Perhaps there is a cyber-point to this innovation claptrap

Rather than parrot out silly soundbites relentlessly, it's possible that if focused at the correct area, we could see something material from the innovation chatter.
Written by Chris Duckett on

Businesses need to be more agile. Productivity needs to increase. And it's either disrupt or be disrupted.

These are but some tropes that clog our airwaves and broadband lines, used daily from business leaders and politicians alike, and often when pushed for a concrete way to realistically achieve these goals, we see that they are meaningless statements.

And you wouldn't know it to look at it, but in the past six months Australia has been caught up in an innovation and ideas boom -- whose only tangible results so far have been to hollow out any weight the words agility, nimbleness, and exciting had left.

Yet, it's just possible that this week the motherhood statements and platitudes actually hit on a way to go forward. Not just for Australia, but for any other place looking to become the next technology powerhouse, no doubt styling itself Silicon something-or-other.

There are very specific historic and cultural reasons why Silicon Valley became the high tech hub it did, but that doesn't stop folk from trying to replicate it.

Australia has had a succession of movements dedicated to this task -- the most prominent being the Silicon Beach, which proclaimed in 2013 that it could save the local economy from certain doom by "pivoting" the country from mining to startups, an economic salvation that the nation is still waiting for -- but it's the government that may have stumbled on the way forward.

Within the nation's AU$240 million cybersecurity strategy announced last week was the idea that the country become an information security leader, coupled with education spending and some of the jobs it would take to get there eventually.

"I want Australia to lead the world in cybersecurity," Turnbull said. "And we have the brains and the imagination to do so."

For the first time since Turnbull took power in Australia, it was possible to gain an idea of what one outcome of the ideas boom looked like.

While the strategy received widespread praise, the security experts that ZDNet spoke to agreed that attracting infosec talent out of the private sector and into the service of government would remain a challenge.

"Some will be attracted to the idea of battling cyber foes for the government which does sound like a great job. This is how they will attract and retain them for a short period. Others will like the secrecy angle and being part on an elite group. Regardless of what it pays," director of HackLabs Chris Gatford said.

Long-term, it's clear that involving graduates and improving the security skills of existing IT professionals is the way forward, but something needs to change for the short-term.

"One of the best things the government can do is to be more proactive to get more people to be federal government or defence security cleared. That way they will get access to a bigger pool of people to employ," said BDO risk advisory partner Leon Fouche. "It is a challenging one for government but the ability to partner with industry on a rotational basis could help. When there is over capacity in industry, if public and private sector can collaborate and work on that is going to help."

The moves put forward by the Australian government to boost information security skills and jobs are good in theory, and will no doubt have implementation issues in the real world, but they do provide a template for how to attempt to boost the technology ecosystem.

Running around spouting buzzwords and commending innovation and agility while giving small tax incentives does not result in a startup ecosystem, it is more likely to result in a plethora of copycat apps seeking high valuation and a buyout from a tech stalwart.

Whereas putting money and focus behind a smaller area makes for a more credible proposal, be it fintech, infosec, networking, or robotics.

There is little to no chance that a middle-power country like Australia is ever going to be the home of global innovation that its leaders like to dream about, but the chance to focus on one area and push it forward -- there's every chance we could do that.

We will not be able to re-engineer Silicon Valley, but we have every chance to create a new Cyber Valley.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previously on the Monday Morning Opener:


Delta Air Lines just made an embarrassing announcement (you may be livid)

Delta Air Lines just made an embarrassing announcement (you may be livid)

Cybersecurity leaders are anticipating mass resignations within the year - here's why

Cybersecurity leaders are anticipating mass resignations within the year - here's why

Delta Air Lines just gave customers something they never believed possible

Delta Air Lines just gave customers something they never believed possible