In September, as reported, Terry Cutler delivered an extensive review on the Australian innovation system and what should be done. But then, the worldwide economic downturn hit us, and nobody seems to think about creating incentives for Australian innovation any longer.
Where did it go? Nothing is happening on the innovation website.
In particular as a small business owner, I ask: what happened to incentives to innovate for SMEs? Before the review, the government as a precaution scrapped the existing Australian grant system for innovation – in particular the Commercial Ready grants. The idea was to have some leeway with building a new system. That seemed fair enough at the time – but it seems more and more that there will be no replacement for this scrapped funding. Is the government simply forgetting what they promised in view of other, more pressing needs? Do we need to remind them?
Terry Cutler in a recent interview with SmartCompany paints a dark picture for the Australian future. He is aware that commercial innovation originates from SMEs and is fearful that by dropping all support for SMEs, the whole SME technology sector will be wiped out, with a negative influence also on larger companies and Australia will fall so far behind in innovation that it may be hard to ever catch up (remember what we did with our advantage in creating computer hardware at the time of CSIRAC?).
The Commercial Ready grants and other innovation funding were abruptly scrapped in May 2008. It is now more than 6 months later and we haven’t seen an indication of anything new to replace them. In the midst of the global crisis, how can we make this important cause heard?
Yesterday was a long and fascinating day of discussions about innovation in Australia.
At this year’s Pearcey Medal and NSW Pearcey State Award event, the focus was on the recently released innovation report from Terry Cutler with a focus on the effects on ICT (Information and Communication Technology).
If you only look at the summary report, you will miss the structure of the full report, which is why I have outlined it here:
- Chapter 1 stalling not sprinting
- Chapter 2 the national innovation system
- Chapter 3 innovation in business
- Chapter 4 the case for a public role in innovation
- Chapter 5 strengthening people and skills
- Chapter 6 building excellence in national research
- Chapter 7 information and market design
- Chapter 8 tax and innovation
- Chapter 9 market facing programs
- Chapter 10 innovation in government
- Chapter 11 national priorities for innovation
- Chapter 12 governance of the innovation system
I took home a few very interesting observations from reading the reports and from the discussions at the Pearcey event.
But before I can comment, I have to state which organisations I see as ICT innovators in Australia.
- The government-funded ones are the Universities, NICTA and CSIRO (CRCs fall in the same general class).
- The big drivers of transforming new research outcomes into business are start-ups and the SMEs.
- Further innovation happens in large companies and multi-nationals with a stronger focus on incremental innovation rather than disruptive innovation.
- In ICT, we need to add another big driver of innovation: open source software. I’ll explain this later in more depth.
The following observations on VenturousAustralia and what I took away from the Pearcey awards are on these topics:
- Support of fundamental R&D in ICT
- Commercialisation of ICT innovation
- Enabling SMEs to succeed
- Regard for the contribution of Open Source
TOPIC: ICT and innovation
At the Pearcey awards, we had long discussions about whether ICT was appropriately represented in the report and whether the recommendations are pushing ICT further into a supportive role while missing our opportunities to innovate and lead in core ICT.
It is generally accepted that ICT has a major effect on the productivity increase of almost all Australian industries. DCITA reports show that in service industries, between 35 and 65 per cent of productivity growth is estimated to have been driven by technological factors