News and published articles in 2017 and 2016

  • Cost of complaints handling under spotlight

    Wednesday, 7 June, 2017


    The return on investment (ROI) of complaints handling is a core finding of collaborative research at the University of Newcastle. The credibility of this research is underlined by presentation internationally at the Academy of Marketing conference in Hull in the UK this month.

    Marketing academic Dr Jamie Carlson and the Dean of the Newcastle Law School, Professor Tania Sourdin, will deliver the research paper, which highlights the gap in knowledge around ROI.

    “The ROI of complaints handling is something that has been neglected in the past,” Prof Sourdin said. “The fact that such a significant conference wants to hear more about the gap in the research and is excited by the prospect of our research indicates the wider international appeal of the study.”

    The research is being conducted in partnership with the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP). SOCAP members IAG and ICON Water are already participating in the research, which will offer key insights into the costs and benefits of current complaints handling processes, culminating in calculation of total ROI.

    “Ultimately, the study will result in recommendations to support the adoption of best practice approaches in the sector,” Prof Sourdin said. “This will aid organisational performance and assist in improving the complaints handling processes for organisations and customers.”

    To find out more contact Prof Sourdin.

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  • Innovation on the rise

    Wednesday, 7 June, 2017


    Hunter business innovation is on the rise in 2017, with the best results since 2009 recorded by the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre.

    Almost half (46%) of the business owners surveyed in March this year by the HRF Centre reported introducing new products or services in the past 12 months. That is compared to just 31 per cent in the last survey in 2015.

    The HRF Centre began measuring innovation at the request of Neville Sawyer, one of the founders of the Hunter Innovation Festival. As the Festival marks its 10th year in 2017, measuring innovation has never been more important.

    Governments regard Innovation as central to improving Australia’s international competitiveness, productivity and export base. Innovation is key to diversifying our local economy and improving the Hunter’s ability to deal with rapidly accelerating change.

    The big jump in the proportion of innovating firms may be due to industry shifts in the region over the past two years. There has been strong growth in professional, technical and scientific sectors, as well as in finance and insurance services. The Commonwealth’s Performance Review of the Australian Innovation, Science and Research System shows that finance and insurance services are standout sectors for innovation, along with manufacturing and mining. Although manufacturing employment has declined over the 2015-17 period, advanced manufacturing appears to be a growing regional strength.

    The degree of novelty in innovation within the Hunter remains low, however. In 2017, 25 per cent of Hunter firms introduced goods or services that were new to Australia but only seven per cent reported new to the world innovations. However, that is up from four per cent in 2015. Most local innovation over that two-year period was new to the firm or industry. Nationally, in the last decade, the number of firms introducing new to world innovations has ranged between 4.5 and 9 per cent. The Hunter is in the middle of that band in 2017. What would see the region move to the upper end of the band or beyond?

    At HRF Centre’s Hunter economic breakfast on 26 May, the University of Newcastle’s new Pro Vice-Chancellor for Industry Engagement and Innovation, Prof Sarah Pearson (pictured), said that Newcastle and the Hunter had the potential to be ‘top in class’ for innovation. An outstanding innovator and author of eight international patents, Dr Pearson said that there were opportunities for the whole Hunter region to become a hotbed of innovation, testing novel activities, products and approaches.

    “Research excellence and recognition of priorities within the innovation system are essential to build an effective regional ‘innovation ecosystem’,” she stated. “Newcastle has an exciting and energetic innovation culture. The University is number one in Australia for innovation collaborations.”

    Development of the region’s innovation infrastructure is already underway, including hubs in Hunter Street, Charlestown, Muswellbrook and Williamtown. There is a planned Hunter Innovation Precinct Hub. The recent adoption by Council of the Newcastle Smart City Strategy will add to that infrastructure.

    Professor Pearson’s comments suggest a need to improve access to capital and global markets and introduce a monitoring system to measure our success.

    “We also need to bring people together to tell a bigger story about the Hunter as an innovative region,” Prof Pearson said.

    The University and the Hunter’s businesses appear to be embracing new ideas. To lead Australia in innovation, collaborative working relationships are needed – as well as alignment between business, government, and community sectors.

    Contact the HRF Centre to learn more about the Hunter’s innovation ecosystem or to find out how to collaborate with a researcher to help accelerate a great business idea.

    Dr Anthea Bill, Lead Economist, HRF Centre

    This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on Thursday 8 June 2017

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  • Feeding the innovation pipeline

    Wednesday, 7 June, 2017


    HRF Centre invited four highly-qualified innovators to offer advice and feedback to the two local entrepreneurs who pitched their business ideas at our May Hunter economic breakfast.

    We spoke to one of the panelists, Susan Wilson (pictured with the microphone), CEO of economic development organisation Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter, about encouraging innovation in the Hunter.

    She is passionate about creating a regional culture that sees Hunter students acquiring STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills early in their schooling.

    With long family connections to the Upper and Lower Hunter, Susan joined RDA Hunter in April this year and brings a unique set of credentials to the role. With a career that started in private sector scientific research, and experience working on the Board of Innovation and Science Australia and the National Science and Innovation Agenda, she is an advocate for girls and women in STEM careers and the value of innovation as a critical enabler of economic growth.

    “RDA Hunter already has one of the nation’s most successful and mature STEM programs – the ME Program – covering the Defence Industry Skilling Program and SMART workforce initiative,” she said. “The program’s real strength lies in its unique integrated pipeline approach to develop an industry-ready, STEM-based workforce. I want to see that approach integrated into the University, across other industries and in the broader Hunter innovation ecosystem.”

