Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Smart locker competition may also deliver unexpected outcomes

(Reposted with permission from

Australia Post has survived more than a hundred years of shipping information and goods. Then came the internet, which massively shrunk hardcopy mail, bills, brochures and so on.
But with the rise of the internet also came the boom in sourcing “stuff” from almost anyone, anywhere, at anytime — and have it delivered to your doorstep. Australians are now globally ranked 2nd for online shopping and want the convenience of the process to end with a parcel, not a fake delivery notice.
Depending on where you live, the fake delivery notice may be a familiar story: using an online parcel tracking code, you see your parcel has arrived at a shop. You then dash off to pick it up. A day or two later, you receive the delivery attempt notice regarding the parcel you already picked up, demonstrating that they are not even trying to deliver parcels to your door. Can you blame them? Not at all. Parcels do not fit mailboxes, people are often away during delivery times, and no postal worker wants to drag around heaps of heavy parcels that probably only end up being returned to the shop. Delivering is just not as efficient as faking delivery.
To address this problem, Australia Post is experimenting with 24 hour smart lockers. One aspect Australia Post can intentionally experiment with is the location. However, the first generation lockers are co-located with Australia Post outlets. Why not place some smart lockers in between shops and closer to you? After all, Australia Post is in the business of delivery, not storage. Placing lockers closer to final destinations would also mean they are emptied faster.
Given their aversion to experimenting with location, my bet is that Australia Post sees unexpected outcomes as risks that need to be systematically avoided. They have probably already devised contingency plans in case parcels contain perishable items that are not picked up until the recipient comes home from holidays. Hopefully they will also have considered that many people (such as the elderly) may not want to be required to own a smart phone and GPS enabled app to pick up their parcels.
Perhaps a Christmas season in Vancouver, Canada best illustrates the dilemma of completing the delivery process. Within one evening, a few centimetres of snow caused chaos. Because of the snow, parcels (and delivery notices) could not be delivered beyond main streets, and instantly piled up from floor to ceiling at many shops. Those who knew (via the internet) that their parcel had arrived had to line up outside while postal workers dug through the mountain of parcels.
In Sydney, the experience is not quite as extreme, but I routinely see long lines of people waiting to do nothing else than pick up their parcel from one of five very busy staff. Clearly, there is more room to innovate the process of final delivery.
Well, Australia Post isn’t the only one who knows customers want more. Mark Bouris and James Packer have just teamed up to challenge Australia Post with their own smart lockers. The image in the report suggest the lockers will be indoors, so those Christmas chocolates from your gran won’t melt away, too.
The expected outcome of this competition is convenience from order to delivery: order your items anytime online, pick them up anytime, too.
What interests me more are the unexpected outcomes of smart lockers. Unexpected outcomes are seen as lucky and can lead to entirely new business opportunities. For example, instead of being seen as too impersonal, smart lockers may be appreciated for their anonymity and cause a surge in ordering potentially embarrassing parcels.
If Australia Post were open to cultivating lucky outcomes, they might intentionally vary how the smart lockers at each location work, and treat each location as a separate experiment. For example, they might enable some lockers to entirely replace the shop by letting individuals pay at the locker to place their own parcels in the locker for a specified recipient to pick the parcel up.
Such an experiment may work for many Gumtree or eBay users, to avoid having to coordinate schedules around each other or the post office.
Managing for unexpected outcomes, including having the right location, technology or business model is a topic I discuss in an upcoming conference paper on the role of luck in innovation.
I completely understand if Australia Post is avoiding unexpected outcomes with most of their billion-dollar infrastructure upgrade. As for the smart lockers, I hope Australia Post and Bouris get a little creative, experiment a bit, and are receptive to unexpected outcomes. For now, I’m hoping the timing and outcome of the smart lockers means we’ll all get our prezzies under our trees, not fake delivery notices.
(please leave comments on the article at


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Friday, June 29, 2012

Announcing ... the GIG Engine

Announcing .. the GIG Engine (built by CIE and NSi in collaboration with BlueChilli and additional assistance from NICTA and Silicon Beach) 

Screenshot of the GIG Engine

This interactive visual map of the Australian innovation system builds on a long history of TechMaps. The GIG Engine is also timely for incumbents and newcomers to our community to familiarize themselves with who is out there, doing what, and how interconnected this space is.

Back in Vancouver, I was part of the Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology (CPROST), which was the driving force behind the BC TechMap, published as a massive poster in 2003:

Apparently, there's a 2012 version coming soon!

In 2011, Env & Planning A published a similar TechMap for Puget Sound (Seattle area) came out, too. 

The BC TechMap was lauded for making people feel like they’re part of a community, and the map remained in the boardrooms of many offices several years after it was created.

