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CEDA and Australia’s Innovation Challenge

CEDA, or the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, run regular industry sessions to discuss topics of national economic importance. The latest was a lunchtime session covering the benefits of Innovation and also some of the challenges we need to overcome to take advantage of Innovation in Australia.

Committee for Economic Development of Australia

Committee for Economic Development of Australia

Here are videos of the panel discussion which raise a lot of excellent points. They are split into 2 due to their length.

 

Below I cover my take on some of the areas covered both before and during the panel discussion.

Innovation in Job Hunting

Job hunting, or seeking, is a 2 way problem. Potential employees want a good job and potential employers want good employees. Should be simple, right?

Doug Blue of SEEK shared some changes in the jobs market. SEEK used to just place job advertisements on a Web site. Now they have moved to employment fulfillment with up to 70% of job placements being through their services. This is typical of the shift in value creation that is happening all over the world.
A recent survey in Australia shows that 76% of people do not like their current job.

Innovation in Governance

Glenys Beauchamp PSM, of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, shared statistics and perspectives on the local economy. This is a summary of what was a very comprehensive and competent presentation.

Glenys Beauchamp

Glenys Beauchamp

The OECD statistics show that up to 50% of new jobs are due to Innovation. So this is an important topic for national growth. And to add more weight to the argument, 60% of productivity gains are due to Innovation.

Australia’s GDP growth has remained flat since 2011 and if this continues then our standard of living will start to fall.

Innovative businesses grow faster, have a more diverse range of market offerings, and create more jobs in them and around them than businesses which are not Innovation focused.

Drivers for Innovation:

  • High proportion of tertiary qualified young adults
  • High standard of research capability

And a few challenges:

  • Low rates of disruptive Innovation
  • Reducing investment for Innovation
  • Low levels of venture and early stage investment
  • Lowest level of Collaboration with universities and publicly funded research organisations in the OECD
  • Low Collaboration in general

The Australian Government is looking at all options to improve this including funding schemes not based on grants, big science infrastructure, tax incentives, entrepreneurs programs and simplifying engagement between business and publicly funded organisations.

Innovation Panel

Lunch was followed by a panel session. The panel was:

  • Glenys Beauchamp PSM – Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
  • Geoff Culbert – GE Australia, NZ, Papua New Guinea
  • Andrew Smith – Shell Australia
  • Andy Vessey – AGL

This is a summary of the discussion.

Innovation can’t just be about improving core business output, it also has to have spread and it has to be able to cross organisational and industry boundaries.

One big challenge is moving to a net zero emissions while increasing energy availability. So clean energy generation is a key and Australia is well placed to be exploring that.

Consumers of tomorrow will be making informed choices so those businesses that don’t educate and inform their customers will lose them to businesses that do. Many traditional businesses and industries are ripe for digital disruption.

GE see software as key to their digital industrial product range. IoT, or the Internet of Things,  is key to the adding of more value.

Shell are looking sideways at every industry they can to identify technologies they can harness in their industry. And they find Australia has many excellent researchers and businesses that can be tapped for solutions to problems that they don’t yet have a satisfactory answer for.

There is a role for Government to get the macro economic conditions right to encourage businesses to act through appropriate incentives. But Government also needs to change its own behaviour to be able to be a part of the future rather than living in a bureaucratic past.

Australia was outraged that we came 10th in the medals tally at the Olympic Games yet there is no outrage about our abysmally low Collaboration and business ratings! How do we get the bigger conversation going at the citizen level?

It is about investment level and investment focus. We value sporting success so we invest. To do better we have to either invest more or invest smarter. It is the same with Innovation and Collaboration. The real issue is where will the funding come from, and exactly how will it be applied. No-one seems to be addressing the lack of funding in a serious way.

Intellectual Property is no longer the main game, nor is data. It is the insights you get from data that is more important. GE have made their IoT operating system, Predix, open source because it is the leverage you get from it that is valuable, not just owning it. And it could also allow others to design devices that can readily fit into the GE ecosystem.

