Adrian Turner on Data61 funding

James Riley
Editorial Director

The $75 million in additional spending for the Data61 unit of the CSIRO, announced by the Prime Minister this month, is not a re-instatement of the original NICTA funding, but rather is new money delegated for specific purposes.

This is not a small distinction. The integration of NICTA into the CSIRO is well advanced. It is not clear what impact the new Data61 funding will have on the final headcount of the combined organisations. (NICTA was re-named Data61 as part of the merger process.)

Data61 chief executive Adrian Turner said the first order of integration between Data61 and the CSIRO was in merging shared services – the back office functions that did not need to be stand-alone – was well progressed.

Adrian Turner: The new funding is validation of the Data61 team’s work

It had been understood that about 200 jobs were on the line, but it is not clear yet where that number will end up with the additional $75 million.

“It’s not a reinstatement of funding. There are four areas where we have been given funding to go and deliver,” Mr Turner told shortly after the Prime Minister announced his National Innovation and Science Agenda earlier this month.

“The prior funding was more akin to a grant, whereas this is an appropriation tied to specific outcomes.”

The bottom line is that the $25 million-a-year in additional funding for Data61 over the forward estimates from 2016-17 – although it matches the previous funding – can’t be used to unwind the headcount reductions or the specific back-of-house integration that has already taken place.

But the new funding measures will surely have positive impact overall on headcount.

“In terms of integration, the first place we started was around shared services,” Mr Turner said. “So where it makes sense, we are leveraging CSIRO shared services where scale can be reached.”

“What we are looking at now, tied to strategy for the organisation and to priorities for the organisation, are how do these new projects line up,” he said. “And so we haven’t made any announcements yet on the impact on teams as a result of that [new funding].”

“The one thing that I would say is that the integration [with CSIRO] is progressing well and that [the new funding announced by the Prime Minister] is a great validation for the team. It is a demonstration of support for the team, and it is a statement about how important it is for Australia to get this right.”

Under the terms of the new funding announced by Mr Turnbull, Data61 will:

  • use data analytics to connect disparate government datasets and publicly release them on open data platforms
  • improve industry cybersecurity and develop new cybersecurity architectures
  • build a Data Research Network to link business with data researchers
  • deliver data analytics training to improve the data literacy of Australian businesses.

These objectives are “in line with what the Prime Minister was saying about bringing industry, academia and government together, and driving tighter collaboration.”

Meanwhile, Mr Turner said Data61 would continue in its role as an incubator spinning out technology companies and may even get access to the new CSIRO Innovation Fund to assist that process.

He said Data61 would also engage in international research collaborations as part of the CSIRO and where it made sense, may provide the lead role in establishing new data collaborations with researchers overseas.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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