Australia at the crossroads

The sheer scale and pace of technological change the world is facing is something many, until recently, have failed to fully understand. That is why the Federal Government’s renewed focus on innovation (and distilled in the release of today’s National Innovation and Science Agenda) is so welcome.

It is exciting to have a Prime Minister and government talking about technology, innovation and collaboration in the same sentence. It is also welcome to have an Opposition committed to this critical reform agenda. Our country needs a clear long term technology vision that details how we are going to invest and develop associated skills to support our comparative advantages in a global, digital economy. Just as Telstra has aspirations to be a world class technology company for our customers, I believe Australia should have an aspiration to be a world class technology nation.

Four key platforms

While we are still working through the detail in the government’s announcement it aligns closely with Telstra’s view that innovation is built around four key platforms: Incubation and Start ups; Collaboration; Human Capital and Skills; and New Technologies and Methodologies.

Firstly, there is recognition of the need for a comprehensive ecosystem to support incubation and start ups. What’s important is that this system crosses the complete cycle, from pre-revenue ideas to the start up phase, growth and through into the capital markets. There is no point in building infrastructure for start ups if we don’t simultaneously create the support for the pre-start up incubation phase or support for migration into long term equity capital markets. Start ups and entrepreneurs risk and dare and create so much that is new and we need to do everything we can to support and encourage them if we are to succeed in the future.

The countries riding highest on the digital wave (including Israel, Finland, Sweden and the US) are all underpinned by really strong and effective relationships between start-ups, universities, research institutes, venture capitalists, established businesses and Government. This type of collaboration across private and public sectors is absolutely critical and it’s great to see it as a cornerstone in the Government’s statement. It’s particularly pleasing to see such a collaborative approach on cyber-security – a topic close to our heart but also one of extreme importance to the nation.

There is also acknowledgement that Australia must invest in giving this generation, and the next, the right types of skills. This includes investing in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and ensuring we are building a rock solid foundation in these key skills across all levels of the curriculum. As a technology company it’s great to see an acknowledgement that we must do more to encourage women not just to study STEM but to stay working in these important fields.

The government is also talking about identifying the new technologies and methodologies where we have strategic competitive advantage. Realistically we can’t lead in every area of technology innovation but we do have natural areas of core capability that we can focus on, build on, and leverage: in resources, in biomedical science, in solar energy. Let us play to our advantages and focus on those areas where we already have strategic capabilities so we play to our strengths and don’t diffuse our efforts through a lack of focus.

Everybody at the table

No single individual or organisation has all the answers of how to create a successful innovation eco-system for Australia but I think as a country, together we do. The critical challenge is how we collaborate, how we create a framework built around collaboration across sectors – industry with academia, private with public – linked together by great leadership, policies fit for purpose and a clear, long term vision for the future. The Government’s innovation focus is most welcome in that regard.

Australia’s success in a digital future will require everybody to be at the table, and Telstra has a hand up to be part of that. Two reasons why: we have many years of experience developing our own innovation eco-system. Our networks are already a key part of Australia’s innovation eco-system, and they are only going to become more important in the future. Our networks, and the connectivity we provide, underpin so much innovation today.

The speed and impact of technology innovation has surpassed even the most forward thinking minds of yesterday. The long history of innovation, and the more recent history of digital disruption, shows time and again that at the point of major technological breakthrough new competitors emerge and take market share and value away from incumbents. That is true for Telstra; that is true for Australia. That is why Telstra’s vision is to become a world class technology company with world class innovation capabilities focussed on helping our customers to do things better, faster and more simply than they could before. And that is why Australia must continue to build its innovation capabilities for the future. With the cost of failure simply too great, it is a challenge we must all take up to succeed. The release of the government’s innovation agenda is an important moment for our country and Telstra stands ready and willing to play its part in implementing something much bigger and more important than any single company or organisation.