How to improve Australian technological innovation

9 May 2024
The Australian ICT sector is enjoying unprecedented access to capital, but a new report suggests two key players could help drive innovation forward.
Dr Sebastian Boell

Dr Sebastian Boell

Australians built one of the world’s first computers and invented Wi-Fi. But strategic support from government is needed to drive future innovation in the $167 billion tech industry, a new report from the University of Sydney Business School and the Pearcey Foundation has found. 

Based on insights from 42 outstanding individuals from the Australian information and communications technology (ICT) industry, Information technology innovation in Australia, a long-term perspective provides a detailed account of the factors that have helped and hindered innovation over six decades. 

Report author Dr Sebastian Boell, a senior lecturer in Business Information Systems at the University of Sydney Business School, said Australia has a proud history of ICT innovation. Australians built one of the world’s first computers, CSIRAC, in 1949, and invented Wi-Fi. Our corporate success stories include Atlassian, Canva and Afterpay. 

CSIRAC was constructed by the Division of Radiophysics to the designs of Trevor Pearcey (pictured) and Maston Beard. It is the oldest surviving first-generation electronic computer, and was the first in the world to play digital music. This photo was taken on 5 November 1952. Photo: CSIRO Archives

“We set out to understand what factors had contributed to Australia establishing itself as an ICT innovator on the global stage, and how best to support that innovation into the future,” Dr Boell said. 

“While companies have much better access to capital investment these days, thanks to a widespread understanding of the technology sector, our participants agreed there is no current comprehensive government initiative driving ICT innovation besides tax incentives for research and development. 

Government at all levels can play a vital role in innovation, not just through policy but as a customer. An aversion to risk means big multinational corporations win government contracts at the expense of local start-ups.
Dr Sebastian Boell

Wayne Fitsimmons OAM, Pearcey Foundation chair, said the report is based on industry experience from some of Australia’s most successful ICT entrepreneurs and leaders. 

“The Australian ICT sector is acknowledged as pioneering, innovative and entrepreneurial, starting with the successful 1949 launch of CSIRAC – and the report articulates why Australia continues to be a major international player in the world of ICT. We are very good at it, so let’s recognise that, support the industry, and encourage governments of all persuasions to expand their collaboration with academia and with our domestic ICT industry leaders,” Mr Fitzsimmons said. 

The report also highlighted the university connection as a key weakness in Australia’s ICT innovation ecosystem. 

“There are relatively few successful cases of industry collaborating with universities in Australia, and a limited presence of academics in organisational boardrooms compared to overseas,” Dr Boell said. 

“One reason for this is the very different project timelines: companies generally want results within weeks or months, while academic research usually takes years. But there are many opportunities for these worlds to come together for mutual benefit. 

“For example, industry can give students opportunities to tackle real problems over the course of a semester, which suits its timeline and also helps develop a solution-oriented mindset in graduates.” 


This research was produced by the University of Sydney Business School and the Pearcey Foundation. The authors declare no conflicts of interest. 

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