ELECTRO OPTIC SYSTEMS: THE POWER OF OPTIMISM The inspiring story of EOS – the Canberrabased, globally focused manufacturer of advanced tech systems – shows how far our innovation ecosystem has come. By Duncan Campbell-Avenell
or anyone with an interest in Australia’s national health, the CSIRO’s ambitious Australian National Outlook 2019 (ANO) report makes for compelling – and essential – reading. A detailed map of the here and now as well as a “roadmap to 2060”, the ANO was built on great mountains of data, sophisticated computer modelling, and the expert input of key players from academia, government, and industry, not to mention the CSIRO itself. One observer has referred to the resulting big-picture, bird’s-eye-view survey – which is available in full and summary forms online – as a “whole-of-society blueprint”. It’s perhaps no bombshell that the ANO identifies science, technology, and education as the three key drivers of potential innovation in Australia over the coming decades. More bracing is the systematic way in which the report links the health of our innovation ecosystem with that of the broader economy. An underlying assumption of the ANO project is that innovation – which the NAB Business Innovation Index defines, neatly, as the ability to do things “differently, more quickly, or more cost-efficiently” than before – is critical to a nation’s prosperity and prospects, and few
informed stakeholders would disagree. And, while it’s easy to bemoan the flaws in the current landscape – in fact, it’s possible to make a career out of it – the ANO’s verdicts are in, and they suggest that, while now isn’t the time to lose sight (through rose-tinted glasses) of what can be improved, we should be guardedly optimistic about the future of innovation in Australia – especially considering how far we’ve come. The latter point can be shown through a quickfire case study of Electro Optic Systems (EOS), a leading creator of specialised hardware for the space, communications, and defence sectors. Today, the Canberra-headquartered firm is an established, admired manufacturer and exporter of cutting-edge tech, with offices in the US, the UAE, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Germany and a raft of high-profile, high-value contracts around the world. But it wasn’t always thus – and the story of how EOS turned its intellectual capital into commercially viable, locally manufactured, export-ready products is instructive. Among its lessons is that Australia is much more receptive to innovation now than it was in 1983, when EOS was founded by Dr Ben Greene, who remains the company’s Group CEO.