• Professor Andrew Harris. Credit: University of Sydney
    Professor Andrew Harris. Credit: University of Sydney

It’s an exciting time in Defence and there are some big acquisition decisions looming.

Firstly, the word on the street is that the winning shipbuilder for the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) program is imminent as this issue of ADM goes to press. This will be followed in the first half of next year by the momentous Land 400 Phase 2 down-select and possibly even a decision on an armed Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), under Project Air 7003.

But that’s not my focus at the moment. When ADM’s editor Katherine Ziesing kindly invited me to write the editorial column this month it started me thinking.

With ADM’s STEM in Defence Summit looming (it will be held in Canberra on November 30), I thought it might be worth sharing something I heard recently, which immediately resonated and which I’ve been thinking about on and off for a while.

Those of you who attended ADM’s Defence Estate and Base Services Summit in September may remember an extremely engaging and interesting presentation by Professor Andrew Harris, engineering director at Laing O’Rourke, about the importance of innovation and how to harness disruptive technologies for construction projects.

An overview of this conference can be found on page 36 of this issue, but while it wasn’t the main thrust of his presentation, one of Professor Harris’ points – and the one which resonated with me – was that we should expand how we traditionally think of the STEM subjects to include Arts. He argues that STEM should become STEAM, to inspire creativity and he made the point that, in his experience, disruptive technologies do not come from within an organisation, but rather from outside.

Much has been written about the lack of interest in STEM subjects when young people choose their courses – and this is certainly a cause for concern – but perhaps we’re missing at least some of the point?

It could be argued that there is room for creativity, outside the ‘problem solving’ disciplines of science, mathematics and engineering. Some of history’s greatest scientists and engineers (Leonardo da Vinci for one) were also ‘dreamers’, or blue sky thinkers in today’s jargon, and these people weren’t constrained by formula or process. Who knows what we can do given an unlimited horizon, but surely this approach can only foster innovation?

Innovation is a much-used, perhaps over-used, label which has become a buzzword in Defence and industry in recent times - and one which means different things to different people. Defence and particularly industry could play a leading role in expanding STEM into STEAM, but it will require a long-term view of innovation in its real sense. Firstly by offering career pathways, which don’t just lurch from one major acquisition campaign to the next, but which reward creativity over the long term.

There are of course some excellent industry initiatives already underway. Lockheed Martin Australia’s partnership with the University of Melbourne on the STELaRLab initiative is but one example, but perhaps we need to do more to put the ‘A’ in innovation?

The traditional approach has perhaps been to identify a problem and then apply the STEM resources to solve it; but what if we can solve problems we don’t actually know we have at the present time and then use those solutions for the benefit of industry as a whole? An example Professor Harris used in his presentation was Google’s in-house development of a new tool called a ‘Crabot’ – half crane, half robot – to build its new headquarters. Contractor’s quotes for the construction of the building using traditional methods were hugely expensive, so the tool was developed in-house within three months and it is now patented.

With that off my chest, it’s now time to welcome you to the November issue, once again put together by the creative team here at ADM and I promise that Katherine will be back on the editorial page in our December/January issue, where she will once again tackle the important matters within Defence and defence industry.

The forthcoming December/January issue of course will include our comprehensive – and dare I say, indispensible – Top 40 Defence Contractors and Top 20 Defence SME listing. As I’m sure many of you will be too, I’m very interested to see who the big movers have been over the course of 2017.

comments powered by Disqus