MSI innovation chief sees wider benefits

SKA project could give government confidence to continue investment in leading-edge technology, says Brett O'Riley

Brett O’Riley, deputy chief executive of business innovation and investment at the Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI), sees the SKA project as an example of collaboration across the science and technology “ecosystem” – and as a way of demonstrating to government that such collaboration works well.

Government will thereby be “given confidence to continue investment” in leading-edge science and technology, O’Riley told the SKA workshop at the Rutherford Innovation Showcase.

The ecosystem, he says, includes smart people, smart and innovative companies, smart ideas and smart capital investors. Only in the last respect, he suggests is New Zealand performing significantly below other OECD countries.

The MSI’s role is to act as the glue between all this smartness and a government that assists with grants and practical measures to make the whole machine work better. In a sense this was also his role in the job he has just left, as CEO of the NZICT Group, he says.

O’Riley linked radio-astronomy research to the huge computational resources required and thence to other areas that will benefit from new research and development in computing. These include genomic research, which could bring early diagnosis of adverse genetic conditions in children, enabling treatment that may prevent illness later in life.

He compared New Zealand to Denmark, a similar-sized nation that has also added an advanced technical component to an economy dominated by agriculture. The statistics he cited arguably show a relatively poor performance for New Zealand in this respect. New Zealand has raised its research and development funding to only 0.6 percent in the government sector and 0.5 percent in the private sector, compared to Denmark’s 0.86 percent and 1.82 percent respectively.

Technology exports, however, have risen from one percent to three percent in the same period as Denmark took to go from 11 percent to 21 percent, he says.

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