Australia’s National iAwards event celebrates great technology inventions and initiatives from Australian companies. During a recent iAwards event, Victorian Government representatives talked about their efforts in developing the state’s technology sector. Victoria is home to some great innovators in the digital technology arena, and has been chosen as head or Australian office for some major digital technology companies. But our state government that has yet to deliver significant digital era solutions to its citizens and seems unable to foster development of local enterprises that can consistently and successfully commercialise our inventions. It’s also difficult to identify major Australian organisations headquartered in Victoria which have done outstanding things with digital technology to the benefit of their customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders.
That experience set me thinking about the phases of technology. There are three, and the problem referenced above becomes clearer when we understand the phases. The phases are generic and the case of photovoltaic energy (solar power) is a case that helps illustrate.
Phase 1 is invention. In Australia, we are great at invention. Our universities and tech start-ups produce outstanding inventions and will continue to do so because we have the environment to turn out innovators. We’ve invented lots of fantastic PV technology in Australia just as we have invented lots of fantastic digital, medical, manufacturing and other technologies.
Phase 2 is commercialisation and production – where we translate inventions into delivered products and services. This is a problem area – Australia just doesn’t seem to know how to get its inventions into production and become a supplier to the word. Our PV inventions are still world leading, but we hand them to other nations for commercialisation and production – even when we have the best environment in the world for the third phase.
Phase 3 is the Exploitation Phase. This is where the invention is applied to solve real world problems and to deliver real world capability that the market wants. In terms of PV, Exploitation happens at three levels – device level, consumer premises level and commercial producer level. In the device space, we have for many years now seen everything from the humble electronic calculator to the farmer’s electric fence energiser exploiting PV technology in a highly encapsulated framework. With consumer premises, we have seen a slow start and steady growth in PV generation for individual homes, small commercial centres and some specialised applications like solar charging units built into electric vehicles. At the commercial producer level, we see extensive discussion of the potential for large scale solar farms to become backbone elements of a renewable energy grid, but relatively little actual development of large scale PV.
In the technology cycle, Phase 1 (invention) should be followed by Phase 2 (commercialisation), but commercialisation cannot be driven by invention, because the mere fact of invention does not create a sustainable business case for investment in the production capacity. In fact, Phase 2 is a demand-driven response to Phase 3, where early and later adopters provide the business case for investment. Exploitation provides the assurance of demand needed by those who invest to create the manufacturing scale that makes the investment a viable proposition.
Australia seems extremely shy of Exploitation. In the PV and the renewable energy arena as a whole, we still encounter loud proclamation from stalwarts of coal-age energy that PV is not viable, and that it is therefore not worthy of exploitation. Not surprisingly, Australia does not have any significant industrial capability for manufacturing PV technology. Without the large scale demand that drives commercialisation, we miss the opportunity to develop product for export. Yet, burgeoning small scale demand drives increasing volumes of imports where we might have been manufacturing and exporting competitive product.
While perhaps an imperfect example because it relates to physical high tech product, PV gives us a way to view Australia’s track record with digital (information) technologies. We are great at inventing digital technology and a short search can produce a long list of things that came from here. Many needed offshore entrepreneurs to drive adoption in the international marketlace to put them in flight toward being ubiquitous on a global scale.
Local exploitation – take-up of a technology at a modest but potentially adequate scale by Australian enterprises and government – could provide a context in which the cost of full scale international commercialisation can be buffered by revenue and experience derived from the local exploitation. As the commercialised product matures and expands into its international market, the domestic early adopters have an advantage over their international competitors, because they have learned how to exploit the invention top best advantage.
Building a healthy capacity for technology commercialisation requires a healthy demand by corporate and government consumers for locally invented product, which does not wait for or otherwise give preference to product that has been commercialised in another nation.
Instead of wringing our hands about the challenges of commercialisation, we should put all hands to the pump of exploitation – and then commercialisation will look after itself.
The question now becomes: Why is Australia not high on the scale of exploitation? In the context of adopting digital era technologies, we at the Digital Leadership Institute are hearing that too few business and government leaders lack the competence of a Digital Leader. That’s what drives our purpose: to help our business and government leaders to become competent, confident, and brave in leading our nation into the future!
Learn more about our research and knowledge sharing programs at the Digital Leadership Institute – www.dlinst.com.