news The nation’s largest telco Telstra today revealed it would plough a small amount of funding into the nation’s peak ICT research group National ICT Australia, as the organisation continues to seek replacement investment options following the Coalition’s decision to cut off its government funding completely after two more years.
NICTA claims to be Australia’s largest organisation devoted to ICT research. Founded in 2002 under the then-Howard administration, focuses both on foundational ICT research as well as spinning off that research into startup companies and licensing the technology it develops. In its time, according to its website, the group has created 11 new companies, collaborated on joint projects with a range of ICT industries, developed a substantial technology and intellectual property portfolio and built a substantial PhD program. NICTA has more than 700 people across five laboratories around the nation.
However, the Coalition has long viewed the organisation as being better funded through its own efforts and cut off its funding completely in the 2014 Federal Budget.
In a statement issued earlier this month associated with the Federal Budget, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull noted that NICTA’s approximate current funding levels ($84.9 million over the next two years) would be maintained, with the Department of Communications and the Australian Research Council each to contribute $21.4 million in 2014–15 and $21.0 million in 2015–16. However, after that point, NICTA would receive no more direct funding.
“It was always expected that funding from the private sector would play an increasingly important role in supporting NICTA’s operations,” said Turnbull. “NICTA’s rapid recent growth in commercial revenue, through its partnerships with domestic and overseas firms, shows it can draw funding from a wider range of sources.”
In a statement today, Telstra announced it would partner with NICTA as part of a “multi-million dollar program” to explore and collaborate on projects of mutual interest.
The Telstra Research Partnership Program will see Telstra work with NICTA in areas as diverse as security, privacy, smart network planning and future media delivery. Telstra is also looking to work with UTS, Deakin University and the George Institute on a variety of research projects.
Telstra Chief Operations Officer Kate McKenzie said the program was designed to explore opportunities flowing from technology advances and cutting-edge research that could benefit Telstra and its customers.
“We’re always striving to find or create solutions to meet the future needs of our customers and the wider community, and increased collaboration with the brightest minds in the country will help us get there,” McKenzie said.
The Research Partnership Program complements Telstra’s existing innovation agenda, which includes an in-house platform for crowd-sourced innovation, the muru-D incubator for start-ups and the Telstra Ventures group, which takes a broader, global view of opportunities in the industry.
“We want to expand the breadth and depth of our relationships with research institutes over time to ensure the highest quality outcomes, and I am very excited that in the first phase of this program we are working with NICTA, Australia’s information and communications technology research centre of excellence,” McKenzie said.
“Part of the work with NICTA relates to parts of our business that are of great importance to Australia and our customers. We want to gain further insights into the growing demand on our networks and how that can further inform our overall network strategy and investment approach.
We’re also looking at the security and privacy of the data our customers entrust in Telstra and exploring future products and services that can give customers more control over how their data is used.”
NICTA CEO Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte said: “Innovation in information and communications technology lies at the heart of Australia’s future prosperity. The partnership forged today between Telstra and NICTA is an exciting opportunity for driving innovation in Australia and a revolution in communications between individuals, devices, businesses and industry.”
And Turnbull said: “It is great to see first-class organisations like Telstra and NICTA working together to accelerate innovation. If Australia is to retain its competitive position in the global economy and support the growth of advanced, knowledge-intensive industries, partnerships like this are vital.”
To my mind, this is actually bad news for NICTA, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. My understanding is that Telstra has only chipped in a token amount of money — certainly less than the telco would look to invest in a significant venture capital investment in a startup, as it regularly does. If a company as large as Telstra — one of the best-funded and most profitable technology companies in Australia — is only willing to hand NICTA a small amount for research, then I can’t imagine the research organisation is going to find much of an open door elsewhere.