Innovation Summary

For me, the key points that keep coming up are:

  • Low Collaboration is holding us back. And this is a cultural issue. So no amount of money can fix that. We have to address the culture itself.
  • Everyone agrees a lot more money is needed and should be invested. No-one agrees to offer it.
  • Business models are still the biggest area for Innovation and we should keep pushing the boundaries on business models

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Collaboration

So what is Collaboration? The first thing it is not is convincing someone to work for you for nothing with the vague promise you will make it worth their while in the long run.

Collaboration = Working Together

Collaboration = Working Together

Let’s look at a few formal definitions:

  • Collaboration is working with each other to do a task and to achieve shared goals.
  • Collaboration: To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
  • Collaborate: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.

Of these, the first I like best. Shared Goals is a key point for me. And it also supports the idea of each party freely bringing something to the other.

Collaboration matters?

Australia has the lowest rate of inter-business Collaboration in the OECD! Seriously!

This is a huge problem. And we see it at every level from Federal Politics down to union engagement with enterprises through to the 3 million Small Businesses in the SME sector who are all operating in silos and not working together. I have come to the view that this is one of 2 structural problems in the Australian economy that most prevents us from being competitive. And it is a problem we can’t rely on government fixing. This needs a grass roots revolution since it is attitudes and values based.

The above data was put together by Professor Goran Roos based on OECD statistical data. His role as Thinker in Residence in South Australia was to look at how to revitalise manufacturing in the state. And to solve a problem you have to first understand it. And then understand the different possible solution spaces to work in.

South Australia Thinker in Residence

Professor Goran Roos

The solution to today’s problems will require better thinking than got us into them in the first place. Albert Einstein. That is probably a paraphrase as he has expressed several versions of this same truth. But the core point, is that more of the same will get you more of the same. To get a better outcome you need better thinking. So for me it is time to think differently. This also leads to Innovation but that is another topic.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

So rather than rant I decided to do something to show how we can get beyond the current situation. And was very fortunate to find George Zeidan of Zeidan who are a digital agency that amongst other things can develop custom web API based back ends for pretty much anything and the web and mobile interfaces that go with that. 

Successful Endeavours have a lot of experience in the design of remote telemetry devices and data loggers. And we had an existing problem. A great water dispensing device that allowed remotely located tank stands to provide water to tankers and record who, when, where, how much and then transport that back over GSM to a back end so that councils can keep track of it. It also had “Over the Air” firmware upgrade capability and “Over the Air” configuration update capability. However the client’s back end was taking forever to build and we had concluded it would never have the features we needed. The web developers were going to kill the opportunity. Another 9 months later and obviously still a problem, George Zeidan and I got talking and decided to Collaborate. 8 weeks later we had a working system with a feature roadmap in place and our first sale. 

Collaboration between Successful Endeavours and Zeidan leads to a new opportunity

Collaboration between Successful Endeavours and Zeidan

The picture above shows Ray Keefe of Successful Endeavours and George Zeidan of Zeidan,  rather like proud parents, with some examples of the internals of hardware devices already supported by the Ritri system. That is the name given to the web API back end product. You won’t be able to do much without a login so leave a comment if you want a demo.

The press release for the collaboration effort is available on line at Networking in the Net.

Planned future products to be supported by the system are:

  • Corrosion protection data loggers
  • Apartment water metering and sub-metering
  • Water Bulk Filling Stations
  • Septic Tank monitoring systems
  • fill in your product idea here…

So this is our official notification that if Australia is open for Business, Successful Endeavours is open for Collaboration.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2014 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

iAwards

The iAwards are an annual celebration of Innovation in driving economic growth in Victoria. This year we were pleased to see one of our clients, Rectifier Technologies Pacific, nominate for an award. They were encouraged to do so and I was pleased that they followed through on that encouragement.

iAwards

iAwards

iAwards Winners 2014

The iAwards 2014 Winners for Victoria have been announced and Rectifier Technologies Pacific are winners in 2 categories:

  • Research and Development
  • Sustainability

This was for their RT15 240V 100A HRE Rectifier. This is a high power level and high efficiency AC to DC Power Converter.

