There’s a gap between innovation and value in Australia. Could AI close it?

Credit: Illustration 101811177 © Maksym Yemelyanov -

Are Australian businesses getting full mileage out of their digital spending?

The numbers suggest they may not be: according to a recent CSIRO and Data61 report, Australia receives 35% less value from its digital investments compared to the world average, with tech spending and digital collaboration also starting to trail behind. And when it comes to the world’s leading AI firms, Australia doesn’t even make the list.

That’s a cause for concern given just how much businesses and government alike are talking up the country’s innovation agenda.  

The question is, then: how can Australian organisations get smarter about innovation?

Some are turning to technologies like AI to do so. Skeptics only need to see how AI-powered Chinese businesses have outdone even their US peers. Using machines to augment human creativity is a potentially game-changing strategy, one that could unlock a trillion-dollar market of new opportunities within a decade.

For this strategy to work, Australian businesses will need to take a firmly pragmatic approach to AI, carefully considering short-term implications and prioritising long-term gains within their organisation. Being able to discern between vapourware and real value will ultimately determine the success of AI in turning up the yield from digital innovation in Australia.

Our approach to innovation: quantum leaps or step changes?  

Today’s AIs run on algorithms that rapidly comb through data, analysing them for reoccurring patterns and selecting the ones that help them perform their defined roles better – hence their much-touted ‘self-learning’ capabilities. By fine-tuning the data and guidelines that AI works with, businesses can determine how much – and quickly – their AI learns.

So how exactly does AI improve the process, and progress, of innovation within a business?

Rather than relying on sudden game-changing ideas to sprout up, AI delivers consistent “step change” improvements to products, solutions, and processes based on what’s proven to work. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing major “quantum leaps” forward in innovation: some of the world’s most disruptive technologies have emerged from those creative jumps. But AI provides a much more steady cadence of incremental innovations which deliver immediate, practical value – the sort that boost “return on innovation” over time.

Credit: ID 104196124 © Maksym Yemelyanov |

In other words, AI will inevitably grow along with your business.

Businesses can even engage in a ‘DevOps’ approach to product development – engineers, in tandem with data analysed by AI, can introduce changes that improve service quality over time. For instance, major home assistant device manufacturers continuously learn from consumer data, and this data helps the technology companies develop other AI-related services.

The ability for gradual – and inevitable – innovation is boundless.

Breathing new life into existing systems  

AI could also compound the effectiveness of today’s data analytics, automation and cloud systems – all digital tools that are increasingly common in even the smallest of enterprises. The self-learning capabilities of AI, for instance, can be used to identify redundancies or bottlenecks within automations, or bolster threat monitoring in today’s cloud networks.

These gains in efficiency ultimately free up a precious resource in many businesses and their workforce: time. This liberated time can and should be re-invested towards innovation, paving the way to better inventions, faster brand growth, and greater collaboration efforts with partners.

Even as these efforts surface, AI can once more be employed to help bring concepts or pilot projects to maturity with less labour and less time. Using the right parameters, AI could even aid compliance with the strict laws and regulations of certain industries like healthcare.

The adaptive analysis capabilities of Oracle’s Autonomous Data Warehouse, for example, allow home-grown Applied Precision Medicine to automatically cleanse and analyse terabytes of clinical and genomics data in the cloud. Researchers and partners then use that data to create accurate and regulatory-compliant bespoke treatments which patients can rely on with greater confidence.

Australian businesses can employ AI in similar ways to make sure nation’s necessary data laws and regulations don’t slow down innovation.

Bringing your partners on board  

Credit: ID 102325187 © Maksym Yemelyanov |

True innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It occurs when people come together to share ideas, creating connections that uncover new perspectives and opportunities.

Our national culture of invention is still strong, but Data61’s latest findings suggest those creative processes are themselves in need of innovation. AI can help to eliminate knowledge gaps, highlight potential connections between ideas, and turn hypotheses into viable inventions quicker.

When used properly, it brings out greater value from the ideas that many Australian businesses are already doing their best to harness. Australia is second to none when it comes to global expertise in pioneering industries, like agriculture, logistics and precision medicines. Those levels of expertise, coupled with the efficiencies and accuracies provided AI, could drastically lower barriers to innovation – and empower innovators with confidence to push the envelope within their industries.

The initial investment – in terms of time and energy – may indeed put some off AI initially. But businesses should consider the future benefits, through the lens of innovation, that the technology can bring.  

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