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How CSIRO and GE are shaping our future

CSIRO and GE share common goals: to shape the future and deliver solutions that make a difference. Both organisations are rapidly harnessing digital technologies to enable new approaches and momentous discovery through data mining. At the same time, digitisation is driving organisational transformation at the national science agency and the multinational corporation alike. Each has moved away from silo-focussed management models and into collaboration at every level. The GE-CSIRO Digital Industrial Series of conferences—held in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in June 2016—brought science, government, industry, technology and investor representatives together, sharing experiences of the digital-industrial era and exploring its opportunities. GE Reports interviewed CSIRO chief executive, Larry Marshall about how CSIRO is adapting to champion Australian innovation into Industry 4.0.

Larry Marshall took the lead role at CSIRO in January 2015 and has sought to accelerate the work of one of the most multidisciplinary research organisations in the world into commercial application. His immediate predecessors, Megan Clark and Geoff Garrett (who also spoke at the GE CSIRO conference in his role as Queensland Chief Scientist) had already driven great transformation to collaboration among traditional CSIRO departments.

“CSIRO used to be structured like a university, with schools of physics, maths, chemistry,” explains Marshall. “When Geoff came in, he created the flagships which cut across the divisions and the idea of the flagships was to make them mission-directed, solve big problems.” In 2014, Marshall says another profound structural shift was set in motion, “We said we’re going to make everything focused on a national challenge or, if you like, a market.” With the support of the CSIRO board, Marshall has sought to make CSIRO more customer-focussed—a strategy that resonates profoundly with GE culture, which seeks to anticipate customer opportunities and challenges, and provide comprehensive, dynamic solutions to customer needs.

“Traditional structures don’t work for agility. Digital technology enables you to be more flexible in structure so that people can move faster.”

Says Marshall, “In our Agriculture group, there’s a group of scientists—from geneticists to data scientists—who work on next-generation agriculture because that’s their passion. Putting all the scientists together who are passionate about the agricultural customer gives them more impact, more capability and gives them a better connection to that customer who’s the ultimate beneficiary of all the science that they create.”

At GE, the same concept is at work in the GE Store, which encourages employees to draw from expertise and developments across businesses as diverse as Aviation and Oil & Gas, to identify and apply best practice from the department “across the hall”, to leverage capital and government-affairs insights in order to seamlessly deliver the best possible package—of equipment, efficiency-monitoring digitisation, operational insights, cybersecurity, maintenance and sometimes investment—to each customer.

“We’ve been working with a couple of commercial energy companies to develop solar-powered air conditioning.”

Collaboration was a key theme during the three days of GE-CSIRO Digital Industrial discussion, and like GE, CSIRO develops both local and global partnerships. It applies scientific genius and invention to worldwide problems, sharing findings with other international agencies and research groups. It is, for example, turbocharging telescopes around the world; establishing a sustainable-development research centre with The Dragon Institute in Vietnam; and identifying the global threats posed by invasive species—they’re just three partnership projects from many more that CSIRO reported in the month of June 2016 alone. And CSIRO is a catalyst for still more widespread collaboration, in its creation of software programs that allow companies to share and analyse data sets for common benefit, without also sharing proprietary information such as customer details.

In this video, Marshall discusses the benefits and challenges posed by a new connected era; the potential for bringing more Australian innovation to the marketplace; and for turning scientific passion towards entrepreneurial fervour.

Top image: Jane Nicholls. Video: Natalie Filatoff

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