A global lesson in innovation

A recent report from Microsoft detailed how Boston has established itself as a world leader for innovation. What can Australian businesses learn?innovationsThe ability to innovate is the key to success in the tech industry, and it’s a trait that has been at the core of some of the most successful global IT businesses.

With IT’s influence expanding across industries, there’s never been more freedom for IT candidates to find – or create – a role that suits their interests. In fact, the tech industry awards disruptive and innovative startups. A range of current and historical examples prove the value of tech companies that can offer goods or services that are unique.

Innovation isn’t just for agile startups and small businesses, however, and larger organisations can also find value in these practices. Due to Australia’s relative geographical isolation, it’s businesses are in a unique position in terms of competition and their engagement with global trends. Therefore, there’s plenty they can learn by studying some of their international competitors.

Boston sets innovation example

Various locations around the US have always set the global standard for innovative business practices and startup activity. While Silicon Valley has been the centre for the global tech industry for decades, and Austin, Texas is gradually making its name as a bustling startup hub, a new study has revealed another contender.

Microsoft investigated the various ways the city of Boston in Massachusetts is leading the rest of the world in promoting innovation, finding that there are a range of variables necessary for success.

The key takeaway from the report is that while technology is often an important component in kickstarting innovation, it’s not the be-all and end-all. Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader Assisting with Digital Innovation and Startups Ed Husic said innovation is a way of operating, not a product or services that organisations can buy.

“It’s not about having the tablet or whatever; it’s about the way you find better ways of doing things – being smarter, more efficient, quicker and more responsive.”

Microsoft stated that it’s important to make the most of a location’s culture when starting a new business. The organisation reported that, despite having a smaller population than NSW, the state of Massachusetts’ economy is worth US$460 billion. According to Microsoft, tech companies are the foundation for this economic success.

However, businesses aren’t the only defining factor in successful innovation, with Microsoft revealing that the influence education providers Harvard and MIT have is integral to the city’s culture. On top of this, the firm cites more than 40 startup incubators that provide a valuable meeting point for the city’s entrepreneurs.

What can Australia learn?

Broadly speaking, Mr Husic’s lesson is one of the most important for Australian business owners and regulatory bodies to keep in mind. Innovation depends on people as much as it does on new technology. Without the right personnel and workplace culture, even the most cutting-edge technology is unlikely to make much of a difference.

The Assistant Minister for Innovation in Australia Wyatt Roy agreed with Microsoft’s assessment and acknowledged that Boston is providing valuable lessons for other economies to consider.

While Mr Roy supported the idea Australia can learn from what businesses have been able to achieve in Boston, he also noted that simply copying what the city has done is not the ideal solution. According to the minister, it’s important that Australians businesses are able to supplement their innovative practices with elements of the country’s culture.

“In Boston, there is a real effort around culture, capital, talent, collaboration and government leading by example,” he explained. “These are certainly the focal points that we should be working towards in Australia.”

“At the same time, we need to find our distinctly Australian model for innovation. We have so many natural advantages that we can draw on – including our enviable lifestyle and proximity to Asia.”

How can universities help?

To encourage innovation in Australia’s new and established businesses, people need to be prepared for what the challenges and solutions could be as. A recent study from the Office of the Chief Scientist acknowledged the role the country’s universities play in preparing the next generation for the workforce, finding innovation starts here.

The study noted that economies with large amounts of entrepreneurial participation usually also have vibrant tertiary education scenes, meaning the creative culture is already well-established before these people join the workforce.

Unsurprisingly, the report reinforced the idea that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills will remain essential for future success. The role of universities in this regard is to promote these skills where possible to a diverse range of students and offer tangible links to local startup scenes and companies.

By doing this, education providers ensure their students are aware of the many practical applications for their degrees. The Office of the Chief Scientist also indicated there is value in have successful entrepreneurs teach courses or inhabit mentoring roles where possible.

Australia’s success in creating an innovative economy relies on its ability to merge the value of technology with the culture and experience of the people necessary to making these practices work.