New thinking in innovation game

James Riley
Editorial Director

How do we improve technology innovation in Australia? Better collaboration. More coordination. A longer term view.

We may have heard it before, but that just confirms it is true – and that it hasn’t been happening enough.

The first Open Opportunity Forum was held this morning in Sydney. The event was attended by over 70 policy makers, academics, small and large vendors, journalists, and consultants.

Patricia Kelly from IP Australia with Paul Cheever, contributor, at the event

The speakers included two Australian Government ministers. Wyatt Roy, Assistant Minister for Innovation, spoke by video link from Tel Aviv.

In the room was Karen Andrews, Assistant Minister for Science. See their comments in separate article here.

The event was chaired by The Sydney Morning Herald’s Latika Bourke and held at Swaab Attorneys offices in Hunter St in Sydney. Gold sponsor was SugarCRM.

Professor Roy Green from the University of Technology, Sydney spoke on ‘Innovation: Then, Now and Next’.

“We couldn’t have had an event with such interest a few months ago,” he said to much laughter – an obvious allusion to the changed focus of Malcolm Turnbull’s government.

He spoke of what he called Australia’s ‘precarious future’, the drop in the growth rate in the national income with the decline of the commodities boom.

“We need to lift our productivity again, as we did in the 1990s. And that can only come from innovation.

“Australia invests just 4.1 per cent of its GDP in knowledge, well below the OECD average. We need transactional relationships – deep relationships between government, finance and venture capital, research and education, and enterprises and workplaces.”

He used the metaphor of the new Frank Gehry business school at UTS – the one that has been likened to a crumpled paper bag.

“It is not a box, it is something much more fluid – we need to redesign these relationships from the inside out.

“I’m starting to get optimistic with the new industry and innovation reviews, but there is a lot to do. The government spends $9.7 billion annually in Australia on research and innovation, but it is spread across 13 portfolios. The ARC is with Education, the NHMRC is with Health, there is CSIRO the CRCs etc. There is very little consistency, or coherence, or consolidation.

“There are 150 line items in the federal budget on research spend – who can follow that? There are no right answers, but we have to achieve a model that works.

There have been 60 innovation reviews in the last 15 years, but only four or five of them refer to each other. We should build on what we have and rethink what we are doing.”

Professor Green said the Prime Minister’s recent innovation round table was “honest, productive, and began to ask the right questions.”

He listed as important initiatives:

  • The creation of a national body for coordination. “Small countries can do this – look at Finland, Israel, Singapore, Ireland. We have a National Science Council but it doesn’t connect with anything else.”
  • Building innovation capability at the enterprise level. “Nearly one third of our current expenditure is through the R&D tax concession. It is undirected and not linked to collaboration. Direct spending is undercooked by comparison. Maybe it should all be concentrated in one industry facing agency.”
  • A framework for science and research. “How to we rationalise these 13 departmental spends? How do we link them? There is very little accountability. If we started from scratch we wouldn’t do it this way. Where can Australia extract most value? As a high income economy, it needs to be in the value add.”
  • Local innovation ecosystems. “Each states separate. There needs to be more coordination – something the European Union has done well.”
  • An integrated tertiary education system. “There are gaps in management capability, especially with SMEs. We need to prepare people for the jobs that don’t exist yet.”

Martin Hoffman, Secretary of the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (and recently poached from Canberra), explained the necessity of getting policy, data, and customer service right in the digital age.

“We need to move from fixed term policies to those that suit a more collaborative economy, especially in technology and procurement policy. And we need to share data across departments and agencies, and open that data up. Open datasets can make a big difference.”

Mr Hoffman said that 44 per cent of customer interaction with government in NSW is now online, compared to 34 per cent just a year ago.

“We intend to get that to 70 per cent by 2019. We also need to improve the digitisation of internal government communications.”

Audrey Lobo-Pulo, a data scientist with the Australian Taxation Office, spoke of how technology is empowering governments to do more and make more services available.

“Entrepreneurs can use government data to build new applications. It is a kind of symbiosis – the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

“Open data, with its sheer volume and the computational power we now have, has the potential to revolutionise government and transform society. Free public data provides many opportunities to build new businesses.”

Adrian Turner is newly appointed CEO of Data61, the government agency formed from NICTA and CSIRO’s digital team, employing 1100 people.

He spoke on ‘Engaging data for better business outcomes’, speaking of the possibilities afforded by the Internet of Things (IoT).

“Sensors and actuators can be anywhere. By 2020, there will 50 times more data produced than today. Businesses using big data to make big decisions. Data and the impact of data is affecting supply chains and transportation and changing the underlying structure of businesses.”

He gave the example of agribusiness company Monsanto which recently acquired Climate Corp, which uses publicly available weather data to build systems to underwrite weather insurance for farmers, and the use of mapping overlays to develop sophisticated predictive analytics.

“There is rising opportunity, and rising value. We used to use computers to analyse what happened. Then it was what is happening now, then it was what we could do about it. Now it is what will happen in the future, and what action we should be taking.

“Knowing what question to ask is fundamental. The intersection of behavioural economics, cognitive science and data is going to be a very exciting place in the next few years.”

Presentations by Gavin Heaton, digital strategist and Partner at The Disruptor’s Handbook, and from Squiz’s Marc Englaro, will be covered in later articles in

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

Leave a Comment

Related stories