance software for customers including the state and federal government, was initially awarded $99,500 to carry out a 90-day feasibility study before being granted an additional $934,000 to undertake a proof-of-concept.
Reach was designed to specifically address challenges around sharing of information nationally to ensure at-risk children are kept safe. It was one of five challenges that was set out as part of the BRII.
BRII was launched in July 2016 as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). It was designed to help small Australian companies bid for government policy and service delivery challenges.
It is an idea that was borrowed from similar programs in the US (called the Small Business Innovation Research program) and the UK (Small Business Research Initiative).
Itree chief executive Ben Hobby said that while the firm had initial intentions to design a solution like Reach, it wasn’t until the BRII came along did the company commit to do anything about it.
“We were thinking about it, but timing wasn’t set in stone. The fact a challenge-based innovation initiative came up via BRII, it was just an instigating factor for us,” he told InnovationAus.com.
“We thought if it was going to be sponsored then we can formulate our plans and actually build it right now, especially because it wasn’t going to disrupt our core business.”
Reach has been designed to provide advanced search and matching technology to enable state and territory child protection agencies to find and securely share relevant records from across jurisdictions in real-time, and ultimately prevent further harm or risk to children or families.
The technology has the potential to replace what is currently a 16-week long manual process, according to Mr Hobby.
However, following the proof of concept, there was a realisation that Reach could be used for more than child safety.
“The biggest thing we’ve seen is the potential is much greater than what it was designed for. We realised inter-agency data sharing is a priority for so many areas of government, and while this is focused on child safety, Reach, as a technology product, has been built so it can be used in a much wider ecosystem – not just for child safety,” Mr Hobby said.
This is precisely the intention of programs like SBIR, and now BRII. Itree will now offer Reach as part of its product offering, which is currently being used to service government customers, including the Department of Home Affairs and Transport NSW.
“For instance, we’re already working with Home Affairs, who are very interested in Reach because it can handle persons of interest data,” Mr Hobby said.
“Wouldn’t it be great to plug into every child services protection of each state and then plug into police, justice and intelligence to get a single view on a person of interest? The speed at which government can make clear decision on safety in this country would be phenomenal.”
In February, the federal government announced a second round of BRII funding valued at $1.1 million for small business and startups. This grant round asks business to solve challenges around digital identity verification, intelligent data delivery for tourism services, managing the biosecurity of hitchhiking pests, uplifting government delivery of digital services, and automating complex determinations for Australian government information.
"We recognise that government doesn't always have the solution to policy issues. Australian businesses are able to think beyond the confines of bureaucracies and develop products and processes in response to a specific need," Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said.
"This also benefits businesses as it gives them experience in working closely with government agencies as their customers."