How the knowl­edge econ­omy can save Aus­tralia

The Australian - The Deal - - Front Page -

David Thodey

The world econ­omy is in a time of de­ci­sive change – we are wit­ness­ing the rise of a global knowl­edge econ­omy. The good news is that Aus­tralia is now much more aware of the cen­tral­ity of sci­ence, knowl­edge and in­no­va­tion to our na­tion’s fu­ture pros­per­ity. We have rea­son to be proud of our achieve­ments in cre­at­ing new knowl­edge in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy within our re­search com­mu­nity. How­ever, all busi­nesses and oper­a­tions will need to be much more fo­cused on new ways of do­ing things, trial and er­ror, and cre­at­ing new prod­ucts and ser­vices based on knowl­edge.

This will make new de­mands on our ex­ist­ing work­force. This is an area to which the Na­tional In­no­va­tion and Sci­ence Agenda is yet to draw at­ten­tion – how do we pre­pare the ex­ist­ing work­force for the dig­i­tal, eco­nomic and struc­tural changes ahead?

The tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion that is now well un­der way will make dra­matic de­mands on peo­ple who are now in the work­force. Many of our ex­ec­u­tives, man­agers and teams will need to de­velop new skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. We are mov­ing to a world where en­gag­ing the power of com­put­ers – soft­ware, cog­ni­tive com­put­ing, data anal­y­sis – will be part of the job of many Aus­tralian work­ers who have no train­ing in sci­ence, maths or tech­nol­ogy.

To suc­ceed, we will have to find ways to strengthen these skills in our work­places. The rise of digi­ti­sa­tion, glob­al­i­sa­tion, plat­form eco­nomics and per­son­al­i­sa­tion all rely on soft­ware, cloud com­put­ing, data an­a­lyt­ics and en­hanced com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

This process of au­to­ma­tion and digi­ti­sa­tion will hap­pen whether we like it or not, so the sooner we get started the bet­ter. Re­tool­ing will re­quire new col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween com­pa­nies, uni­ver­si­ties, en­trepreneurs and gov­ern­ment. We must look to­ward a na­tional strat­egy to trans­form our na­tional dig­i­tal and tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity.

This strat­egy must equip Aus­tralians with the abil­i­ties they need to pros­per in a glob­alised econ­omy driven by soft­ware. New forms of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing will be re­quired – ones that are flex­i­ble and re­spon­sive to the un­pre­dictable course of the tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion we are fac­ing. In an un­cer­tain world, adapt­abil­ity and re­silience will be key, both at the in­di­vid­ual and the in­sti­tu­tional lev­els. This re­quires noth­ing less than the es­tab­lish­ment of a cul­ture of in­no­va­tion that en­cour­ages and re­wards in­vest­ment in new knowl­edge and skills.

David Thodey is chair­man of CSIRO and for­mer CEO of Tel­stra

Kel­lie Parker

At Rio Tinto we are rapidly au­tomat­ing and the use of ro­bots is at the heart of our oper­a­tions. We are dis­cov­er­ing a great deal about the skills and tal­ents we need.

We work with the largest fleet of driver­less trucks in the world and are quickly learn­ing about the spec­trum of skills that are re­quired in our broader au­to­ma­tion con­text, for both the hu­man-to-ma­chine in­ter­face, and that of one ma­chine talk­ing to another.

Heavy ma­chines haven’t yet learnt to re­pair them­selves, which has im­pli­ca­tions for the skilled peo­ple we need: highly dex­ter­ous tech­ni­cians to keep things mov­ing and reg­u­lar on-the-job train­ing. The en­vi­ron­ment and its de­mands are rapidly and con­stantly chang­ing.

Find­ing peo­ple with just the right mix of skills is chal­leng­ing – many of the re­quired skills aren’t read­ily taught at univer­sity. The prob­lem solv­ing takes place in re­mote lo­ca­tions where peo­ple must un­der­stand the con­trol sys­tems and have the skills to use ad­vanced tools. They need to be able to open up the back of the ma­chine and fix it.

Then there are skills re­quired to work with data – lots of it. Au­ton­o­mous ma­chines gen­er­ate enor­mous amounts of data that we use to both in­crease their ef­fi­ciency and our over­all pro­cesses.

Rio's driver­less trucks, for ex­am­ple, are con­tin­u­ally im­prov­ing in their per­for­mance and ca­pac­ity. The data they gen­er­ate can be used to bet­ter de­sign the pits, gen­er­at­ing sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter yields and more value from in­di­vid­ual pits. Or the crusher can sig­nal to the au­ton­o­mous truck when it needs more ore with­out the need for hu­man in­ter­ac­tion.

This process is con­tin­u­ing – and we can use the data it gen­er­ates to keep im­prov­ing per­for­mance. All of this re­quires ex­am­in­ing data, and un­der­stand­ing it so that im­prove­ments can be made. It is an it­er­a­tive process and we rely on peo­ple who are skilled in­ter­prete rs of data.

Work­ing in these en­vi­ron­ments with mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary teams, we also find our work­force needs to un­der­stand the di­verse back­grounds and per­spec­tives of the dif­fer­ent engi­neer­ing dis­ci­plines, in­dus­tries and trades, that work in our oper­a­tions. Be­cause each dis­ci­pline has its own di­alect we must al­low the time for a com­mon lan­guage to de­velop.

Peo­ple who can drive value cre­ation out of in­ves­ti­gat­ing and im­prov­ing ev­ery sin­gle process are the type of peo­ple we need. Again, it’s an ap­ti­tude, it comes from ex­pe­ri­ence – it’s about con­stant it­er­a­tion, adap­ta­tion and evo­lu­tion.

Rio was one of the first com­pa­nies to bring such com­plex au­to­ma­tion to the heart of our busi­ness. Many Aus­tralian busi­nesses will travel this path and need the right work­force with the right skills to make this jour­ney.

Peo­ple who can drive value cre­ation out of in­ves­ti­gat­ing and im­prov­ing ev­ery sin­gle process are the type of peo­ple we need ... it’s about con­stant it­er­a­tion, adap­ta­tion and evo­lu­tion.

Kel­lie Parker

Kel­lie Parker is Rio Tinto’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Pil­bara as­sets and devel­op­ment, iron ore

David Thodey and Danny Gil­li­gan

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