Australian Innovation

ICT Breaks Barriers to Productivity and Innovation

Alex Zelinsky, CSIRO Group Manager for Information Sciences

A leading technologist says Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) have become essential productivity and innovation enablers for almost all areas of science and business.

Dr Alex Zelinsky, CSIRO Group Executive for Information Sciences and a member of the Australian Government’s Information Technology Industry Innovation Council, says ICT facilitates multi-disciplinary research teams. 

“ICT is a key enabler for multi-disciplinary collaboration because it provides the tools for online collaboration, particularly for teams that are geographically dispersed,” Dr Zelinsky said.

“Within CSIRO ICT is being used to build teams from around the country to develop innovative technology solutions to water, climate, energy, mining, agriculture challenges.”

“Put simply, ICT it enables close collaboration on a range of issues even though team members may be thousands of kilometres apart without the need for travel.”

“More and more, using ICT means we are able to take multi-disciplinary approaches to science because it makes collaboration and sharing data so much easier between teams that are spread far and wide, and also across institutional and national boundaries.”

“It is increasingly becoming more difficult for single scientists to make the big breakthroughs. Multi-disciplinary teams are the way to go, as these days most of the breakthroughs are coming from teams of diverse scientists who are able to work well together.”

“The advent of the national broadband network will potentially open once in a lifetime opportunities for Australian innovation, for new technologies and for new businesses.”

Dr. Zelinsky has an excellent reputation for being able to build effective research teams by using a relatively simple formula.

“Successful innovation is based on creating a work environment with a ‘buzz’,  we have found that this allows us to attract and retain the best workers,” he said.

“Success in any industry, but particularly in information technology, grows by investing in the right people and then ensuring they are inspired enough to stay for the duration.”

“It’s important that, while you have an end goal in sight, you also break the task into smaller achievable milestones.”

“This ensures that the team can taste success along the way and help maintain their interest, rather than have a burgeoning feeling that they are on some treadmill and not making headway.”

“In turn, an engaged workforce drives the best outcomes because people like to work in an environment that is exciting and dynamic, and where they are valued for their ideas.”

Providing sufficient resources to ensure success is equally important.
“Too often in research and innovation, insufficient resources are allocated to  projects.” Dr Zelinsky said. 

“There will always be resource constraints, coupled with other competing priorities. The ability to marshal resources is critical to success.”

“Despite the best project management, doing something for the first time, particularly in R&D, it can be difficult to judge the correct resourcing levels.”
“Typically projects nearly always overrun in time and cost, despite best efforts and it’s essential to revisit resourcing regularly.”

“It must be remembered that the global R&D environment is fiercely competitive  and rarely gives a prize for coming second. This means you need to objectively evaluate the progress of projects. Projects that have fallen behind and are unlikely to get back to the front must be terminated dispassionately.”

Dr Zelinsky says a global war is raging for talent in science, technology and innovation.

“This is a two-edged sword, smart staff are highly motivated and highly mobile and will move around,” Dr Zelinsky said.

“But we have also found that talent attracts talent and often high achievers will flock to you if you have one outstanding individual in your team, because they all want to work with a star.”

“A returning expat is a good source of talent – almost invariably they bring invaluable international experience, and a wealth of overseas contacts, with them.”

“But equally at CSIRO, we believe in nurturing our scientists by investing in skills and allowing out-placements, providing summer vacation study programs for undergraduates and support for PhD students and smart interns.

“We recognise that teamwork is an essential to success and CSIRO seeks scientists who are comfortable working across boundaries whether they are disciplinary, institutional or geographical rather than narrow technical specialists.

“We seek to be the best, we have a culture of celebration that rewards our people and recognises achievements and success.”

Key Lessons for Succeeding through Innovation

  • Collaboration through multi-disciplinary teams drives innovation.
  • ICT is a key enabler of the collaboration required to generate and execute innovation.
  • Engaged people in dynamic environments fosters innovation.
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