Create transformative innovation

Collaborate to innovate: It’s all about your partners

  • Collaboration between musician Jess Irwin and biomedical engineer Dr Jordan Nguyen reveals the power of collaboration.
  • Innovation requires connection and those connections require an ecosystem – framework, role models, support and guidance to thrive.
  • Strategic partnerships between local and regional or global organisations enable access to specific markets, while acquisitions offer an “extended family”. 

Partnering with another organisation is a huge step, and the right choice is critical if you are seeking a key collaborator in bringing your innovative dreams to life.

An array of collaborations featuring global tech giants, plucky start-ups and talented visionaries was on display at Telstra Vantage™ 2017, showing how inspiring, enduring relationships can hit the right note and unlock the potential for amazing outcomes.

There would be few examples more exhilarating than the live performance by musician Jessica Irwin, made possible by a partnership with a technologist. Irwin, who has cerebral palsy, uses a state-of-the-art interface to play electronic instruments with her eye movements.

Woman in business meeting

“An entire performance requires an extremely good memory because I can’t read music or a score whilst playing with my eyes,” says Irwin, shortly after jamming with her long-time rock ‘n’ roll hero Steve Balbi of Noiseworks and Mi-Sex fame.

“There’s a great deal of rehearsal time involved to commit everything to memory,” she explains, shortly after appearing on stage in front of 3500 attendees.

The eye-movement system was created for her by Biomedical Engineer Dr Jordan Nguyen and his company Psykinetic (derived from the phrase “mind in action”), that received project funding from the Telstra Foundation to develop the first music tool. 

“Dr Jordan attended a gig with me and saw first-hand just how strong my desire was to join Steve on stage,” Irwin says. 

Irwin, an accomplished photographer of musicians and bands, found fame herself last year with a ground-breaking concert, playing with a string quartet at the Sydney Opera House.  

Innovation ecosystem

Collaborations of all sizes benefit from catalysts, frameworks and role models. Telstra’s Chief Technology Officer, Håkan Eriksson, calls this an innovation ecosystem.

“It’s very difficult to be innovative on your own,” Eriksson says. “You usually have to work with many others to create an innovative environment. An organisation that wants to be innovative has to be prepared to work with others like universities and start-ups and other places where you find competence.”

Private companies have practical insight into their issues and industry, while universities and research bodies have interesting solutions needing real-world problems for their application.

“It is good that they can meet, but then often they do not have the same agenda, so maybe they need a research institution or other companies to also be working together,” Eriksson explains.

“Sometimes in these partnerships you are creating intellectual property, patents and so on, so you need a framework around it. An ecosystem is a structured way of collaborating.”

One challenge facing would-be innovators is finding an appropriate role model – another organisation with experience in creating and implementing new ideas and processes, or one that is at least further along in its journey. There are not that many role models in Australia – at least not yet.

A recent survey conducted by the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (known as AVCAL) named Telstra as the most innovative company in Australia, placing it first in its Australian Corporate Innovation Index 2017.

Somewhat disappointingly, however, the top score was twice that earned by the second-ranking organisation. “So there is a lot of work to be done in Australia,” Scandinavian-born Eriksson says.

“This is something we can learn from other parts of the world. There is a discussion around how to become more innovative as a country and these are important points around how we work with universities, large corporations and small corporations.”

“It’s very difficult to be innovative on your own – you usually have to work with many others to create an innovative environment.” 

Håkan Eriksson, Chief Technology Officer, Telstra

The partner ecosystem has quickly become a pivotal talking point in the national discussion around innovation. With small companies making up the lion’s share of Australia’s business community, it makes sense to look far and wide for the perfect collaboration partners.

“Where I come from, originally Sweden, there are large companies and not so many small companies and that creates different needs for the ecosystem,” Eriksson says.

“Large companies can find it easier to drive an ecosystem while small companies need some help. In Australia, organisations such as the CSIRO can step in and be the catalyst to help the small companies come together. It depends on the circumstances in various countries about what you need in the ecosystems.”

Reach global markets together

Telstra’s own collaborations are many and varied. The relationship with global tech giant Cisco is a long-standing, highly visible example. It has continued through decades of technological change, from providing network hardware to developing integrated enterprise services on demand.

“We’re a big part of Telstra’s networks and their modernisation and automation,” Cisco Vice-President, Australia and New Zealand, Ken Boal says. The two companies have just announced a joint global cloud platform for collaboration.

Other strategic connections with global or regional organisations enable access to specific markets. For Telstra, this means being able to extend services that, in turn, support Australian organisations doing business overseas.

It also means more than infrastructure, with about 30 per cent of Asia’s internet traffic already relying on Telstra networks. It also goes much further than finding a local reseller.

In the modern world of enterprise-level managed technology, Telstra’s joint venture with Telkom Indonesia, telkomtelstra, uses in-depth local knowledge to provide secure network application and services for continuity and data protection as well as unified
communications. Customers include Indonesian companies and multinationals as well as Australian organisations, all doing business in Indonesia’s varied and sometimes challenging environments.

Preserving culture

There are times, however, when an equal relationship doesn’t cut it. Telstra has invested in many businesses and acquired many others. Acquisitions have supplemented the company’s organic growth into a services business.

“We’ve made some great acquisitions,” Telstra’s Group Managing Director, Global Services and International, David Burns says. He lists big data and Internet of Things (IoT) applications developer Readify, cloud services provider Kloud, and UK-based IT consultancy Company 85 as a few standouts.

“It’s no surprise that these are successful businesses,” says Burns, who explains that the key to maintaining success, aside from providing support and guidance, is ensuring the unique attributes and culture of the acquired company are preserved.

“These are like clans – they come and join a family and they come with their own cultures and ways of doing things,” Burns says.

“Our commitment is that we maintain the culture of those clans and what we ask of those acquisitions is that they act like a member of the family.

“We have this fantastic extended family that brings different perspectives and points of view and, most importantly, has different skills and ways of doing

The result of this approach is, quite simply, collaboration between the broader organisation and the acquired company – working together for the success of the customer.

“We know how to stitch it all together, to work together,” Burns says.

Tapping into cutting edge technology need not be daunting if you have the right partners. There’s help at hand for organisations needing the capabilities of top-tier enterprise services without all the complexity.

Find out more

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