However, these Techmaps have a few limitations: (i) they’re static and get dated quickly, (ii) they’re hard to navigate, (iii) they focus on the tech-preneurs, and are missing all the glue that holds these pieces together. The first two are obvious, but let’s have a look at point iii. If you redraw the BC TechMap as a social network diagram, you’ll see that it actually looks like the clusters of multiple generations spin-offs are totally disconnected:

If you’re an entrepreneur, that doesn’t exactly tell you anything other than that some companies and universities spin off more companies, but it doesn’t say who to turn to for R&D tax advice, capital, workshops, legal help, tech support, market research, etc. .. Enter GIG Engine.
Just in the last few years, our community has seen the (re-)emergence of supporting organizations (in no particular order): Sydney Angels, Tech23, SydStart, MEGA (reborn), StartMate, PushStart, IgnitionLabs, Springboard, Founders Institute, General Assembly, MHCarnegie, Accel, StartupBus, Fishburners, 66-Meetups, BlueChilli, Heads OverHeels, UnConvention, TiE, Student entrepreneurship societies (e.g. UNSW, UTS) and other facebook groups, more courses and programs at unis and pre-uni (incl social entrepreneurship), ShoeString Startups, and a number of hack-a-thons (RHoK, Launch48). We have also seen recent attempts to map out the ecosystem via Silicon Beach (mindmeister) and our partners (StartRail, ANZ Cleantech Industry 2010), as well as attempts to sequence the Aussie innovation Genome, these maps still fall a little short on some of the same 3 points mentioned earlier. I’m not saying the GIG Engine is perfect, and we're hoping the community will get involved (email us!) to make it better.

What you could get out of it: Find out who’s who, and who’s related to who, to help you build the network you need for your venture.

What we get out of it: A living database that can be used for research on the networks of ventures.

(But really did it because it we were curious and it was kind of fun.)
We wish to acknowledge the CIE's sponsors and express our appreciation of their support. All of our sponsors help provide the means to host networking events, award prizes, and reimburse our suppliers and service providers. In exchange, these donors receive good karma and public recognition as supporters of innovation and entrepreneurship. To become a sponsor of CIE and support our community engagement activity, please contact us at

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hon. G. Combet, Minister for I&I, comments on Aussie brain drain

Last week, in response to the Sydney Morning Herald article and ensuing debate on Australia's 'brain drain' (,  the CIE invited the Honourable Greg Combet, Minister for Industry and Innovation, to contribute a guest blog post to the discussion.  (Please note that the views expressed below are those of the author and do not reflect an official statement or position of the CIE.)


Blog contribution for Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
By Greg Combet AM MP
Minister for industry and Innovation
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency

The Australian economy is globalising and fast. One facet of this trend is the way Australian entrepreneurs are criss-crossing the world, building experience and networks and selling not just themselves and their products and services, but the view of Australians as global entrepreneurs.

A series of articles in the Sydney Morning Herald has bemoaned this so called “brain drain” as, mostly young, entrepreneurs depart our shores in search of investment and markets for their ideas. The fact is that these journeys are part of the economic and social transformation that shows a path to the future of the Australian economy. This is no “brain drain” but actually a small country finding opportunities in a global market and punching above its weight.

As these entrepreneurs know, a global audience of 7 billion investors, customers and partners brings tremendous opportunity. Closing our borders or limiting our aspirations to the domestic market alone will only limit the entrepreneurs’ growth and our economy’s growth.

We need these entrepreneurs to mentor and introduce local businesses to global networks, to share their experiences and to promote Australia’s strengths around the world. We don’t want to lose them – but we should recognise that they don’t need to be physically here to add value.

Our long-term competitive advantage is in the ideas and energy of our people. The coming century will be shaped by significant geographical, demographic and technological trends.

Two of those technological trends that our entrepreneurs are already tapping into are clean technology and ICT. The Government is making significant investments in infrastructure, skills, research and innovation to support their initiative.

The $36 billion National Broadband Network is the most ambitious investment in infrastructure in our history. The NBN is the cornerstone of our Digital Economy Strategy, which will help Australia become a leading global digital economy by 2020.

The NBN will provide the platform for Australian businesses to develop, distribute and benefit from a wide array of digital applications and services. This opportunity will catalyse local development and take-up but also tell the world that Australians will be players in the global digital economy.

Faster broadband will provide benefits to the Australian economy through digital productivity, cloud computing and virtual collaboration.

The Australian Government’s Clean Energy Future plan will encourage the development of low carbon energy generation technologies. The transformation of the energy sector will drive $100 billion in investment in renewable energy electricity generation over the period to 2050.

We’re also investing almost $9 billion per annum in science, research and innovation, representing a 35 per cent increase on the 2007 figures.

In addition to the digital economy and clean energy strategies, the Government has a comprehensive set of support programs for Australian entrepreneurs to innovate and commercialise new technologies.

The new R&D Tax Incentive which delivers a significant increase in support for entrepreneurs; Commercialisation Australia; Enterprise Connect and the current round of the Innovation Investment Fund where the Government will be committing up to $100m of co-investment.

It is hard to predict the future but two things are certain – we’re going to be more connected and going to be doing more with less from a resource perspective. So, instead of pessimism, we should also be celebrating the increased globalisation of our entrepreneurs. The experiences, networks and success that they are having on a global stage are part of this transformation. Our challenge is to remain connected with our own global citizens and use these Australian links to our advantage.

The Australian Government is making a significant investment in the future and laying the policy foundations that will help our entrepreneurs make their mark in global markets.

We wish to acknowledge the CIE's sponsors and express our appreciation of their support.  All of our sponsors help provide the means to host networking events, award prizes, and reimburse our suppliers and service providers. In exchange, these donors receive good karma and public recognition as supporters of innovation and entrepreneurship. To become a sponsor of CIE and support our community engagement activity, please contact us at