Gillard launches IBM R&D lab in Melbourne


Prime Minister Julia Gillard this morning launched a new global research & development lab which IBM has created at the University of Melbourne, partnering with the State and Federal Governments to create 150 new jobs at the facility over the next five years.

Gillard told a crowd of assembled IBM staff, academics, politicians (including Innovation Minister Kim Carr) and journalists at the institution this morning that the facility’s impact will be “truly national”. The Federal Government will chip in some $22 million to the project, and Victorian Premier John Brumby – also at the launch – said the state would also assist.

The new lab will focus on research areas associated with IBM’s global push towards what it terms “smarter planet” technologies that bridge the gap between more traditional engineering-led technology such as electricity or resource management and the new internet world. It will include funding for 38 PhD students within five years.

For example, researchers at the lab will attempt to innovate in areas related to resource discovery, production, supply chain and operations in the oil and gas, minerals, water and food areas.

“These resources will be considered in various contexts, including sourcing, management and use – and particularly their role in liveable cities,” said IBM in a statement. In addition – and particularly relevant to Victoria with its recent history of bushfire problems – the lab will research ways in which expertise can be built in smarter natural disaster management.

For example, weather modelling and traffic management could be modelled to assist in the planning and management of evacuations in the event of a disaster. The lab will also examine work in the area of computational life sciences, in addition to healthcare and life science analytics.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said IBM was already responsible for thousands of jobs in Victoria, and had in December last year opened an extensive new IT services centre at the University of Ballarat Technology Park.

He pointed out that the State Government had only yesterday launched a $110 million ICT action plan to create jobs and keep Victoria ahead of the pack – including $33 million in funding for research flagship National ICT Australia to help create a further 160 research jobs, money to contribute to the Federal Government’s National Broadband Network policy, and even digital media and publishing funds.

IBM Australia chief executive Glen Boreham – who arrived late to the launch, missing both the speeches of Gillard and Brumby – said Victoria was “clearly” the leading state in Australia when it came to technology and innovation. He pointed out IBM already had a great deal of research talent in Australia, and noted the country had become an increasingly important location for R&D at Big Blue.

He noted IBM had been in Australia since 1932, and classed today’s announcement as one of the most significant moves by the IT giant locally in that time.

Gillard said IBM carried “a very historic brand” – associated with innovation and change. The Prime Minister noted that no less than five Nobel prizes had been won by Australian IBM researchers, and pointed to collaborations such as IBM’s work on the Square Kilometre Array project as an example of collaboration between the company and Government.

The Labor leader noted whether it was “magnetic disk drives or new programming languages”, relational databases or supercomputing facilities — IBM was conducting research into all these matters around the world.

Image credit: MystifyMe Concert Photography, Creative Commons