Collaborate to Compete

Q&A with Steve Vamos

Business Review Weekly

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

The Business Council of Australia released a report, New Pathways to Prosperity: A National Innovation Framework for Australia, on November 22. Produced in conjunction with the Society for Knowledge Economics, the report aims to stimulate the growing debate about the need to create an innovative Australia to remain globally competitive. Microsoft Australia managing director Steve Vamos –chairman of the BCA's education, skills and innovation taskforce – believes that the most crucial element for successful innovation is greater collaboration between government, business and the community.

How can we improve the level of innovation in Australia?

The first issue is that we need to recognise and elevate innovation to a national priority. Our report has recommended a new governance and national reform priority aligned to the Council of Australian Governments. This would involve the creation of a new central body, "Innovation Australia", which would be tasked with aligning efforts to ensure a co-ordinated policy across federal and state governments. In this way, we will be better able to prioritise and align our efforts.

What would you do about building the research and development base?

There needs to be recognition that innovation is not a linear process. The critical thing is to strengthen the linkages between research, business and government, and improve the process in universities of bringing forward the commercialisation of innovation. There needs to be a consistency in the way universities go about commercialisation. We also need to improve communication and shared knowledge by compiling, for example, a database of national research expertise – "Expertise Australia". It will be easier for business and government to understand what is available and what can be achieved with the resources we have. It will also open the way to building greater innovation through networks of research and collaboration.

How does the BCA recommend developing the national skills base?

The process of innovation development is really about the workplace and the skills of our people. There is a need to ensure that the education system provides industry-relevant technical skills. Australians need to be provided with the capabilities to become innovative, provided with the skills associated with communication, teamwork, problem solving, entrepreneurship and leadership. That could involve the development of new content for a new subject on business innovation for year 11 students at a national level.

How can investment levels in innovation in both public and private sectors be increased?

With the changing economy, we need to continue to improve micro-economic reforms and develop a tax system that encourages innovation. The BCA report also suggests a need for expanding financial incentives for expenditure on innovation through venture capital support, loan subsidies and income-contingent loans.