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Collaborating to drive innovation

Australia may have modelled its digital transformation agenda on a UK centre of excellence, but its approach to collaboration is delivering uniquely Australian innovation, argues Elizabeth Vega.

Informed Solutions Global Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Vega

Just over 18-months ago, Australia and the UK signed an official agreement committing both governments to sharing information and supporting each other in developing digital public services.  As further evidence that closer ties are developing between UK and Australian digital leaders, a Memorandum of Understanding looks to strengthen the relationship and encourage greater collaboration between the two countries and their respective digital economies.

The move also reflects a long-running trend of UK digital expertise finding a natural home in Australia.  Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has conceded that Australia’s digital transformation agenda was modelled on the UK, even commenting that the UK should recognise that “plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery”.

But while moves to broaden and mature digital collaboration between the two countries have been welcomed, it’s worth acknowledging that collaboration between Australian and UK businesses long predates this government agreement.

Informed Solutions was one of the first businesses to provide large scale digital innovation and transformation expertise in Australia since the mid-1990s.  Australia benefits significantly from an openness to new ideas and willingness to collaborate and that makes us such successful innovators.

Working across public and private sector digital transformation projects in both the UK and Australia, we’ve achieved a number of significant digital firsts.  These include being the first company to commercially put maps and location based services on mobiles and tablets.  We were also the first to design and secure UK government services and data deployed on the Cloud.

However, it’s in traditional Australian sectors that are not so renowned for their digital capability where these skills are now not only finding a home but the opportunity to break new ground.

One example is in the innovation project jointly undertaken with the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), delivering the NSW’s first whole-of-government Sharing and Enabling Data (SEED) platform earlier this year; resulting from the NSW Chief Scientist’s Review which highlighted widespread public concern with major resource extraction across NSW, particularly regarding the impact of mining on environment and public health.

This produced the recommendation that a universally accessible ‘single point of truth’ for trusted environmental data be established, improving transparency, informing better decision making and allowing government and other partners to access, share and compare NSW environmental data in ways previously not possible.  Informed Solutions collaborated with OEH and nine government agencies to execute those recommendations to excellent effect, winning three major industry and government innovation awards in the process.

This enterprise level digital platform is more advanced than anything currently available in the UK and is an industry first that integrates seven specialist technologies (mix of high performing open source and proprietary products) to deliver a seamless user experience.

After a successful launch, it’s freely accessible to the public and supports effective decision making by agencies, councils, industry and communities throughout NSW.

Providing access to data from nine government agencies, it’s already having a significant positive impact.  Farmers are able to obtain objective scientific facts in an easy to understand format, specialist communities are able to analyse and interpret environmental data and land owners can see what resource rights are held over a property and what current and planned activities are occurring nearby, so they can ascertain potential impacts on water, air quality, noise etc. 

For the first time users are able to access and download data instantly in a format that’s easy to visualise without scientific expertise or specialist and expensive mapping software.

The pioneering nature of the portal has not gone unnoticed.  At this year’s national iAwards, the innovation and success of the large scale collaboration required to deliver the SEED platform was recognised with three awards.  “Informed Solutions’ work will transform public access to environmental and biodiversity data,” enthused Kate Wilson, Executive Director of the Science Division at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. 

We have plans to export this solution to other countries and it seems the international community are already taking note. In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have recently announced plans to build a similar portal.

There are clear lessons from this project in that Australia’s collaborative approach is addressing unique industry and citizen needs and creating its own blueprint for innovation.  Australia may well have started the journey by modelling its digital first approach on the UK’s but the UK and other countries will soon be adopting Australian innovation to strengthen their own digital economies.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 Australian British Chamber of Commerce Magazine

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