Google Australia, Atlassian, Xero and QuintessenceLabs were recognised as Australia’s most innovative technology organisations at a ceremony in March – as voted by their peers.

So what makes them leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else?

The innovation awards were presented by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and were sponsored by the Federal Department of Industry. In total, 102 organisations replied to the question – “Who is the most innovative Australian organisation?”

The awards were partnered with research led by UTS’s Professor Steve Burdon, who looked to explore the innovation culture of organisations from the perspective of their employees and competitors. AIIA is the peak representative body and advocacy group for the ICT industry in Australia.

“The winners rated highly for the development and execution of good ideas and the ability to engage talent to innovate. An organisation’s ability to build a culture that was decisive, able to take risks, proactive and growth focused were strongly endorsed by this survey,” Burdon said at the event.

Doing, always doing

The unifying theme is that all innovative organisations are always doing.

For employees, every day consists of building new products, measuring results with users, learning from this and iterating on the next version. It is through this process of rapid test-and-learn that products continue to morph and change. It is this process of continuous development that innovation occurs and moves organisations into whitespace.

Take for example Google’s Chromium team (the team behind the world’s most popular browser) who releases new public versions of their product every day through their “Canary” build, a product on the bleeding edge targeted for early adopters and developers.

This speed by which these products are coming ‘off the line’ and being tested by actual end users is driving a ruthless efficiency in prioritisation what innovative features the organisation will focus on, based on customer needs.

Failing fast, small bets, self-empowered teams

Small fail-fast ventures are the vehicle by which organisations are applying this bias to action. Yet, when we want to embark on building ventures, we hear ‘we don’t know where to start’ as the common first barrier to approaching the innovation agenda.

When you’re looking down onto a blank sheet of paper, the first words are the most difficult. That is why for us, knowing the Big Hairy Audacious Goal or the “top-right” vision is very important. The purpose of a venture (a vehicle for innovation) is to start on the “bottom-left” and innovate upwards to reach that goal.

There is a common misconception that ideation is innovation. Ideas are easy – doing and refining the ideas until commercial success is hard. For us, while exploring new ideas is a useful exercise it must be handled with care because it can impede progress and create noise. In our experience, ideation sessions are often run by organisations to drive cultural change, but we find value in innovation to be highest when delivering new customer experiences and relentlessly refining an idea.


This type of innovation isn’t simple, and it requires consistent effort. A range of speakers at the awards highlighted just exactly how they’re doing this – and left attendees with a challenge to go and do the same themselves.

1. Starting with Code

Lucinda Barlow, Head of Marketing for ANZ and Google, spoke to the importance of treating coding as a second language. Referring to the recent Start With Code campaign – which PwC Digital Change contributed towards – Lucinda spoke to the possibility of the next great Australian start-up being in a garage in the corner of the country. Learning to code enables young Australians to tackle global opportunities while still being down under.

2. Scratching the itch

Dominic Price, Head of Program Management in Engineering at Atlassian, left attendees with a challenge – let employees “scratch an itch” and get things done. Every quarter the company provides employees with the ability to work on something related to their products and ship it during a 24-hour hackathon.

in this video, Atlassian Developer Advocate Tim Petterson says “scratching my own itch” refers to solving problems that affect his workflow:

This program is all about empowering employees – letting them identify areas which can provide value, or even bugs that annoy them, and then giving them the tools to do it themselves. It’s fast-paced, and more importantly, produces results.

3. Putting the user first

While Xero may have been growing its online accounting platform extremely quickly, Managing Director Chris Ridd said at the event, Xero doesn’t view itself as an accounting company.

“Xero is not a software company, but a user experience company,” he said, adding the emphasis within the company is on “beautiful design”.

So much technology is based on what the user can get out of it – Ridd’s approach is a reminder nothing can get done if the user’s experience is blocked by bad design. First and foremost, technology should be intuitive

4. The role of the leader

Having a leader who can drive digital change is imperative – being able to understand and navigate the complexities of the modern economy requires strong vision. Dr Scott Rashleigh, Chief Operating Officer of Quintessence Labs, said as much at the awards:

Leaders’ attributes, he said, “start with an idea but must have a champion who can passionately communicate their passion, and sell it to a real and not a perceived need in the market”.

Rob Chan is a former senior consultant in PwC Australia’s Experience Centre.


Contributor Placeholder

Guest Contributor

Rob Chan