SA businesses must capitalise on a 100-year super cycle

South Australian companies must leverage Australia’s mining boom to develop innovative products and services that boost their bottom line if they are to thrive in global markets, a business forum hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has heard.

South Australian companies must leverage Australia's mining boom to develop innovative products and services that boost their bottom line if they are to thrive in global markets, a business forum hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has heard.

Chair of the Economic Development Board, Raymond Spencer, Codan Ltd, CEO, Donald McGurk, Playford Capital, CEO, Amanda Heyworth, and Adelaide Thinker in Residence, Professor Göran Roos, told the forum that companies needed to seek out ideas in all aspects of their businesses and use them to boost sales and improve their performance.

The panel identified five key messages for South Australian businesses in applying technology innovatively to compete in a rapidly globalising market:

  1. Identify a problem, product or service opportunity that customers will be willing to pay for.
  2. Examine how to use technology creatively to develop a solution to this problem, exploiting your core competencies or comparative advantage.
  3. Ensure you can sell the innovation interstate or internationally.
  4. Look for opportunities to collaborate with or leverage technological change in other industries or universities.
  5. Cultivate a culture of innovation and constant improvement within the business that encourages all employees to offer ideas, allowing for periodic failures.

"Innovation is not's not about creating new things either really. It's the application of new ideas commercially to fulfil unmet or often unrecognised demand," Mr Spencer said.

"It has to create value and people have to be willing to pay," he said.

Ms Heyworth said businesses should not seek to be among the five per cent that adopts technology for its own sake but should be among the early adopters who use innovative solutions to "solve true business problems," including providing social benefits or entertainment.

"It's about using our brains to generate income growth, increasing the number of quality jobs," she said.

Mr Spencer said innovation was "in the DNA of South Australian companies" and many were adapting technology to solve business solutions, including:

  • Osmoflo, which had emerged out of the driest state in the driest continent, to develop desalination plants and water recycling solutions for coal seam gas producers and miners.
  • Seeley International, which is a worldwide leader in energy efficient climate control systems, with more than 300 patents to its name.

But Mr Spencer warned that "what we are doing is not enough - we will be overtaken in a globalised economy." Australia had experienced "abysmal" productivity growth, particularly in labour productivity in comparison to its competitors over the past decade, he said.

Companies such as Codan Ltd now manufactured high volume, less complex manufacturing in Asia while retaining low volume, complex manufacturing locally to maintain critical capabilities, he said.

South Australian businesses needed to capitalise on what Mr Spencer described as a "one hundred-year super cycle" in the mining industry to develop knowledge intensive, high value-added services and manufacturing.

"This decade will be viewed by the future generations as the most transformative decade in the State's history," He said.

"The challenge for businesses is to carpe learn as if we are going to live partner with other businesses, to build innovation. Businesses need to engage with schools to develop the skills of young people and bring inclusiveness and diversity into the workforce," Mr Spencer said.

The panel told businesses that the learnings from successful innovative companies were that businesses should:

  • Identify their core competencies and what they can deliver better than their competitors.
  • Strive for constant improvement - at a rate higher than their competitors.
  • Develop a culture that values ideas wherever they are in the business and where people feel safe to respectfully express dissatisfaction with the status quo.
  • Develop diverse teams with right brain creativity (the Steve Jobs function at Apple) and the left brain financial management skills (the Tim Cook function at Apple).
  • Understand the needs of customers and the value chain.
  • Look to the needs of customers and not market research for product breakthroughs.

The panel said that the lack of a venture capital industry in Australia should not hold businesses back in innovating to develop new products and services.

Mr McGurk said companies must target people with an interest in the outcome of the development (such as existing customers) to invest in innovation.

"The answer is a function of organisations themselves. At Codan, we have targeted appropriate people to invest when we have been looking to raise capital for innovation...These people tend to stay with you," he said.

Professor Roos said universities also had a key role to play in developing the "virtuous cycle" of spawning (and supporting) innovative start-up businesses that would later support the university through bequests and donations.