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Innovation and change key to unlocking Asian century

29 November, 2012

Innovation and change will be the hallmarks of the Australian companies that succeed in the Asian century, the In the Zone conference at The University of Western Australia was told recently.

 Peter Coleman, CEO and Managing Director, Woodside, said Perth had the opportunity to be a global leader in Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) innovation.
 
"It is not hard to visualise a future in which Perth is the LNG technology hub of the world," he said.

"In Australia we are now just a few years away from floating LNG and coal seam gas-to-LNG technologies coming into production, something that few would have foreseen just a decade ago."
 
However he warned that companies that succeeded in the Asian century would be those that differentiated themselves.
 
"Our competitors are catching up - in Africa, in other parts of Asia and in the US," Coleman said.

"We need to differentiate ourselves. Asia values smart, innovative and productive partners. As Asia's middle class becomes larger, we need to differentiate on quality. That is a real challenge for us and is true for our industry and all industries in Australia."
 
Coleman said change was often not a welcome visitor in the workplace, giving the example of shale gas being initially investigated and rejected as a future option by a Woodside team in the US some years ago. 

"Industry can get in a comfortable place, and stepping outside ‘group think' is a big challenge," he said.
 
Harnessing the creativity and energy of new people coming into the oil and gas industry was another priority.

"We are in an industry where scientists typically do their best work before 30, whereas historians typically do their best work after 60," Coleman said.

"So how do we take advantage of the new people coming in and their ideas?
 
Coleman said Woodside was heavily driven by technology and innovation.

"We have more than 1000 direct technologists in our organisation," he said.

"Competing globally in innovation is not a stranger to us at all. A company like Woodside has always had to innovate to compete and survive."
 
However he urged there was still more to be done to ensure Western Australia capitalised on the global economic shifts that are driving the Asian century.
 
"We must ensure that Australia's endowment of natural resources does not create a sense of complacency," Coleman said, adding that it was not necessarily the resources that would guarantee Australia's future but rather the skills and expertise of Australian people.

"We often talk about tinkering with the new toy but forget that it is really about how we work that is important."
 
Woodside strived to avoid what Coleman termed "the classic Kodak problem", where one type of technology dominated a company and change was not considered an option.
 
"The hardest thing to do is to change while you are doing well. The challenge of leadership is to encourage innovation before the business model fails," he said.
 
Coleman said breaking out of traditional thought patterns was a challenge for everyone, including himself.

"I am probably locked into a certain set of thought patterns and locked into a certain set of ways about how things can and can't be done. My challenge every day is to open up that thinking," he said. 

Vinay Venkataraman, Co-founder, Copenhagan Institute of Interaction Design, pointed to innovation and preparedness to change as key factors behind the success of many global organisations.

He said radical and diverse growth was as important as vertical-domain expertise, and illustrated this point with reference to 3M, a company that started life as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company but through innovative philosophy and practices became a successful globally diversified technology company.

Successful global businesses also regard networks and cultural understanding as important as resources and expertise, Venkataraman said.  He also described self-organising, organic innovation within companies as just as relevant as systematic, centrally-organised innovative initiatives.
 
Rob Delane, Director General, Department of Agriculture and Food WA, said the onus was on Australia to explore new technologies and innovation in food supply to Asia.
 
"Fresh milk, ready to drink, is being flown out of Australia into Asia now - this would have been considered weird years ago," Delane said.

"There are high premiums being set for high quality, safe food."

Delane described Western Australia's opportunity to meet Asian food demand as "once in a generation", with the state well placed to become a preferred supplier for the rapidly increasing number of middle-class people in Asia.
 
He said the Department was working with the agriculture and food industry on strategies to capture increasing demand and generate flow-on returns to the Western Australian economy.
 
Delane said supplying to Asia would necessitate a different way of thinking for companies and producers.

"I am passionate about the need for a customer-focused approach to the Asian market opportunity, great collaboration between supply chain links and stronger public-private sector partnerships," he said.
 
Delane quoted an ANZ Greener Pastures report that predicted Australia had the capacity to capture up to an additional $1.7 trillion in agricultural exports between now and 2050.

Panellists at the conference spoke of the importance of innovative partnerships as a way of continuing to make mutually beneficial inroads into Asia.

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