This past Australia Day saw NEXTDC non-executive board member, Dr Gregory Clark, receive the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), the country’s highest civilian honour. In this interview he discusses the importance of science and maths education, how to enable innovation, and the crucial technology of the future.
The award recognises Dr Clark’s eminent service to science as a physicist, researcher and academic in the area of technological development and communications, to business as an innovator and enabler of emerging technologies, and to the promotion of philanthropy.
“It is great that Science received so much recognition in this year’s Australia Day Awards. I think that now we have this formal endorsement by Government we need, as scientists and engineers, to put our foot down and turn it into something material that helps Australia economically and socially.”
The majority of this year’s AC recipients were from scientific fields, include Australian of the Year, Michelle Simmons for her leadership in quantum computing at the UNSW.
The rewards of research
Dr Clark is a world-renowned technologist, businessman and scientist. He was a pioneering senior scientist in IBM’s Research Division in New York; as President of Technology at New Corporation Dr Clark led the transformation of its media assets from an analogue to a digital platform; and was Chief Operating Officer of Loral Space and Communications, the world’s largest commercial satellite manufacturer and one of the largest satellite operators.
Dr Clark toured NEXTDC's S1 Sydney data centre with friend and fellow Order of Australia recipient, Peter Faiman, a leading TV and film producer perhaps best known for directing Crocodile Dundee.
Although he has successfully married scientific and commercial endeavour, he feels that transferring skills between the two comes down to the individual. Dr Clark said, “Many people are happy to stay in their science area, others who are more entrepreneurial. Some wish to start a company, others want to move their research into bigger companies or even transition from research to product within a big company like BHP.”
The shifting conditions for innovation
Developing an environment in which innovation can thrive is no easy feat, and no sure thing.
Dr Clark said, “The government can help when we have big projects like the NBN or our submarines, by channelling innovative work into Australian companies. Product and jobs then grow in Australia where the work is done rather than overseas."
"If they have a huge contract for something like Snowy Mountain 2.0, then whenever possible those contracts should go to Australian companies. The Government needs to lead by spending in Australia on Australian projects. The government needs to move the economy through innovation by pulling not pushing.
"Innovation happens when you get teams working together. Innovation and entrepreneurship are really team efforts and in those teams you need skill diversity. You need to put teams together in universities or companies. Put together a finance person from an MBA program, an engineer, someone who is good with coding, and tell them to come up with an idea."
"Data and big data is going to change the face of all our vocational and social activities. There is huge demand for science and maths skills in all walks of life.”
Dr Clark emphasised the importance of science and maths education, “Having a science background or being in science programs at school sets you up for any career you wish to take on. All these skills are good for our core businesses such as agriculture, mining, finance, legal and tourism."
Building crucial technology
Dr Clark says he has had a lot of fun in his career, and an ongoing passion for the cutting-edge of science and technological innovation.
“What’s crucial for us is how to handle big data, how to store it, stream it and analyse it," he said. "Looking for patterns in big data is almost equivalent to the scientific method, and we at NEXTDC are right in the middle of that.”
Dr Clark outside S1 in Macquarie Park – S2 is in development down the road.
“Data centres have always fascinated me, and I think it’s a crucial technology for the future. What we’re doing at NEXTDC is where the world is going technically."
Dr Clark said, "We have a fantastic executive team at NEXTDC that is world-class, and being on the Board lets me observe and participate in what’s happening in the whole information industry.”
Find out more
For a deep dive into the state of innovation in Australia, Innovation and Science Australia (ISA), chaired by Bill Ferris, in February 2018 released a strategic plan for the Australian innovation, science and research system: Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation