CSIRO begins global search for new Data61 chief, Adrian Turner calls time

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday August 6, 2019


The CSIRO is on the hunt for a technologist to replace Data61 chief executive Adrian Turner, who will leave the role on September 12.

According to CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall, the unique research body’s inaugural leader will still be involved with the scientific agency in some way.

“Adrian Turner has made a significant contribution to CSIRO and Australia in understanding and harnessing the opportunities that digital and data science can deliver,” Marshall said. “Our relationship will continue beyond Data61, with CSIRO and Adrian exploring how we can work together on the new venture.”

Data61 formed a few years ago from a merger of the former high-tech research quango NICTA and the CSIRO’s national research flagship for digital productivity and services. Since mid-2016 it has worked on about 600 separate projects, played a key role in developing a national Artificial Intelligence Roadmap and Ethics Framework, weighed in on the issue of consumer data rights and helped out with efforts to build stronger links with the Vietnamese economy.

“It’s been an intense three years,” Turner told Mandarin Premium in a recent interview.

While its leader is at the same level as the heads of the CSIRO’s other national research flagships, Data61 has a higher profile and operates in a slightly different way. It is sometimes described as a “data innovation network” and its staff work with a roughly equal number of secondees, students and affiliated researchers via partnerships with 32 universities.

Turner believes Australia is lagging behind comparable nations in terms of innovation and says local captains of industry generally “don’t have enough of a grasp on how the economics are changing underneath them” as the digital economy increasingly blurs the lines between traditional markets.

“As we migrate away from commodities and resources into new industries, we have to seed them from Australia,” he said.

Data61, however, has been recognised internationally as a good model for how different kinds of organisations can work together to address these kinds of challenges. Looking ahead, Turner told Mandarin Premium he saw a bright future:

“I think we have the potential here to create a new model, a new global network, from Australia, where we link into the best and brightest around the world, and we assemble teams across institutions to solve not only Australia’s but some of the world’s emerging challenges, whether it’s energy, climate, food security, biosecurity, and we do so with a view to seeding new industry for Australia, for national benefit.”

Read more: ‘Licensed to operate differently’ ― How Adrian Turner achieves large-scale digital innovation with porous boundaries and multi-disciplinary teams

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