What has gone wrong with Australian innovation? For a nation so wealthy, it’s remarkable how poorly the country performs globally in terms of bringing new products or technologies to market.
At Ad:Tech Sydney yesterday, The Great Australian Innovation Fail panel discussed what has gone wrong and what can be done to get the nation back to a position more in line with its comparative affluence.
Boasting a range of digital media veterans and startup founders, the panel was far from a group of muttering naysayers. Although all but Fleet Systems’ Flavia Tata Nardini were distressed at the failure of Australia’s innovation agenda and the country’s general disdain for new businesses and technologies.
Michael Priddis, the CEO of research and development consultancy, Faethm, pointed out that automation and artificial intelligence are not the future but the present and the job losses are happening now across industries.
Caitlin Iles, founder of XChange, added that she believes the estimates of nearly fifty percent of Australian jobs being lost to automation are actually understating the effects and it’s more like 90% – “a doomsday statistic” – which is something that Priddis endorsed in observing how the mining industry has automated in the past decade.
The employment shifts are being ignored by governments, says Beanstalk Factory’s Peter Bradd. “They have to get their heads out of the sand. We need to be supporting workers in threatened jobs to reskill. That’s just not happening at the moment.”
Australia’s underperformance is stunning when you consider tech startup exits, says the Information Industry Association’s Tony Surtees. Unsurprisingly Silicon Valley dominates the global statistics with over 47% of the global value with London, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv following. Sydney was at the bottom of the table with only .01% of value.
The value of exits is a problem, but that is more about the capitalisation of startups and may be changing. A bigger problem lies in how Australia’s corporate sector innovates and engages with new technologies.
Corporate Australia’s failure to engage is shown in the OECD ranking the country at 81st globally in ‘innovation efficiency’, while the nation is tenth in inputs it fails dismally in applying those inputs into outputs.
This is reflected in corporate Australia’s failure to compete globally outside the mining sector. Basically Australian executives have little desire in international markets and most have no interest in engaging with researchers, universities, innovators or entrepreneurs.
“People don’t like to collaborate,” says Peter. “They want to keep everything to themselves.”
“The CEOs of Australia’s top twenty companies need to get together with CSIRO and the universities and fix this problem. There’s money on the table.”
Whether Australia’s business leaders are prepared to pick up that money, or they’re happy and comfortable with their lot is probably the question of whether Australia can start to pull its weight in the innovation stakes.
“In ten or fifteen years we’ll be screwed if we don’t,” concludes Michael.