by Julian Fogarty
Group Executive
Brand, Innovation and Technology


Originally published in The Australian, November 21, 2016

November 2016

Innovation is a buzzword that continues to sweep the business community.

From policy makers to small business owners, everyone knows that to remain relevant in the 21st century, it is important to think creatively, proactively adapt to change and learn how to industrialise ideas, before being forced to.

Labelled the "Ideas Boom" by the Turnbull Government, it's well understood that with the decline of the Australian commodities sector, we need to look above the ground to sustain the future of our economy.

Enormous benefits exist in fostering innovation. Recent market analysis from Commonwealth Bank found that it has contributed around $70 billion to the Australian economy. Businesses that have already implemented an innovation program cited an average of $405,000 in higher revenues or reduced operating costs. If every Australian business replicated this return, the value to the economy would stand at an extraordinary $215 billion.

At Spotless, innovation forms a cornerstone of our refreshed, company-wide strategy. We believe it will provide strong returns for our shareholders as well as a better customer experience at the many facilities we provide services. To ensure Australia is primed for the future, I believe innovation should be a key strategic focus area for every business, regardless of industry or size.

Australia's start-up sector is leading by example. The industry is underpinned by innovative, blue-sky thinking that is driving some of the most promising tech developments in the world. Our start-up ecosystem is thriving and beginning to make a splash on the world stage.

In light of this, there should be more corporate participation in the start-up community. Start-ups present a huge value proposition to organisations and not solely in the form of investment and M & A opportunities. Start-ups have built diverse, entrepreneurial, agile thinking into their ONA; it's clear there's a lot they can teach us about inspiring and fostering an authentic culture of innovative thinking.

We want to remain at the forefront of developments to provide the best services available to help our customers succeed today so they can thrive tomorrow. But it would be naive to think the best ideas are always born in- house.

Australia is home to some of the world's best talent and we want to leverage and learn from the creative minds in the innovation ecosystem. We are increasingly collaborating with universities, start-ups and the broader STEM community to identify smarter solutions.

Spotless' internet of Things (IoT) hackathon at the MCG this week is one way we're getting boots on the ground to drive tangible. Working with Startupbootcamp, a start-up accelerator, and engaging Melbourne's tech sector has the potential to deliver cutting-edge advancements to benefit all Australians. As for Spotless, IoT is already transforming our business delivering advancements ranging from real-time and remote monitoring of our customers' facilities to improved experiences for patrons at our venues.

It's a good start, but I strongly believe there is a real need for greater engagement between corporates and start-ups. In order for Australia to thrive, corporates need to do more to connect and partner with start-ups.

We keep talking about the ideas boom, but unless we're smart about it, it's just going to be that - talk. We should make it a priority to leverage the many resources we have at our disposal to invest in and establish the base of our future economy.

And while it is important to foster great ideas, Australia needs to improve how we get them to market. According to the 2016 Global Innovation Index, we are ranked 19th in the world for innovation but only a disappointing 73rd on the efficiency ratio, which ranks the ability to commercialise innovative opportunities.

Companies have the strategic business experience, capital and frameworks to allow start-ups to scale and develop the businesses that may one day form the backbone of our economy. In turn, start-ups can teach us how to think laterally and capitalise on smart ideas to bolster our bottom lines.

By joining forces and working collaboratively, start-ups and corporates have the ability to lay the foundations to transform Australia's economy. This will create the jobs and industries of the future - and there is no better time to start than today.