Michael Phillips – a leading Canberra collaborator

Published on March 11, 2015

Image of Michael PhillipsMichael Phillips has a long history of working collaboratively with people to get the best outcome for all concerned.  After all, he is from a family of nine children!

So when a role came up to foster engagement between ICT innovators and Government agencies to strengthen the ICT industry in Australia, Michael’s name was right at the top of the list.

But how did Michael become the right person for the job?

Michael grew up mostly in Melbourne and began his career as a cadastral surveyor (cadastral surveying is a sub-field of surveying that specialises in the establishment and re-establishment of real property boundaries.)  After completing his Bachelor of Surveying at the University of Melbourne, Michael spent ten years working across rural Victoria.

The surveying profession at the time was being hugely impacted by digital technologies such as electronic distance measuring, GPS and CAD, which ignited an interest in computing which has stayed with Michael ever since. While working at a Commonwealth surveying and mapping agency, Michael began a Computing degree part-time and he has continued to be heavily involved in government ICT.

Over the next twenty years Michael held management roles within the public sector, which exposed him to the people and management styles of the top echelons of the service, and then an additional 20 years in the private sector in roles that saw him securing and managing large IT outsourcing deals with agencies including the ATO and Defence.

Michael arrived at NICTA in 2012 where he took on the management of the Australian e-Government Technology Cluster (eGov Cluster), which is supported by NICTA.  The eGov Cluster is a national cluster of organisations from Government, industry, research and academia who collaborate to foster the uptake of innovative Australian ICT in government to improve public administration and to grow industry.

We think one of the best ways to foster Australian ICT innovation in government is to bring industry and research people with new ideas together with public servants in collaborative projects to actually test the concepts against real business challenges.  So that’s a big part of our job.  In summary we offer a service to government that is a low-cost, low-risk way of exploring new tech in a real world setting.  I spend a lot of time talking with public servants, start-ups, researchers, other industry players about working together to improve Australia,” Michael says.

The impact of the Cluster is already being seen across the ICT horizon in Australia.  Michael says, “Over the last two years the Cluster has facilitated eight collaborative projects covering a broad range of government business challenges such as digital ID, whole-of-government on-line service design, digital information assets management and service delivery over  mobile.  These have involved both start-ups and NICTA researchers.”

“For industry we enable testing new IP for commercial potential, and give them direct exposure to, and coaching about, government.  This latter learning is often impossible to get easily.  On the other hand, Government sees how productive and valuable engaging with an innovator using an agile methodology can be.”

Michael sees NICTA as the perfect place to end of his career, providing him a flat structure that is uncomplicated, non-bureaucratic, responsive and creative. NICTA is a good place to be. Being not-for-profit, and with an increasingly strong enterprise relevance, NICTA provides the right profile to enable serious conversations with customers and external stakeholders.  This is essential.  We’re spending taxpayers’ money so we have to be always looking at providing real value to Australia.  And I also love politics and am passionate about good public administration.  As an ex-public servant resident in Canberra it’s almost like being in heaven.”

Who would you love to have at a dinner party (dead or alive) and why?
Paul Kelly.  Love his story telling and his music.  Maybe because his heritage is similar to mine I relate to his material strongly.  And I have a vague connection – a mate I went through Uni with and we self-taught guitar together – went on to teach himself piano and then was in Paul’s various bands for many years.  Not bad for a civil engineer!

If you had to choose between movies, books or music which would you choose and why?
Tough choice that.  Maybe I could have all three with the movie version of the musical of a good book. Does Love Actually qualify?  Most probably I’d choose music.  You can escape completely and for me it generates lots of creativity.  Books are a very, very close second.

What you love about working in R&D
Assisting to commercialise the IP.

What would be your dream holiday and why?
I’ve been to Italy four times and loved every second of it.  Including attending World Ducati Week (the locals call it Voo-D-Voo) at Missano in 2004 as President of the Canberra and District Ducati Club.  They put me up and gave me a new Duke for the week.  If I wasn’t exploring the north eastern part of Italy, I was at the track.  Heaven.  Be good to do that again – the only thing I’d add is that it’d be nice if Ducati offered me a job for a year living and working in Bologna!

Who inspires you and why?
I’m very proud of my four kids.  They are very close and supportive of each other.  My partner Ange is one of nature’s special people.  I am blessed to have her in my life.  It’s a cliche but she loves unconditionally.  She is smart and sassy and funny; but uncomplicated – no airs and graces.  People think the sun shines from her.

What do you consider to be the ultimate scientific discovery?
People get amazed at technology and so do I.  However if we don’t have our health then everything else is inconsequential.  So perhaps penicillin?