Innovation and Science Australia’s (ISA) recently appointed chairman Andrew Stevens has plans to shift the organisation’s focus on industry R&D and innovation with the launch of a new report.
Up until now, ISA’s concerted effort has been heavily directed towards science innovation in Australia.
“The level of engagement with industry across the full spectrum of size of enterprise will be up from what people might have experienced in the past with ISA,” Mr Stevens told InnovationAus.com.
“Our intention is to engage more broadly with existing business, emerging business, large, small, and also with companies that are either involved in software development or software deployment as part of their business model.”
He continued to explain how crucial it is for the ISA to engage with businesses and industry, who are the “engine room” of the economy but are only investing a fifth to a tenth in R&D and innovation compared to international counterparts.
“I think if you ask right now if I could predict how my time as a chair of ISA should be marked, I’d like to say I helped to change that mindset at the board level and at the executive level, and the employee level,” he said.
“Competitiveness of our businesses is a big part of sustaining our prosperity and ensuring our companies are successful so that they are creating more jobs and making more viable investments.
The former IBM Australia managing director and chairman of Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, who is also a non-executive director at MYOB, Thorn Group and Stockland, was quietly appointed to the role before last Christmas. He took over from ISA’s inaugural chair Bill Ferris who headed the organisation since it was established three years ago.
Mr Stevens said this report, to be delivered to government before October, will examine why Australian businesses are investing so little in innovation and R&D.
“What we’re looking at is the decision making in businesses, whether it’s mindset or it’s structural. For example, businesses say: ‘We don’t invest more in R&D because our shareholders don’t want us to’,” he said.
“I’d like to unpack that and speak to shareholders who hold that view – if that’s a view that’s held. We can’t be in a position where businesses are saying: ‘When is the government going to make my business more successful and competitive?’”
“The reality is businesses, chairs, board members, executives and employees are responsible for making businesses competitive – it’s not the government.”
The new report will follow on from the ISA’s 2030 Strategic Plan that was released last year. A total of 30 recommendations were handed down to the federal government as part of the release, of which only 17 were supported by the government and a further 10 received support in principle.
Despite the tepid government response to the 2030 Strategic Plan, which has since sunk without a trace, Mr Stevens is unfazed that the report he plans to launch has the potential to see a similar outcome.
“Our report and our focus on our activities is ongoing. We haven’t decided on the workplan for the year because of in-progress response from government in relation to the 2030 Plan. It’s quite the opposite. The scope of the 2030 plan and our workplan are complimentary,” he said.
Mr Stevens also took the opportunity to clarify the role of the ISA versus the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which was established in February and chaired by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“The NSTC is much more heavily weighted towards science and technology considerations, research and investment. Our consideration is far more about business and industry competitiveness, and revenue and margin growth in the context of that whereas the NTSC is more focused on science outcomes. It’s slightly different but entirely complimentary.”