Innovation multiplied: Collaboration matters for a connected economy

Despite our notable innovation successes, are we are doing all we can to extract maximum return from those individual achievements?

A recent review of Australia’s innovation system has reinforced a long-established consensus that effective innovation results in productivity gains and a whole range of positive economic outcomes.

We are a nation with many high-achievers and many notable innovation successes, but the question remains whether we are doing all we can to extract maximum return from those individual achievements. This is especially the case as we enter a new era where digital platforms and plentiful high-speed connectivity offer new opportunities for collaboration, growth and transformation.

The recent Australian Innovation System Report 2013 notes a clear national deficiency in how we work together to meld new products and services, the sum of which may be far higher in value and their influence far more compelling than their original innovative components.

Writing in the report, University of Melbourne Professor Robin Battherham describes this opportunity, collaboration among people and organisations already innovating as separate entities, as “second-hand innovation.” I like to think of it as innovation multiplied.

While there may be multiple structural and other reasons for our collaborative reluctance, there is a clear gap in our innovation system where working together may be seen as too hard or the potential opportunities unclear. This much has struck me over recent months, working among Australia’s innovation community to bring together a core group to test new facilitated modes in service development.

Through orchestrated collaboration, with clear goals and a framework, industry can play an important role supporting our local technology entrepreneurs and recognised, world-leading research institutes to come together to multiply their innovation, commercialise their ideas and generate new value. Alcatel-Lucent’s ng Connect program could very well be described as a place to facilitate and drive second-hand innovation, and to multiply the benefits.

There are very good commercial reasons to do this. According to ABS figures cited in the Innovation System Report, innovative businesses that collaborate (compared to innovative businesses that don’t collaborate) are 23 per cent more likely to increase productivity; 24 per cent more likely to increase profitability and 48 per cent more likely to increase the range of goods or services they offer.

Yet, despite these apparent benefits Australian innovative businesses do not seem to be collaborating as much as they could; in fact Australia ranks 23 out of 26 OECD countries in the proportion of its businesses collaborating on innovation.

Further, less than five per cent of Australian businesses engage in international collaboration, surely a significant missed opportunity given our national ambitions to grow as a knowledge economy and find new global markets for smart products and services. As PWC puts forward in its 2013 Start-Up Economy report, this is a substantial national opportunity that could contribute $109 billion, or four per cent of GDP, and 540,000 jobs to the Australian economy by 2033.

Collaboration appetite

There is a significant appetite among the innovation community for a facilitated collaborative approach, to potentially accelerate how Australia reaps the rewards of this dynamic emerging sector. Australian organisations are instinctively open to the concept of collaboration but are seeking the kind of structure and certainty that an orchestrated program can bring.

The transformative economic potential of ubiquitous ultra-broadband coverage, as envisioned by the National Broadband Network (NBN), supported by advanced mobile networks is immense.

This is largely because ubiquitous coverage maximises the addressable market available to organisations with innovative products and services that can be packaged, sold and distributed.

The combination of this opportunity, together with Australia’s reputation for technology innovation, world-leading entrepreneurism and the chance to facilitate more collaboration between great innovators, makes me extremely optimistic about Alcatel Lucent’s plans to develop the ng Connect program in Australia, which aspires to become a meaningful contributor to the local innovation sector.

Our newest ng Connect member; the Institute for a Broadband Enabled Society (IBES) at the University of Melbourne; epitomises the opportunity to bring together people and organisations that may not have previously crossed paths, and expose their innovation to new resources and development approaches. The IBES interdisciplinary method is highly complementary to ng Connect’s focus, bringing research and industry interests together through broadband and digital service innovation.

As a foundation member for ng Connect in Australia, providing academic acumen as well as an important broadband development, integration and testing environment, IBES will provide a tangible focal point for our member ecosystem and 2014 development program. We’re already talking to our new and potential Australian members about how to bring them into that environment in early 2014 and throughout our ongoing workshop program.

ng Connect is about collaboration to create the next broadband user experiences and we’re very excited about Australia’s potential to reap the rewards. It’s about bringing Australian innovators together, connecting them with our growing community of 150 members across North America and the Asia-Pacific, to address real industry needs with tangible service concepts and business models.  

Right now we’re seeking organisations in Australia who are switched on to the benefits of open collaboration and the possibilities of our connected economy. If you’re a collaborator, join us.

Liza Noonan is Emerging Technology Commercialisation Director at Alcatel-Lucent Australia