Rectifier Technologies Pacific

Rectifier Technologies Pacific

One of the reasons we are familiar with the product is that we did some of the core Embedded Software Development and know just how good the hardware design in the power stage is. You can get more information from Rectifier Technologies Pacific AC/DC Product Range.

So congratulations again to Rectifier Technologies Pacific and to all the rest of the winners at this year’s iAwards.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2014 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd

Innovation

Innovation is always a topic of interest to me. This post covers an approach to Innovation that I found helpful and was inspired by Frank Connolly of Think Quick. He is working with SEMMA as part of their Future of Manufacturing project which we are supporting. 

Frank Connolly of Think Quick

Frank Connolly of Think Quick

So the first thing that always comes up is the question of “What is Innovation“? After all, it is a word that has been done to death and nearly everything has to be Innovative or else it a dinosaur. Here are a few of the definitions I have heard over the years and the sources:

  • Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. Wikipedia
  • Innovation is “Change that creates value”. Frank Connolly
  • Innovation is a “Change that adds value”. Roger La Salle
  • Innovation is a change that is intended to be an improvement. Ray Keefe
  • Innovation is “something new or different introduced”. 
  • Innovation is “The act of introducing something new”. The Free Dictionary.
  • Innovation generally refers to renewing, changing or creating more effective processes, products or ways of doing things.” The Australian government business website.

All of these involve the idea of change or something new, coupled with improvement or increase in value. So I think I’m happy that the meaning of Innovation is fairly consistent when you look beyond the word at the formal definitions. Some are easier to understand than others.

What I think has happened is that the process of Innovating has become such a grand design that it can now only be done with a 155 page strategy document, a think tank and the aim of revolutionising a market in one single step. In other words, it has become nearly impossible to do.

Clayton Christensen in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma showed us that the business drivers of our current customers blinds us to emerging but currently unsuitable technology that eventually takes over our market. This has led to a focus on Innovation that looks to be disruptive as its primary goal. And I have come to the conclusion that this has hampered our attempts at Innovation. We have set the bar too high. And this isn’t what Innovation was about. Just a way of looking at a specific type of Innovation.

Practical Innovation

So this is where Frank Connolly got my attention. He is saying a similar thing. That Innovation itself isn’t the hard bit, it is the way we think about Innovation that makes it hard. He runs a training program DIY Innovation which includes looking at Practical Innovation. This is a training course anyone can sign up for and definitely great value having just done a core component of it as part of the SEMMA Future of Manufacturing project

Frank’s premise is that we are creatures of habit and that it is the habit, not the ability to think, that is the problem. He also sees Innovation as having been made to seem way too difficult for ordinary people to do. You have to be an Innovation Super Hero with a triple PHD in something and a weirdly wired brain in order to pull off actual Innovation

What Frank teaches includes material that has the following characteristics:

  • Has been proven to work in practice
  • Is clear and understandable to anyone
  • Is logically structured so you can follow it clearly
  • Is intended to be used at every level of an organisation and not just by an elite leadership team

 

Practical Innovation

Practical Innovation

I’m not going to try and reproduce what I learnt at the workshop but instead to share with you the 3 most important ideas I came away with.

  1. Innovation can and should be done by everyone!
  2. Do lots of small, simple, structured experiments and document them in a consistent manner.
  3. You should expect at least half your experiments to fail.

Everything else flows from those 3 fundamental ideas. And Frank took the time to lay a proper foundation with lots of examples as well as some models of problem types in order to ensure we understood everything and were able to then go and do it. And the reason half your experiments should fail, is that you are looking to discover something new and so you can’t predict when and how you will find it. Many things can be progressed by removing a small but significant obstacle.

