EXCLUSIVE: Playing the innovation long game


By Rob Fitzpatrick, CEO, AIIA
Wednesday, 13 September, 2017


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Debate has raged for years about access to venture capital money, regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship, R&D tax incentives, whether Australian businesses have an innovation culture, whether we are global enough in our outlook, and if there is enough collaboration between researchers and business.

These are important details to get right; however, I believe there are some macro factors that matter above and beyond these, such as:

  • recognising, rewarding and promoting great innovation;
  • a government that leads by example; and,
  • reskilling our workforce to both drive and take advantage of future innovations.

Recognising and rewarding innovation

If the recent 24th annual AIIA iAwards are anything to go by, innovation is alive and well in Australia. And on an even brighter note, it’s happening in all sectors of our economy.

Why does AIIA run the iAwards? It’s not because my team loves all those sleepless nights or even throwing a great party. We do it because it’s critical to unearth ideas that will make a difference, to help innovators jump-start their businesses, and to get them the mentoring and support they need.

The latest crop of iAwards innovators are truly inspirational. Their inventions read like a wish list for a better world, where things are faster, easier, safer and more accurate.

Like Balconi’s telehealth care solution for people in remote communities; Fastbrick Robotics’ bricklaying system that improves safety and reduces cost; The Yield’s sensors, analytics and apps for understanding micro climates in farming; the NSW Trauma App that gives clinicians rapid access to standards of trauma patient care; CSIRO’s KEH-Sense self-powered and battery-free devices; and because we all want to just have fun sometimes, thanks to Baja Board we can now get an all-terrain electric-powered skateboard.

There were many other awe-inspiring ideas. In fact, the judges uniformly said the depth and quality of entrants this year is far richer than they’ve seen before. And like clockwork, AIIA is already receiving entries for next year’s iAwards — our 25th year of unearthing Australia’s newest innovations.

A government that leads by example

Almost a third of the nominations for this year’s iAwards came from the public sector. It’s one thing for governments to preach about the importance of innovation; it’s quite another for them to practice it.

Whether its bionic eye development at Data61, the Australian Electoral Commission’s use of scanning and image recognition for processing voter preferences, the NSW Government’s environmental data portal, building smart cities in Queensland, South Australia’s single electronic forms platform, or more, the public sector is embracing change throughout the country to deliver faster and more effective services to its citizens.

The federal government is making dramatic leaps forward, with myGov up to almost 10 million active accounts, the number of people lodging their taxes online doubling to 3.5 million in the last year, and work the Department of Immigration is doing so that we’ll be able to pass through airports without even producing a passport thanks to facial recognition technology.

With recently announced procurement changes at the federal level and the commitment to make it easier and less expensive for smaller Australian ICT companies to bid for components of larger projects, my tip is we will see even more exciting innovations in the way government does its business.

When governments lead by example, demonstrating the importance of innovation and progress, local businesses benefit and it becomes more deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

Preparing for jobs of the future

With innovation comes improved outcomes, and a transition in traditional industries. Part of AIIA’s role is to ensure the narrative of technology change is focused on new industries, new job roles in existing industries and the significant benefits of this inevitable change to our economy.

What I believe we’ll see is that technology innovation will change jobs and create a range of new employment opportunities — much as it has in previous technology revolutions and with a corresponding increase in productivity, competitiveness and growth.

For example, many FinTech start-ups are emerging due to the opportunity for entrepreneurship in the automation of insurance, financial investing and advice and home loans. Meanwhile, the health and biotech industry will cater to our ageing population by providing more home care, digital monitoring options and advancements in medical interventions and pharmaceuticals.

There will also be opportunities in the development of manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing, which can be used for biomaterials, medicine, food, as well as conventional manufacturing. Even the traditional agricultural sector is set to be transformed using sensors, drones, robots, cloud-based computing and scanners.

In addition to reskilling our own workforce, Australian businesses need access to global talent to meet our shortfall and remain internationally competitive. While ICT is Australia’s fastest growing sector — growing at some 4% per annum compared to 2.1% for the workforce as a whole — we suffer from a skills shortage in both the immediate and long term.

It’s worth a reminder that Australia slipped again on the most recent Global Innovation Index to number 22, putting us behind most of our peers including Singapore, the US, UK, Japan, New Zealand and Canada. We are in danger of becoming a ‘stall out nation’ — that is, a country with a history of rapid development that now runs the risk of falling behind.

This is not the time for people to fear technology. We have a responsibility as an industry to lead the dialogue on the importance of innovation and the future of work in Australia. Let’s embrace the innovation that is unquestionably happening in Australia, promote and support our best and brightest, ensure we are ready, and that we have the skilled personnel needed to carry us into the future.

Rob Fitzpatrick is CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association.

Pictured: Rob Fitzpatrick, courtesy AIIA.

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