Historic survey distils lessons for future of IT sector

A new study of tech innovation in Australia over 70 years, provides a host of insights into key drivers of success in the IT sector.

Just weeks after the Commonwealth committed $1bn to build a quantum computer in Brisbane, the study provides, a long-term perspective on the pathways of IT development in Australia, delivering a nuanced analysis of where the industry is and how it got there, with  key lessons for the future.  

The paper is based on in-depth interviews with 42 experts on Australian IT innovation and written by six IT experts, who determined that the next waves of innovation will require a longer-term vision for government policy.

They find;

  • Vastly improved access to funding since the ‘90’s, particularly venture capital. Before then, entrepreneurs were largely self-funding, but over the last 30 years a “robust incubator and start-up scene” has appeared. In contrast, during the ‘80’s it was a condition of government contracts that winners invested part of their profit in manufacturing and education in Australia. The paper found that this could be counter-productive; instead of expanding SMEs it turned them into “mere local subcontractors for multinationals.”
  • “A dynamic national innovation framework” this has required four interacting factors, education and training, awareness of opportunities for ICT and a capacity to commercialise ideas and ability to scale-up – this all contributes to a focus on work in major industries, notably mining.
  • Government facilitation, including through tax incentives and research and development funding. However the authors warn this can lead to funding going to “development” to “address an existing organisational need” rather than funding research, “that needs to novel products and services.” All up, they find that tax concessions work better than grants.
  • Public sector bureaucracy and limited time frames are pointed to as problems, but the Cooperative Research Centre program is recognised as an effective approach in connecting universities and industry.
  • Government as customer, “underpins the transition from commercialisation to scale-up” but long-term contracts and a risk-adverse focus on existing products are hard for start-ups.
  • There’s government, government and government. Commonwealth, state and local governments have different needs
  • University-industry nexus is “a key weakness in the Australian ICT innovation ecosystem … existing reward structures and publication-centric KPIs in universities increasingly favour those academics who pursue a traditional academic career, instead of taking the more risky route towards working on the commercialisation of research outcomes.”

There’s no faulting them for optimism that change for the better is possible – the paper lists 28 government reports, 1975-2022.



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