Internet of Things: Opportunity Australia

Australia is a nation of incredibly inventive, dynamic, resilient and pragmatic people. These characteristics have served us well over many generations and led to great technological inventions. These include the refrigerator, electric drill, solar hot water, black box recorder, radar, WI-FI and the bionic ear, to name a few. There’s a common thread in these inventions: they are all practical and overcome significant ‘real world’ problems and they have all stood the test of time.

However, over the last two decades, when compared to other nations, it feels like we have slipped in the ‘technology invention contribution stakes’.

During this time we have also had it ‘very good’: low interest rates, low national debt, an unbroken run of growth and low unemployment. We made it through the 2000 tech bubble relatively unscathed, as we did post 9/11 and the GFC of 2008/9, which some countries (Exhibit A: the USA) are really only just recovering from.

Meanwhile, China was opening up, growing incredibly fast.

The stuff we were digging out of the ground was selling well on the global stage at a great price, keeping thousands employed, spawning new towns and keeping our national finances and standard of living very healthy. This is all good in the short term, but has it made us complacent? Without certain ‘hardship stimulants’ that many other countries have had to deal with, have we lost some of that inventive edge? When you look at the countries best at technology innovation and invention, from the big (e.g. USA) to the small (e.g. Israel) they generally have had massive ‘necessity drivers’ pushing them. Australia, on the other hand, hasn’t had any. With the exception, perhaps, of the strong Australian dollar contributing to our significant struggles in manufacturing.

The successful ‘invention and innovation countries’ have also made significant progress in implementing the necessary foundations in a modern, technology-enabled economy. Many have extremely prosperous linkages between higher education, research and industry. Some have put more focus on fostering childhood education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The best have corporates and other institutions supporting innovation and incubation of ideas, also establishing incredibility vibrant links between capital funding sources and emerging start-ups needing money to turn ideas into commercial and social outcomes. Australia is beginning to get focus and momentum on most of these areas, but generally we are coming from well behind and learning from other countries.

As we look ahead to a future without a mining boom, further manufacturing industry hardship, and China coming back to earth, Australia needs to get moving on “what’s next”.

What is going to drive the next 20-30 years of growth and opportunity in this country? What will our kids and their kids be learning and building their careers and lives of prosperity on?

One way or another it has to be technology-centric.

Enter Internet of Things (IoT). IoT presents a great opportunity for Australia to deliver social good, consumer convenience, corporate productivity, risk reduction and value creation all for our benefit. IoT also, perhaps more importantly, presents the opportunity for Australia to be a net exporter of IoT expertise and solutions. And it fits our country profile.

Initial use for IoT gravitates towards areas of strength for Australia: agriculture, mining, transport, healthcare, utilities, logistics and construction. On its own, IoT means nothing. It’s the practical application that will bring value. Our inherent ‘practical invention’ mindset will serve us well here.

We are extremely competent in the foundational elements that make IoT tick. Big data, analytics, cloud, telecommunications and sensor technology to name a few and we have many start-ups already operating in some of these dimensions, specifically focusing on IoT.

Australia is also moving into an era of hyper connectivity – driven in large part by the NBN. The NBN is and will change the way we live, learn, socialise and work. As “NBN natives” (our kids who are born straight into life with the NBN) come of age, we will truly see the power this connectivity can create.

The next 3-5 years will be critical to make this all come together. Corporate Australia, educational and research institutions, industry bodies and government all need to be pulling together to foster investment and application of IoT. The many constructive discussions and collaborations on IoT across various corporations, industry bodies, institutions and government agencies need to continue. To foster, fund and drive experimentation and learning of IoT. These actions, as well as supporting our local IoT start-up community and picking our IoT ‘sweet spots’, will be critical to our success.

Let’s capitalise on the opportunity that IoT presents and get back to being that great nation of ‘practical innovators and inventors’. Our future depends upon it.


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