Monday, November 16, 2015

Data 61: Time for Ideas into Action

Greetings from Data 61 at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney, for "Australia3.0: catalysing ideas into action". There is a panel with David Rohrsheim GM Uber Australia and New Zealand,  Jason Clare MP Shadow Minister for Communications and Nick Abrahams Author “Digital Disruption in Australia”. Jason Clare had the most perceptive comment of the day, when said: "Australian researchers produce twice as many academic papers per head as their US counterparts, but half as many patents". This aspect got left out of the subsequent discussion: how to harness publicly funded research, for community benefit.

Before the panel I had a quick tour of Data 61, which was formed from the IT research components of CSIRO and NICTA. What I hope to hear was how the new organization was going to do things differently, to overcome the problems which occurred with CSIRO and NICTA, who were not able to effectively transition research into commercially successful invitations. Unfortunately what I instead saw were some old NICTA demonstrations. More than $1B has been invested by the Australian community in Data 61/NICTA and the organization has about six months to come up with a credible strategy to show a return on that investment.

The NSW Government announced 12 November 2015 that Mirvac would purchase the Australian Technology Park (ATP), with the Commonwealth Bank as the major tenant. This provides a good opportunity for Data 61 to rethink what they do and how they do it. Data 61 needs to to be able to answer the question I ask every research student in their final presentation: "How can we make money out of this?".

NICTA and CSIRO in the past have taken the approach of gently introducing its researchers to commercial considerations. Generally this approach has not worked and there is little prospect if Data 61 succeeding if it continues this approach. I suggest they need to formally training staff in innovation and entrepreneurship and have them take part in start-up competitions. Some staff may find this unpalatable and they can be encouraged to find a job in academia. The remaining staff can then get on with producing results.

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