The main problem he has is that once he has done this, it looks too simple. Surely Innovation is hard. So can Innovation really be done by mere mortals? It seems it can after all.

Frank Connolly is the founder of Think Quick and consults to governments and businesses across the globe.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2014 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd

Casey Business Awards 2013

We found out in August that we were Casey Business Awards 2013 Finalists in 2 categories:

  • Business and Professional Services Award
  • Manufacturer of the Year

 

Tracey Curro

Tracey Curro

Tonight at the Casey Business Awards Gala Dinner our MC, Tracey Curro did an excellent job of running the night. And we were thoroughly entertained by Max Walker who told some of his story and left me with a very profound insight into success. 

Max Walker

Max Walker

 The part of his presentation that resonated with me was the story about winning his first baggy green cap as he made the Australian Cricket Team. He went home, put the cap on and showed his Dad. His Dad asked for the cap and then put it on. And in that moment Max knew that his dad had believed in him and hoped for him long before he had been able to do it for himself.

Wow. This night might be about success for some businesses in winning their specific categories, but it was equally a win for everyone who believed in each of those business owners or operators long before they had won anything themselves.

Casey Business Awards 2013 Winners

Back to the awards process.

We won the Business and Professional Services Award 2013. We were pretty stoked about that.

The Manufacturer of the Year went to WasTech Engineering. Since we are primarily a service to Australian Electronics Manufacturers by designing new products for them, I have been very pleased to even be a finalist in this category. We do manufacture products but never in competition with other local manufacturers.

It was also a great night for Wastech Engineering who ultimately took out Casey Business of the Year 2013. So well done. And this is the second year running that a local manufacturer has won the award and 3 of the 4 years were manufacturing related with us winning Casey Business of the Year 2010.

Casey Business Awards Winners 2013

Casey Business Awards Winners 2013

But it didn’t stop there as the judges handed out some additional awards. I’m pleased to announce that we also received the Casey Business Award 2013 for Innovation.

This is the final year of the Casey Business Awards. Next year they are combining with the Shire of Cardinia to hold the combined Casey Cardinia Business Awards. We will also be involved in that. The 2 councils working together should prove to be a tremendous success. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

And at the end of the night we got a shot with Max Walker. He really is a legend.

Ray Keefe, Junette Keefe & Max Walker

Ray Keefe, Junette Keefe & Max Walker

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2013 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 The Client Perspective

 What you see depends on which direction you are looking from.

What do you see

How many bars?

If you count from the top, there are 10 bars. But there are only 7 bars when you count from the bottom. In this case it is an optical illusion based on how the drawing is constructed. However in real life the same sort of dilemma faces us as engineers when we are looking at Product Development from the technology perspective and the client is looking at it from the Return On Investment (ROI) perspective.

Roger La Salle makes the case in his book “Think New” that the problem with most new product introductions is not the technology. In general, we engineers will find a solution. The risk that usually kills the product is the business risk or market risk. So our focus as engineers is on making the client successful by getting the product to work technically through Innovation and our skill as engineers, but the client’s biggest risk remains maximised the whole time. The business risk is only dealt with when the product is finally being sold in sufficient quantities to cover the development costs and now return a profit.

Those are 2 very different perspectives. It is worth keeping that in mind the next time you are working on a new product.

The image for today’s blog post was provided courtesy of Dr Marc Dussault, The Exponential Growth Strategist who is always on the look out for examples of antimimeticisomorphism, which I am sure you’ll agree this is!

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  This post is Copyright © 2013  Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd

Ray Keefe interview with Ryan Gomez

Today I was interviewed by Ryan Gomez on Casey Radio. Ryan is an award winning motivational speaker and life coach and host of the Hour of Power and Leadership each Sunday at 1pm. I was his guest for the second half of the show where he wanted to explore the success of my business, Successful Endeavours, and my role in that.

