The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “change is the only constant in life.” This is probably truer today than it has ever been. We are living in a time of rapid technological change – the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which is transforming how we live, work, communicate and pursue bright ideas.
The stark truth for the Australian economy in this era of "digital disruption" is that we must “innovate or die”. We can no longer rely on traditional businesses such as mining and agriculture to carry us into the future.
The recent fall in Australia’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report is a reminder of the growing urgency for us to act. We fell by one place to 22nd in 2016-17, indicating our national business competitiveness is going in the wrong direction. This leaves us lagging behind most of our peers including Singapore, the US, the UK, Japan, New Zealand and Canada. Australia also slipped two places to 19th on the Global Innovation Index, failing to export and commercialise enough ideas to increase our standing.
Innovation plays a critical role in creating new products and processes, and is the long-term key to economic prosperity in Australia. We all want higher income growth and living standards, but without innovation we won't be able to boost productivity and our industries will flounder.
But it’s not all bad news. At last night’s AIIA iAwards, Australia’s leading awards program for innovation in the digital economy, I had the privilege of witnessing first hand the development of game changing ideas before they become mainstream.
The iAwards have taught me that not only is innovation alive and well in Australia, it’s happening in all quarters of our economy, from start-ups, private enterprise, community services, academia, and even in the public sector.
Here’s a few that demonstrate how far-reaching innovation is within our economy:
- The AIIA Innovation of the Year was awarded to Balconi Telecommunications for the Balconi Smart Torch – Global Live, a handheld two-way video conference system primarily developed for remote telehealth care, giving the most remote and disadvantaged communities access to medical specialists globally.
- Fastbrick Robotics, a robotic bricklaying system that will make construction easier, faster and safer, received the Inspiration of the Year Award.
- The Yield Technology Solutions, which has created end-to-end farm sensing, analytics and apps was recognised as Startup of the Year.
In all there were 15 winners recognised across categories such as Vertical Markets, Technology Infrastructure and Students. The ideas are many and varied, such as: an off road, all-terrain electric powered skateboard; a gift card app that enables customers to buy, send, store and redeem gift cards instantly; and an app that provides clinicians with rapid, effective and efficient access to standards of trauma patient care and information.
The judges uniformly said the depth and quality of entrants this year is far richer than they’ve seen before.
It’s all very well coming up with great ideas, but the key to success lies in their commercialisation. Some of last year’s winners, such as ACT-based automed, have seen their businesses take off since being recognised. A winner of three AIIA National iAwards last year, automed’s groundbreaking livestock medication system has since been globally recognised as a game changing technology in the agri-tech and livestock industry.
Other businesses are experiencing similar success, such as Doseme, with its a real-time precision dosing software, and Agriwebb, the startup that has developed a livestock and agricultural farm management software.
While the iAwards are a snapshot of innovation throughout Australia, if we are going to be truly globally competitive, innovations shouldn’t just be the stalwart of start-ups. All Australian organisations need to take a hard look at themselves and ask if they are doing enough.
We can no longer rely on traditional sectors to carry our economy and we must embrace digital technologies that have the potential to transform them. Indeed, if you look at the major iAwards winners their innovations are set to boost traditional sectors such as construction, agriculture, and health. Other industries such as financial services, biotech, and manufacturing are also primed to benefit from technological change.
Heraclitus also once said “big results require big ambitions,” and Australia has no shortage of the will to succeed. Innovation, risk-taking and exploring new horizons are embedded in Australia’s DNA and the work of the iAwards finalists is an inspiration to us all.
Rob Fitzpatrick is CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association.