One of the weaknesses of the domestic Australian I.T. industry in the years prior to the emergence of the internet as a business platform is that it never really developed into the fully integrated ecosystem. A deeply embedded, collaborative integration with the wider business community simply didn’t exist.

The industry that emerged after the tech wreck of the late 1990s and the early 2000s, did so in a world where a collaboration between companies was critical to developing the kind of innovation mindset necessary for success.

This more mature approach to the ecosystem is demonstrated in the way some of Australia’s largest companies now interact with the startup and innovation community.


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According to Karen Ganschow, general manager consumer marketing and strategy, NAB, “I think it is very important to connect to internet startups who can help solve a problem and deliver a benefit to ourselves. So we have to find the right integration points to do this.

“That’s the only way that an organisation like ours will be successful because we can’t do it for ourselves.”

But the need for such collaboration, while more common, is not wholly widespread. In part that is because those integrations require companies to think differently about who they connect with and how, and that in turn requires new thinking on the part of company boards and leadership teams charged with developing strategy.

Those that can’t change their thinking face obsolescence says Stephen Moore, executive director SAP Australia. “Half of the S&P 500 companies that started this century are now out of business. And the average lifespan of a company today in the same group is only 15 years.”

And the fact that many of today’s hyper-scaled global internet businesses reached sufficient scale to join the S&P 500 in under a decade highlights just how brutal the competitive landscape is these days.

“Part of our role,” says Moore, “is to try and influence companies to make a better and faster start on their innovation journey. One of the things we can do is lead by our example since technology companies are collaborative by nature.”

But he says, large tech companies need to be willing to change too. “We also need to nurture our own agile startup culture and community to participate as well.”

He says the technology industry had initially tried to pursue a path of shocking boards into changing and innovating but that approach brought mixed success.

“What we really need to do instead is educate boards.”

To this end, SAP created a vehicle called Executive Digital Exchange which is a SAP-sponsored but not SAP administered program.

The goal is to bring CEOs and executive directors together and to foster a conversation about what the art of possible is around innovation, says Moore.

“What we’ve found over the two and a half years we’ve been doing this is the view that any idea brought to the table is a worthwhile idea.

“It’s actually a collaborative journey. No organisation, no technology organisation, and no customer organisation can do this on their own.”

And the mindset change needs to focus internally as well as out into the world since culture-change is often a key driver of the shift to an innovative approach.

“These issues are challenging and daunting at the executive level. And remember you are dealing with a largely conservative cohort. But the fact is that shifting to an innovation culture does create the cultural challenge, and the need to deal with the organisational issues of culture change.”

According to Moore, “We are ultimately optimistic about the power of successful innovation and the ability of companies to pursue it, and to drive commerce.”

Andrew Walduck, former EGM for Product and Innovation at Australia Post said, “A challenge a number of large organisations face is nurturing the competence needed to build sustainable growth into their businesses. Leaders need to appreciate that there is a cost attached to the notion of the creativity that’s needed inside of an organisation. Plus they need to be willing to take risks on what would be perceived as an innovation because it may or may not come off in a material way.”

And caution is not the only risk, he suggested.

“A lot of organisations right now are improving their innovation and agile acumen but are letting a thousand flowers bloom. There is excitement in the colour and movement of this new way of working, however connecting this work to impactful ideas that scale is critical. It has to translate into meaningful outcomes.

“Boards are also finding their way with enabling this process to happen inside of their organisations as they must manage the long-term strategy and growth of that organisation.”

About the author

Andrew Birmingham is the director of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit of which SAP is a corporate member. Our members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply.

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