Ryan Gomez

Ryan Gomez

This is my second interview on Casey Radio. The previous was for the Casey Radio Business Hour where David Wilkinson of the Casey Economic Development Department wanted to know how our win as Casey Business of the Year 2010 had impacted my business.

This time Ryan gave me a chance to tell some of the bigger story of my life, my faith and my business journey. 

Ray Keefe with Ryan Gomez

Ray Keefe with Ryan Gomez

 We covered a lot of ground including:

  • How I got into Engineering in the first place
  • Why I started Successful Endeavours
  • How my faith affects my decisions in business
  • How important a business mentor has been to our success
  • What advice I have for other small business owners

 

Ray Keefe interviewed by Ryan Gomez

Ray Keefe interviewed by Ryan Gomez

 I found that Ryan and I shared a number of views including the importance of people, the need to have a purpose for what you do and the value of continuing to grow day by day. Ryan is also a big believer in the power of mistakes and learning from them. Something I strongly agree with.

I also had the chance to share about why Manufacturing is so important to me. Manufacturing is the largest industry sector in Victoria, the largest employer and the largest exporter. It is the at the heart of Victoria’s economy and vital to the progress of Innovation, the knowledge economy and the best way to grow employment as it generates more indirect jobs per direct job of any area of commercial activity.

And of course I love creating new products that make people’s lives better. That’s what Engineers do.

I finished off the interview with my favourite business quote and my advice to other small business owners.

Ray Keefe’s Business Quote

The purpose of the organisation is so that ordinary men and women can come together, and in cooperation with each other, do the extraordinary“. Aristotle ~380BC

Ray Keefe’s Business Advice

If you are a small business owner, it is likely that you will have gaps in your understanding of business and how to take the business to the next level. So my advice is to find a business mentor you can trust and work with, and let them help you. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

Ray Keefe on Casey Radio Hour Of Power And Leadership

Ray Keefe on Casey Radio

Casey Radio Interview with Ray KeefeClick on the image on the left to download or listen to the Casey Radio Hour of Power and Leadership interview with Ray Keefe.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  This post is Copyright © 2012  Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd

What is Innovation

The problem with innovation is that it is a word used all the time with the expectation that using the word somehow makes things better. A definition for innovation is a bit harder to nail down. Here are some examples.

Something new or different introduceddictionary.com

Change that adds valueRoger La Salle who invented Matrix Thinking and the Innovation Matrix. His latest book is called “Innovate or Perish”!

Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. Wikipedia

The Australian Government website on Innovation lists the programs on offer but avoids a definition.

Innovation Matters

Innovate or Perish

Innovate or Perish

The graph above shows the need for Innovation on a continual basis and not just a single event. It is taken from Embedding Innovation on the Matrix Thinking website.

Innovation matters because without it, entropy ensures we go backward. There is no standing still. The graph above shows the financial implications of this. There is only forward and backward. A very scary set of statistics for Australia come from the Australian Intellectual Property Scorecard which shows that in every significant way,  Australian Innovation has gone backward over the period from 2005-2009. Now 2009 was a tough year, but the trend predates this so you can’t just dismiss it as a consequence of the GFC. It was happening in the full on growth period that preceded it. Here is a brief summary of my reading of the report:

  • Only 10% of Patents filed in Australia are by Australians
  • Australian Patents to Australians fell 20%
  • International Patents to Australians fell 20%
  • USA Patents granted to Australians rose to 0.7% then fell back to 0.6%
  • European Patents granted to Australians rose to 0.55% then fell back to 0.45%

This is not the sign of a healthy Innovation Environment. The slow decline in Australian Manufacturing is certainly one of the reasons but it seems we have just become less interested in Innovating.

