Top engineering and technology trends for 2018: you need to STEEM forward vigorously
By Steve Mackay PhD, Dean, Engineering Institute of Technology
Thursday, 08 February, 2018
At a recent function for would-be students of our engineering college on the need for more of a STEM focus, I was sharply corrected by a good colleague who remarked that we should think rather of STEEM: science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and mathematics. And he is so absolutely right.
My take on the industrial automation industry in Australia is that we do not have enough entrepreneurial activity with a global focus. With the huge downsizing in employment at the large Australian mining and manufacturing companies, we need other entrepreneurial ventures to take up the employment slack in the engineering industries. For example, an inspirational Australian entrepreneurial company in the industrial automation sphere that I once worked for embraced this and went onto huge success globally: Citect (now part of Schneider Electric) created world-class SCADA software that took the world by storm.
The evidence of a rapidly changing jobs market is plain for everyone to see. We have known for the past two decades that there are no longer ‘jobs for life’. Now we are increasingly seeing that automation has hollowed out the number of people required in any industrial facility. Technologies that once were buzzwords are now being successfully implemented and providing huge opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs: machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things, cybersecurity, cloud computing and virtual reality.
It is thus vital that everyone jumps on board this train of entrepreneurship. We need to encourage everyone from the time they enter school to think as entrepreneurs, with a strong focus on creativity and business outcomes — and also tolerance of failure. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should set up a business, but that you should always think of yourself as an entrepreneur — even when working for a large mining company.
Without a shadow of doubt, engineering professionals are brilliant problem-solvers; however, you need to go well beyond this to be successful as an entrepreneur with an appetite for risk-taking. Engineers often mistakenly believe that creation of the technology is the hard bit and taking the product to market is the easy part. Everyone is fixated on ‘cool ideas and technology’. However, this is a very small part of the story: commercial viability is absolutely critical, and trying to understand what the market wants is key to success.
The old adage ‘Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door’ is sadly not true. Powerful selling and marketing are key elements in making a product successful. Elements such as product functionality can only be gauged by engaging with the market.
The financial side of the business is also critical. Pricing the product just right is essential. The business model has to stack up and you need to have a clear idea of who your ultimate customers are and what their needs are.
With the world economy bouncing back (and mining back in vogue again), technology change accelerating and the internet reducing the barriers to entry, now is the time for Australian would-be entrepreneurs — especially in the industrial automation space — to satisfy this huge raft of new demands out there.
All the best for a barnstorming 2018. Focus on hard objectives now to ensure it exceeds all your expectations. Above all, stay healthy and stay happily personally connected.
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