By Colin Jowell 

There’s never been a more exciting time to be involved in the innovation sector in Australia.

The National Innovation and Science agenda is a massive step forward for us, make no mistake, so it seems churlish to criticize an agenda that is positive in so many ways.  The opening up of funding and opportunities for start ups and new businesses, the acknowledgement of the cultural shift required, creating better opportunities for women to participate…. the paper is a must read for anyone with an idea they think could become a business. There are some overdue reforms that truly celebrate risk, which is a dream for any innovator. So rather than view this as a criticism, I’d prefer to frame this as a challenge, for us all to fill in the blank spaces on what is a very generous and forward thinking canvas. 

The first clue comes in the very title “Innovation and Science Agenda”. Pairing innovation and science is both critical and logical, but it’s also incomplete. While an innovation like a Tesla is rooted in science, innovations like Uber and Airbnb are less about science, and more about customer insight and understanding.

And once you see this theme, it is reinforced over and over. For example, as one goes through the site the somewhat clunky UX, one cannot help but wonder how much usability testing had been done. Such speculation is always risky in the absence of knowledge- but from observation, while the front end of the information has been given some gloss, accessing the back end programmes and the detail is still quite challenging- back to the land of dull and dense government sites.  One person’s opinion, maybe, but the medium is the message, sometimes. Making this information more accessible is as important as the information itself. And this will be critical to the success of the programme going forward.

One of the more exciting developments is the opening of access to research. But again this is appears to be heavily skewed towards research provided by publicly funded organisations- the CSIRO, and others of that ilk. But some of the greatest opportunities and ideas for innovation come from a deep understanding of customer experience. With so many well-respected frameworks for developing that understanding now in the market, it seems a pity that it’s less explicitly called out. There’s a very real risk of chasing technology over customer needs- too many times, we see businesses trying to “Uberfy” their businesses without actually understanding the true problem they are trying to solve. This is exactly the reason we design our solutions around our customers deeper needs and motivations, since these frameworks are long term and outlast the tech of the day.

Understandably, more established businesses are not the focus here- but our point have view has always been that established businesses often have access to resources and expertise that just need to be channeled the right way in order to innovate. So therein lies the opportunity. Established businesses should see this as further warning that their businesses are more likely than every before to be disrupted. Existing customer relationships can, and must be leveraged to understand where that disruption may come from. By looking out for new ways to audit and examine your customer experience both qualitatively and quantitatively, you can spot which gaps to fix, and which strengths to promote, before the well-branded “idea’s boom” sends your business in the opposite direction.