by Bonnie Gardiner

Businesses: It’s time to innovate, Australia’s future depends on it

Sep 24, 2015

Australian businesses must be willing to adapt to using new and disruptive technologies or risk holding the nation back from economic growth, according to new research by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).

The ACOLA report – Technology and Australia’s Future– discusses how Australia’s dependence on minerals and agriculture production has created a prosperous existence that will start to decline quickly without more impetus on new technology and innovation.

Speaking at the report launch in Canberra on Wednesday, chief scientist professor Ian Chubb said that decisions made today would impact generations of Australians, and that it was no longer a case of whether we equip ourselves with the skills and technology needed to forge forward, but how.

The findings include the need for interoperability in technologies to allow more rapid and cost effective implementation, the need to remove the stigma around failure when adopting new ideas and solutions and encourage more risk taking and experimentation, plus the impact of data analytics on existing business – from transportation to mining, healthcare and education.

Other findings focus on the skills that Australia needs to invent and harness new technologies and develop competitive strengths that outlive the resources boom. The report was released along with 10 separate working papers exploring specific examples of up disruptive technologies, including autonomous motor vehicles, robotics, 3D printing, wearable tech and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The report considers how new technologies arise, how their impacts occur, to what extent they can be predicted, what technologies mean to people and how society’s interaction with technology influences behaviour.

“Just because we are uncertain of the future, doesn’t mean that it is not clear that action is required,” the report reads. “What is most needed is a problem oriented focus where we identify problems, do proper experiments, accept and deal with failure early and move on to try other experiments.

“Those people and companies and governments that try something new (i.e. innovate) get better and better at interventions and innovation while those that wait will lose out.”

The report is one of several research agendas under the federal government’s Securing Australia’s Future initiative, a $10 million investment in a series of strategic research programs co-ordinated by ACOLA and delivered to the Australian chief scientist and the Commonwealth Science Council.

Professor Robert Williamson, the report’s lead author, said it was vital not to underestimate the pace of technological change and its widespread impact on people and society.

“All new technologies disrupt the current way of doing things; this brings both benefits and disadvantages. The challenge is to leverage and share as many of the rewards while limiting any damage,” Professor Williamson said.

The report also noted that predictions around specific future technologies, and their impact on business, society and individuals, are fraught with uncertainty.

“If you want to predict the rise of Uber on the basis of Moore’s Law, you can’t do it, no one can tell that. But you can say with a high certainty that IT will progress and continue to have a pervasive impact on society,” Professor Williamson told CIO.

The issues arise from businesses that fear the cost of implementing new technologies or processes, and thus prefer to simply invest in small improvements rather than overhauling things completely, said Professor Williamson.

“If you hope to cause economic growth, you’re not going to be able to do it by taking a cost cutting approach. The only way you can move the needle in a serious way is think about how, by the use of new technology, you can completely change the way you are doing things.

“That sounds trite, it’s something economists have known for a long time, but people seem to forget it. They want to do things the same but a little bit better, but that’s not going to cut it. Without real change, you’ll soon be dead in the ground.”