Dr. Carla Boehl: How to Master Innovation in Asset Management

Carla Boehl

Dr. Carla Boehl is one of the leading minds in Australia on strategic asset management and innovation. She is currently a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at WA School of Mines, Curtin University and will be presenting on “How to Help Your Company Master Innovation” at Mainstream Conference in Perth. Ahead of her session, she shares four insights about innovation in asset management. 

1. Both industry and universities need to innovate in their approach to collaboration

In this fast-paced continually disruptive world, universities need to ensure that we produce the right kinds of dynamically skilled graduates, and ongoing engagement and robust dialogue between industry and the higher education sector holds the key to ensuring that innovation is translated.

Research is a critical area where industry and higher education need to collaborate in embracing innovation. It is widely acknowledged that for Australia as a nation, collaborative research between industry and universities is not a strength. Australia ranks an embarrassing 29th out of 30 in the OECD for collaboration between the university sector and industry on innovation. This is at odds with Australia’s reputation for high-quality research and our well-regarded research sector.

Whilst the reasons behind Australia’s ranking are complex, the evidence indicates that, when collaboration works, it leads to great results and successful innovations. The publication of 50 Solutions That Count by the Australian Technology Network of Universities (ATN) highlights instances where industry and research co-creation has produced a demonstrable return on public investment, positive outcomes for communities and sustainable commercial success.

Furthermore, given the quality of research in Australia, even a small increase in our efficiency at converting research into innovation could produce substantial dividends. A Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by Google in 2014 indicated the value of the collaborative economy in Australia’s is $46bn, but could be worth $9bn more by simply improving collaboration strategies.

For universities, collaboration means better aligning of research, being more open with findings, and more flexible. For industry it means changing the mind-set from philanthropy to commercial opportunity, seeking out and investing in long-term research relationships with universities and immersing those researchers in industry.

To complement I encourage people to read a report released in March 2015 by the ATN called Innovate and Prosper – Ensuring Australia’s Future Competitiveness Through University-Industry Collaboration.

I challenge you to reflect on the disruptions facing your organization and industry, reflect on your workforce, on how you innovate and collaborate – and then think about how you might engage with higher education to help us deliver exceptional graduates for your industry or important innovations through research.

2. Innovation is a process. Be ready to accept failure.

Innovation is less about creating something new and more about optimizing an existing process. And as with any process, it requires an iterative process. Which means a lot of trial and error, and in turn, a lot of patience.

If it’s a good idea, you need to refine it and then execute it within the business. And if not? Go back to the drawing board and figure out what you can do to improve the idea.

This process can sometimes be painful for organizations and often quite costly. If you’re going to give innovation a chance, you need to be prepared to not see results straight away, and this includes financial results. Therefore payback period is not the best economic criteria for innovation.

The most innovative organizations I see encourage ideas and accept failure as a potential consequence. They see the value of generating new ideas and don’t discourage people from dedicating time to innovation. Companies must realize that failure is a part of the innovation process and must accept that not all ideas are going to make money. It is an investment, which like any investment comes at a cost.

3. The right tools for innovation

At the moment the WA School of Mines is working with nine companies (including FMG, Roy Hill, Barminco, WesTrac, Sandvilk and PwC) to research on innovation in mining. We’re looking at automation and innovation in asset management from an engineering as well as a business perspective. We are working on a grant to train 10 PHD students and 3 post-doctoral students to spend one year with one of these nine companies working on innovating their processes and systems. It’s this mix of head and hand driven people that makes innovation possible.

The other powerful resource we have (but is often underutilized) is learning from others. Events like Mainstream Conference (where you can see me speaking in March 2016) are a valuable opportunity to see how companies are innovating specifically in relation to Asset Management. It’s so important to step outside of your own world and see how other people are innovating in their company and see what you can bring back to your own workplace.

4. The good news is that innovation can be taught

Some people think that if they are not born innovators or if innovation is not in their company DNA, then it’s not going to happen. Not necessarily.
While it is true that innovation can be inherent (I think people like Elon Musk are pre-wired to be innovators) innovation is essentially a process so I believe we can train people to be innovators. The key is to be able to tap into people’s passion and find what makes them excited. It’s all about encouragement and developing a culture which encourages innovation and doesn’t penalize failure.

Carla BoehlDr. Carla Boehl is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at WA School of Mines, Curtin University. Prior to this Carla held strategic asset management roles at Rio Tinto and Water Corporation. Carla will be presenting at Mainstream Conference in Perth. Catch her speaking on “How Much Do You Want to Help Your Company Master Innovation in Maintenance?”.


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