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INTERVIEW with Graeme Kernich – CEO of the CRCSI

About the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI)
CRCSI is an international research and development centre set up in 2003 under the Australian Government Business Cooperative Research Centres Programme. CRCSI conducts user-driven research in spatial information that addresses issues of national importance in Australia and New Zealand. There partners include government agencies, universities and over 50 companies.

Could you tell us a bit about the history of CRCSI?

The Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, or CRCSI, is about 15 years old and was set up under the Cooperative Research Centres Programme of the Australian Commonwealth Government. CRCSI’s formation was initially conceived as a key recommendation from spatial information industry leaders. The government of the time had targetted the spatial industry for development and growth and a group representing the spatial industry saw a cooperative research centre as one key pillar to link industry, education and government. Since it commenced in July 2003 CRCSI has focussed on building critical mass in research initiatives between these three sectors to tackle major end-user driven challenges using spatial technologies. Our technical focus has traditionally been on data infrastructures, positioning and the extraction of information from data. The CRCSI continues to have a keen focus on earth observation and its application in areas of natural resource management, agriculture, built environment and construction, health and defence. We have conducted hundreds of research projects in every Australian jurisdiction and continue to focus on applied collaborative research development and innovation. We have developed strong international links through our partner base and have built a strong collaboration with New Zealand. The CRCSI is now an organisation truly spanning both countries.

You are dedicated to addressing market failures and supporting critical spatial infrastructure in Australia and New Zealand. What have been so far your greatest achievements and challenges?

We constantly face the challenge of addressing the changing needs of our partners and aligning our collaborative research with the rapid advances in technology. Transferring innovative research and proven concepts into operation is a significant challenge, so too is dealing with cross-jurisdictional issues, at least in the Australian and New Zealand context. In terms of achievements, we are very pleased with the improved collaboration between industry, government and the academic sectors coming from our activities of the past 15 years. We are also very proud of the success our partners have had as a result of further developing and implementing our research outcomes. To name but a few examples the CRCSI led the initial thinking and research of the: national positioning infrastructure and its development, this is now well underway; implementation of creative commons licencing and digital rights management; work on large-scale earth observation data processing, as well as the sea level rise methodologies, data sets and tools that have been created by our partners. We also take pride in the training of PhDs and post doctorate researchers, our strong scientific publication record in print and commercial success through licencing and the spinoff of several companies.

In the EO services sector, governments can have a strong influence over the way business develops. Aside from being a good customer, what’s the one other thing the Australian government can do to support the development of the sector?

Government can play a lead role in acting as a catalyst for innovation. Government also has a role to play in encouraging industry development through its procurement policies. There is presently a strong focus on policies and data infrastructures, which encourage and promote open data and access and will stimulate innovation both within government as well as across industry. One example is Digital Earth Australia, which is built upon the open data cube architecture and will soon be serving up a wide range of data and data products to both government and industry.

What are the main issues you consider may affect the evolution of the Australian market you are addressing and where do you see the greatest opportunities for growth?

The greatest opportunities for growth in the Australian EO market is in the use of its data by mainstream business as well as government. This will occur in combination with other data sources including other spatial data. It will impact beyond our traditional industry sectors. The Improved temporal and spatial resolution of EO data are only one of the enablers. The presence of enhanced storage, analytic and transfer capabilities of the cloud environments means the data is now more accessible than ever. The addition of new analytics capabilities, including machine learning, open the door for vastly improved predictive capabilities. Issues of accessibility and data being fit-for-purpose remain but are being progressively overcome.

Australia and the EU are currently cooperating to ensure data from Copernicus delivers economic, environmental and societal benefits. Can you give us an example of how this cooperation could impact the Australian EO industry?

The biggest effect is in increasing the quantity and quality of available data and this intrinsically means there is a large opportunity to develop applications for business. In particular, having Copernicus data in Australia is a game changer in terms of data availability and timeliness in relation to radar and optical imagery. The increased availability of public and private data offerings means that new applications can be built that were not possible before, there will also be the opportunity to enhance the value of existing products. I see a broader range of applications and products being developed over the next few years that will become a part of everyday life, much like mapping and positioning are now used on mobile devices in ways we never really thought about ten years ago. The fusion of EO data with other data sets is where I think the greatest potential lies.

You also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop synergies and strengthen cooperation in business, research and technology between Australia and Europe in the utilisation of EO technology. Which element of cooperation in this MoU is the most important for you? What is the added value of such a MoU?

Our interests are very much aligned in this MoU, which for me is extremely important. MoUs signal a mutual desire to work towards a common goal, and in this instance the pragmatic outcome will be initially the development of joint Horizon 2020 (H2020) earth observation applications. The key ingredients of success really do exist alongside this MoU, meaning there will be a very high likelihood of action. From our perspective these are (1) aligned needs in terms of maximising the benefits and applications from this fantastic infrastructure and data source (Copernicus), (2) evidence of existing collaboration through the Copernicus datahub, (3) a group of companies and organisations having the collective will to cooperate, (4) a joint funding mechanism from which to seed new applications development (H2020), (5) a growing industry, and lastly (6) resources in both Europe and Australia to facilitate it happening.

What are CRCSI’s and your future goals?

The CRCSI has reached a crossroads as our CRC programme funding winds up in June. However, our partner base wish for us to continue and we are working with them right now to deliver innovative collaborative user driven research across Australia and New Zealand. We are also taking this opportunity to improve our engagement model, refresh our research programs and align more closely with our partners’ strategies. Our new incarnation will be taking across a strong transitioning research portfolio as well as expanding into new areas of research.

Short Biography

Graeme is CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI) and was previously Deputy CEO where he was responsible for CRCSI operations, including finance, compliance, legals, corporate governance, business development and commercialisation.
Prior to the CRCSI, Graeme worked at RMIT University where he was charged with identifying technologies with potential for commercial exploitation and facilitating their transfer, primarily in biotechnology and information technology. He routinely negotiated commercial agreements, implemented commercial strategies with alliance partners and provided assistance in intellectual property management, project planning and route-to-market strategies.
Graeme has a PhD and Bachelor of Agricultural Science (1st Class Hons) from the University of Melbourne, a Masters of Business Administration from Deakin University, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Corporate Governance. He has successfully completed the Program for Leadership Development at Harvard Business School.