A New Approach to Innovation Depends on Much Stronger Collaboration

www.theage.com.au

By Steve Vamos
Managing Director, Microsoft Australia and New Zealand
Chairman, BCA Education, Skills & Innovation Task Force

Developments in information and communications technology over the past ten to fifteen years in particular, have connected people in new ways and made the world a much smaller place.

Whilst most of us have come to terms with using email, browsing the internet for information and wrapping our thumbs around a mobile phone to send a text message, many of the consequences of being part of a more ‘connected’ global economy are yet to be fully embraced. One such area is the importance of our capacity to innovate to future economic prosperity and social well being.

Innovation is creating and doing new things or finding new and better ways to develop or provide products, services and processes.

Innovation is an important capability if we are to ensure Australia maximises the knowledge and contribution of our most valuable resource – our people – to economic and social progress and prosperity.

At a time when demographics suggest that our work force will remain constrained, a commitment to innovation means a commitment to ensuring every person is developed and enabled to contribute more in their workplace, improving productivity as a result. This is important because as we look to the future our economic growth and living standards will depend very much on our capacity, as a nation, to increase productivity.

Innovation is also critical to our relative competitiveness in a global economy where other nations are investing heavily to take advantage of the potential for knowledge and relationships people create to have economic impact and be scaled to produce significant value.

  • Australia's innovation performance relies on:
  • Leaders and managers to creating the right environment for innovation.
  • People at all levels collaborating within and between organisations.
  • Bridging ‘silos’ inside and between organisations including the public and private sector.
  • Building skills, knowledge and a work place culture that support innovation.
  • The right public policy settings to encourage innovation by business and the research and education sectors.

If Australia is to achieve its potential to innovate, it will require increased focus, alignment and commitment on the part of policymakers. It will also require a renewed commitment by the leaders of business and the research and education sectors that are a vital element of our national innovation system. We need to be more deliberate in converting Australian ideas and creativity into real economic and social value.

A recent report developed by the Business Council of Australia (BCA) in conjunction with the Society for Knowledge Economics (SKE) has found that while we have pockets of good innovation practice, our national innovation system can and needs to be stronger.

Chief among our challenges is to improve collaboration amongst key national institutions. Innovation at the organisational level depends on collaboration, so too does our national capacity depend on cooperation and coordination of policy development and implementation at the highest levels.

The BCA and SKE, together with about thirty leaders from the business, university and research sectors have developed five priority pointers for innovation.

Firstly, innovation needs to be placed on the COAG agenda as a new national reform priority. We are also proposing new central structure, ‘Innovation Australia’, reporting to COAG would be responsible for policy alignment and assessment.

Secondly, the linkages and collaboration between all elements of Australia's innovation system including business, government and the research and education sectors need to be strengthened.

A third area of work is to put in place specific policy and investment measures to strengthen Australia's research networks and institutions.

A fourth priority is to enhance policy focus and strategic investment in education and training to improve the innovation capabilities and culture of our people. For example, developing strategies to increase the number of students taking maths, science and technology subjects in senior secondary school and then undertaking post-school science and engineering courses.

Finally, Australia needs to undertake continuing micro-economic reforms to improve and sustain a business environment suitable for innovation. In particular, further reform is required to Australia's regulatory environment and taxation systems. Additionally, infrastructure needed to support innovation, such as broadband communications needs to be further developed.

The period of growth and stability that we are currently experiencing affords us the opportunity to invest in our future, particularly in education. The BCA will be looking to leaders in government, business, education and research sectors to collaborate closely to pursue a new national policy framework for innovation.