Australians granted Australian Patents

Australians granted Australian Patents

Innovation Requires Need

I read with interest The Innovation Machine on how a range of different companies ensure innovation happens. Google and 3M are famous for their Innovation strategies which includes employees having discretion over how some of their time is spent so they can pursue things that interest them. The argument in the article however is that Innovation is unnatural, and so you must create an environment that ensure Innovation occurs.

In a second article that touches on this point on Israeli Entepreneurs, an Israeli company Optibase has cutting edge video equipment which only exists because of the Israeli military. Staying alive is a powerful motivator and the military are keen for improvements to come from anywhere. Innovation is expected!

Our business creates or updates roughly 100 new products each year. So for us, new is normal. And this need makes Innovation essential. This is one of the advantages of working with an external product development consultancy. Even if you have the internal skills to do the work yourself, an external viewpoint will always be different. The ultimate aim is to be able to harness the best of both to get a better outcome than you could from either alone.

Innovation can also be stifled and this is not just an Australian phenomenon. I covered this is Prototypes Blunt Innovation.

My thanks go to Dr Marc Dussault, The Exponential Growth Strategist for the links which prompted this post.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  This post is Copyright © 2012  Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd

Prototyping

Prototypes are very useful. We use them all the time when developing new products. They let us try out new ideas explore how well a particular technology will work for a specific application.

One danger of a prototype, is that there is the temptation to think that you can then just fix it up to make it into a product. This is a common enough dilemma with software. It mostly works so a bit more polish and it will be OK to ship it.  This is definitely a danger zone. Once a prototype has served it’s purpose, put it aside. The design the product from the ground up. And then, if you can use any of the prototype design, then do so in a considered way based on the design and architecture you have determined will meet the entire needs of the project. Most prototypes do not have the exception handling and support featured needed to make them into real products that can be tested and maintained.

So I was interested to read about another potential problem with prototypes in the December 2011 edition of the Harvard Business Review in an article titled Early Prototypes Can Hurt A Team’s Creativity.

Innovation Blockage

The problem outlined is that the prototype can limit the thinking about the project. It is way easier to pick and choose features on a defined thing and critique flaws than to create something new. So the early prototype can really set the team back if they let it define the full scope of how to think about the underlying problem being solved.

Prototypes Can Kill Innovation

Prototypes Can Kill Innovation

I have seen the same think happen when a product needs a new model. It is obvious to look at incremental improvements and “Low Hanging Fruit” but sometimes you have to step back and think about the market and the customers and what they really need. Maybe it is time for a clean slate. And maybe there are good reasons why the old technology the product was based on is not the right choice for the next model.

In both cases, the prototype and the existing model act as a frame of reference that limits innovation and creativity.

The hard part of course, is recognising when that is the case and when it is not.

As an example, one project I worked on early in my career involved creating a new international product for a company entering a new market. It was for an existing category and there were 6 incumbents who had been there for a while, in some cases 30 years. The company did something very wise. They sent someone to talk to several opinion leaders and to all the local users of the equipment. The intent was to determine the best way to go about gaining market share. The story told was that none of the existing products met the customer needs really well. Over time they had converged into 2 formats, one for each market segment, and it was a price war as the products had become commodities. But when they were asked what they were trying to do, the customers gave 2 clear stories, one in each market segment. The marketing and product specifications were based on these 2 stories and we designed a single product to meet both market segments. The product entered a crowded international market at a price point 50% above the next most expensive product. The company planed to sell 300 in the first year and ramp up after that. The sold 1500 in the first year and had to move to a larger factory to satisfy the demand.

Leica Autostainer XL

Leica Autostainer XL

I also got a patent for one of the new technologies developed. The point is that if you meet the actual need, people will pay for that. The issue in this market was that the incumbents had let each others’ offerings define their responses and not the customers’ need. Another example of stifled innovation until a new player listened and changed the game.

I have never forgotten that lesson.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  This post is Copyright © 2012  Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd