Speech given at the Business Council of Australia by CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people as the Traditional Owners of the land that we are on today, and pay my respect to their Elders past and present.

And thank you all for being here today. Today is an exciting opportunity for CSIRO as we become members of the BCA. We look forward to working more closely with all of you to better understand your businesses, and help you to better understand what we do. But more of that in a moment.

Welcome to the CSIRO Discovery Centre, I hope you've been enjoying your day at CSIRO so far. You know, it seems obvious to call this building the Discovery Centre, because of course that's what science is all about – learning about our world, and harnessing that learning to make life better.

But over the past few years, we've been driving another kind of Discovery at CSIRO, in lock-step with our scientific discovery. We've been on a journey that's probably intensely familiar to everyone in this room: we've been discovering our customers.

So today I want to share a few of the insights we've picked up from our customers, but more importantly, how we've been changing to suit their needs.

Customer first

First of all, I just want to clarify something that it turns out is a well-kept secret about CSIRO. We don't do anything on our own. The 'I' in CSIRO is there because we work with industry to turn our science (that's the S in CSIRO) into real world solutions (that's the hidden S in CSIRO).

When we ran a survey last year of Australian businesses, only 30 per cent realised they could work with us, despite 90 per cent of them knowing who we are, and 70 per cent having a positive opinion of us.

In fact, we work with more than 3,000 businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to small and medium businesses to about 50 per cent of BCA members, at last count. So hopefully that means at least 50 per cent of you know you can work with us! Let's see if we can increase that percentage today.

Given the low awareness in the business community about working with us, we started measuring our Net Promoter Score a few years ago.

Last year, we went out to all customers who engaged with us in the past 12 months on a project valued over $25,000, and we saw our NPS jump from +11 in 2016 to +34 last year, showing increased understanding of the value we add, resulting in increased customer advocacy. Hopefully some of you are seeing this shift.

Strategy 2020

So let me tell you briefly about three ways CSIRO has strengthened its Customer First focus and is no longer just about shopping around our science and our widgets.

First, our Industry Roadmaps. So far we've released five roadmaps, each developed in partnership with the government's Industry Growth Centres, with a sixth coming next month on cyber security.

The Roadmaps chart a course for Australia's major industries to navigate disruption through innovation, indicating where they should invest their R&D dollar to get ahead of their competition. And likewise, they direct our science to focus on the opportunities of most strategic advantage for Australia.

Why? Because we want to take more bold leaps with you, and have you share the upside with us, so we can invest more back into the right science that empowers your market.

So the Industry Roadmaps have ensured we're aligning our research to market pull rather than science push.

Second, let me tell you about Australia's only national sci-tech accelerator, called ON. The accelerator takes research teams with an idea for a product through an intensive, market-facing, customer-oriented program and teaches them how to build a bridge from lab bench to customer.

In two short years, more than 200 teams have taken their benchtop breakthroughs to beta concepts – 200 teams from 30 institutions, all around the country – talk about collaboration – now that's team Australia playing to our strengths.

But this program is as much about getting science off the bench as it is about getting scientists out of the lab. And when they go back into the lab, they are catalysts for cultural change.

Since we started ON, we're starting to see a real change in CSIRO thinking around who really is the end-user, or customer, or beneficiary, from our science?

A few call outs here:

  • If you are in Sydney on the 19th of April, please join us for the reveal of our next cohort of investor-ready propositions, including a virtual reality tool for training carers and an innovative solution to prevent power faults before energy catastrophes hit.
  • And we're always on the lookout for new mentors for our ON teams, so please consider putting your hand up or nudging your teams.

The third change I want to briefly mention is the creation of Data61, bringing together CSIRO's digital team with NICTA to form Australia's leading digital research network. Data61 is integrated across all parts of CSIRO, to ensure we are building in digital opportunities to all our innovation.

That means applying the power of digital innovation like AI and cyber security to national challenges in health, energy, agriculture, minerals, manufacturing, and many other areas of our research. Our head of Data61, Adrian Turner, will be up here shortly to tell you more about our digital opportunity.

Lifecycle partners

At its heart, our transformation is about more than driving up our NPS score, although we still want to go higher. It's about deepening our relationship with our customers to be a strategic partner in every step of their business.

A great example is our nearly 30-year partnership with Boeing, another BCA member. Our work with Boeing has grown from a shared vision for sustainable aviation through breakthroughs in manufacturing to now extend our vison to space – and what commitment could reach further than that?

We supported Boeing's investment in Australian facilities, and have CSIRO staff in their Seattle facilities. We're at the table to bring science to their strategy, and innovation to their investment. It's an incredibly rewarding partnership.

In fact, today we take another step forward together with both Boeing and Main Sequence Ventures, which manages the CSIRO Innovation Fund, announcing investment into South Australian Internet of Things start-up, Myriota. This will create new jobs in South Australia and strengthen our national play in digital disruption.

Trust

So before I finish, I want to touch on a subject that our head of Environment and Energy, Peter Mayfield is going to cover in more detail – connecting innovation with values.

In our recent survey of the general public, we found that in a world of falling trust in Government, Media, NGOs and Business, trust in CSIRO remains high and 70 per cent of the public surveyed hold positive perceptions about us.

That is a powerful brand to associate yourself with. Part of the reason we've been able to maintain trust is our deep commitment to earning a social licence to operate.

Every innovation is social innovation – you can't invent something powerful if it doesn't resonate with a customer's values or fit easily into their lives.

The demise of Kodak is often mentioned as a cautionary tale for companies who don't invest in innovation. Actually, Kodak invested plenty in innovation, in fact they invented the first digital camera. But they didn't fundamentally question what that meant for their legacy business, and how their customers were changing with the times.

On the other hand, Fiju Film also saw disruption coming and today competes in healthcare and electronics operations because they embraced the opportunities of disruption, they didn’t just tick the 'responding to disruption' box.

Our scientists have deep domain knowledge when it comes to what the disruption facing your industry looks like, and they're already embracing these opportunities to invent our next big industries in line with customer behaviour.

Today you have the phenomenal forecasting and innovation resources of Australia's national science agency at your fingertips – what future does your business want to invent?

And if you're not sure, come and talk to us, we've discovered new ways of putting the 'I' in CSIRO in the past 10 years.

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