Tech is Sexy Again in WA

Posted on: Sunday, 17 May 2015 at 4:09:01 PM

Tech is Sexy Again in WA

Written following the AICC(WA) Accenture Technology Series event at the UWA Club, on 14 May 2015

It may have been a throw away remark that an acquaintance of Larry Lopez passed to describe the current sentiment in WA, but the comment that “Tech is Sexy Again in WA” encapsulated all that needs to be said about the opportunity that now confronts our market. 

This is a moment in time that must be captured and leveraged for the wellbeing of our future industry development and national economic growth.

The AICC(WA) Accenture Technology Series aims to promote and accelerate critical thinking and practical applications of high tech innovations to enhance and create WA’s productive, sustainable and smart futures.  In the idyllic setting of the UWA Club, host Dr Peter Lilly Director of EZONE UWA showcased an infrastructure revolution for UWA that will deliver a new environment for innovation and discovery based on the unique attributes of Western Australia.  

Dr Peter Lilly FTSE, Director, E ZONE UWA, Faculty of Engineering, Computing & Mathematics

Mr Larry Lopez, Vice-President AICC(WA) & Partner, Australian Venture Consultants

In setting the scene for the discussion ahead, Larry Lopez, Partner of Australian Venture Consultants and Vice President of the AICC(WA) contrasted the evolvement of the economic environment and business culture within both Israel and Australia over the past two decades.  Whilst sharing a comparable base, the attitudinal and regulatory changes to the Israeli marketplace have allowed a start-up ecosystem to flourish.  Over the same period Australia has not been able to gain the requisite traction to transform its production economy into a knowledge economy.  Mr Lopez contended that Australia still has an opportunity to emulate Israel’s accomplishment, but in order to progress the market requires deregulation, some economic hero’s and a bold new approach towards commercialisation from the academic sector.

Ms Diane Smith-Gander, Chairman, Transfield Services and Non-executive Director, Wesfarmers, Dr Erica Smyth, Former Chair, Toro Energy Ltd, Deputy Chair, Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation and Chairman, Diabetes Research WA

When you get two of Western Australia’s most dynamic business leaders who are both articulate in business strategy and personable story tellers, you know you are in for a treat.  The perfect combination of Ms Diane Smith-Gander and Dr Erica Smyth led to a stimulating conversation on the topic of “Creating value through the adoption of technology innovation”

Ms Diane Smith-Gander is Chairman of Transfield Services Ltd and a Non-executive Director of Wesfarmers.  Utilising her experience within the banking sector and the business analytics associated with mergers, she contextualised the Australian experience of approaching technological innovation as a business process improvement.  She suggested there is a tendency for Australian companies to have their full potential constrained by compliance and risk mitigation factors.  “The approach to our discussions often starts with the identification of technology, and from there we build the business case.  To be effective we need to reverse this mentality and start with the identification of the business need.  Technology becomes the enabler.”

Ms Diane Smith-Gander, Chairman, Transfield Services and Non-executive Director, Wesfarmers

Citing examples where the Government, Community and Industry come together to deliver Technology innovation, Ms Smith-Gander drew on the Sense-T initiative of Tasmania.  Using sensor technology and data analysis, researchers from the University of Tasmania and CSIRO joined industry partners in agriculture and aquaculture to help producers find new ways to solve problems and make better decisions which could boost their productivity, efficiency and sustainability.  A second example was cited within the Transfield Group where GPS and data processing improvements to fleet were able to reduce risk, improve safety, save costs and enhance productivity.  Ms Smith-Gander concluded her presentation by noting that most technological innovation comes from small start-ups that see new opportunities, and also noted the recently announced Budget also contained positive measures to support further business investment.

 

Dr Erica Smyth, Former Chair, Toro Energy Ltd, Deputy Chair, Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation and Chairman, Diabetes Research WA

Dr Erica Smyth is a Non Executive Director of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Chairman, Diabetes Research WA.  She challenged the internal business structures within Australian organisations that stall the approval and implementation processes associated with good technological ideas.  The soft skills and engagement factors that assist overcome human resistance to change are of critical importance to the success of technology adoption.  Dr Smyth cited four examples; the scale and impact of Rio Tinto automation; the WITH (Woodside Innovation Technology Hub) project;   Mercer Technologies (a South African based simulator for technical training) and the Deep Exploration Technologies CRC.  She noted that under the latter, a collaborative technology development project, the ownership of IP was inconsequential as companies tendered for its use.  The model enabled the rapid development and deployment of solutions.   

Through her affable address, Dr Smyth shared her experience with change management and overcoming resistance to technological innovation.  Taking a practical approach towards improving research outputs she submitted practical ways to address the aspiration gap between what is possible and what is available.

 

From L to R - Dr Peter Lilly FTSE, Director, E ZONE UWA, Faculty of Engineering, Computing & Mathematics, The University of Western Australia Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, Mr Eduardo Valente, Strategy Lead WA, Accenture Australia Pty Ltd, Ms Diane Smith-Gander, Chairman, Transfield Services and Non-executive Director, Wesfarmers, Dr Erica Smyth, Former Chair, Toro Energy Ltd, Deputy Chair, Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation and Chairman, Diabetes Research WA, Mr Larry Lopez, Vice-President AICC(WA) & Partner, Australian Venture Consultants

A lively panel discussion and an impassioned audience were engaged with strategies of enablement.  Key points discussed and ideas proffered were as follows:

  • WA has unique qualities, for example five universities within 30 kilometres, major companies working with big data, medical and genetics research, lifestyle and cultural benefits, and proximity to Asian markets within the same time zone.
  • Perth is lacking the “physical space” to institutionalise its technology innovation. There is no State Science Centre with its own unique precinct.
  • There is a tendency to sell off Intellectual Property early and monetise early in the development phase, particularly to offshore investors, without seeking local opportunities to commercialise.
  • The economic environment and fiscal policy constrain technology innovation. There are no tax concessions to encourage remuneration through the purchase of options.
  • The biggest issue associated with a vibrant technology development sector for Australia sits within the education system, associated with culture, funding and tutoring. Students need to see and hear that success is possible, and aspire towards start-up business opportunities.

 

Mr Eduardo Valente, Strategy Lead WA, Accenture Australia Pty Ltd

In thanking the panel, Mr Eduardo Valente, Accenture Strategy Lead (WA) concurred that there is tremendous opportunity for WA to champion technology innovation, and that Western Australian business is well positioned to bring forward a new era of research and development.

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