    The ME Program links industry with schools in order to make curriculum more interesting and workplace-relevant and provides industry with qualified, motivated and career aware candidates. Susan attributes its success to RDA Hunter’s dedicated staff, particularly Dr Scott Sleap and Rick Evans.

    “However, it’s not just about skills, we need to address culture as well,” Susan said. “We’ll be exploring how we can extend our reach to encourage uptake of STEM at school and to reach students earlier in their schooling.”

    Susan, a ’STEM girl herself’, says it is important to understand a STEM career can take a young person anywhere and that STEM programs such as ME are encouraging the full economic participation of girls and women in the Hunter.

    “I see the role of RDA Hunter as that of a valuable facilitator and connector, working at all levels of, and across, government, business and the community. There is a strong need to work at the Federal level to filter down key policies and programs to the region, and filter our needs back to Canberra,” she said.

    “RDA Hunter has important regional contributions to make around STEM industry skilling and aligning government planning for supporting infrastructure to build local workforces, to open up the region, to improve our quality of life.”

    Susan sees many economic opportunities for the Hunter, summarised in RDA Hunter’s 2016 Smart Specialisation Strategy. She wants to also use her experience working in the Geelong region to support the Upper Hunter with their next Industry transformation.

    “I want to leverage my background in industry, academia and government to build innovation, investment and infrastructure in our region – key strategic pillars for RDA Hunter.”

    Find out more at

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  • HRF Centre Director builds consensus

    Wednesday, 7 June, 2017


    Putting business, government, and community ‘on the same page’ in their understanding of how the region ‘works’ is a key aim of the new Director of the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre, Professor Will Rifkin. He has been appointed Chair in Applied Regional Economics at the University of Newcastle.

    Prof Rifkin is an engineer-turned-sociologist. He has worked to improve communication between technical and nontechnical people for more than 25 years. His specialty is supporting collaborative decision-making to create or navigate change in organisations, policy arenas and regions.

    “The Hunter wants to realise its potential to lead Australia in innovation.For that, collaborative working relationships are needed. You also need shared understanding between business, government, and community sectors,” Prof Rifkin explains. “I’m delighted to be leading the HRF Centre. I want to build on its strong relationships with regional decision-makers, which reach back over its 60-year history.”

    He comes to Newcastle from the University of Queensland. During 2012 to 2017, he led development of the UQ Boomtown Toolkit and socioeconomic indicators effort. That continues to publish the Annual Report on Queensland’s Gasfields Communities ( This effort provided insight into the upswings and downturns in the resource sector.

    Rifkin oversaw a social science research portfolio that addressed regional changes accompanying the $60 billion in onshore natural gas development in Queensland. These changes were studied in agriculture, health, business and the trust that local residents have in the onshore gas industry, government, and each other. This work involved extensive interaction with the oil and gas industry, businesses, media, local, state and Commonwealth governments, and community organisations.

    Prof Rifkin previously completed consultancies and research with organisations such as Fletcher Challenge Energy, BHP Coal and Coke, Western Australia’s Water Corporation, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

    He has produced more than 100 academic publications, including journal articles, reports, and websites. He has also been recognised as one of Australia’s most effective university teachers.

    Prof Rifkin has degrees from MIT (physics), the University of California-Berkeley (energy and resources), and Stanford University (sociotechnical studies). He has been spotted on the Newcastle waterfront riding a very strange electric bicycle that he assembled himself.

    Read more PROF. WILL RIFKIN Download pdf (119.55 KB)
  • Insight into corridors through technology

    Wednesday, 7 June, 2017


    Newcastle-based entrepreneur Nick Smith has developed a unique system offering real-time, low-cost, big-data insights with his new business, Corridor Insights.

    Nick pitched the Corridor Insights concept at the HRF Centre’s Hunter economic breakfast on 26 May.

    The system offers comprehensive monitoring for a range of applications using laser scanning, ultra-high resolution imagery, flexible sensor configuration, remote real-time management and 360-degree video coverage.

    “Traditional laser scanning technology is prohibitively expensive and our system is exactly the opposite,” Nick said. “We can permanently install it into any vehicle, then set and forget it as it continuously scans the environment for a fraction of the usual scanning cost per linear kilometre captured.”

    Nick saw the potential industrial applications for drone technology while selling real estate in Newcastle. He established his company Airsight Australia in 2012 and contracted to project managers and mining companies including Rio Tinto and BHP using laser-scanning technology mounted on drones.

    He set up his second company, the rapidly-growing UAVAir to train people to fly drones to meet demand for his services. When asked to scan a rail corridor in proximity to Sydney Airport, where they could not fly drones, Nick developed the concept of mounting the technology directly onto the train and Corridor Insights was born.

    With Aaron Hoye providing the technical genius, Airsight Australia developed their SmartCorridor technology. It uses artificial intelligence to streamline corridor data capture, visualisation and management, making it easy to remotely manage, inspect and identify critical corridor-based infrastructure.

    Several partners, including Newcastle City Council and Sydney Rail, are set to conduct pilots of the Corridor Insights system in coming weeks, to check and verify data assumptions.

    “This is brand new technology and the industry is not mature,” Nick said. “We have formed close relationships with our clients and responded to their technical and workflow problems by using technology to find solutions. That has put us ahead of the game.”

    Find out more.

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  • Taking virtual reality to the streets

    Wednesday, 7 June, 2017


    Rickshaw Revolution is a unique business idea that reimagines existing virtual reality technology to create immersive rickshaw tours along Newcastle’s beautiful foreshore.

    Proponent Blake Forrester pitched the idea for the rickshaw tours at HRF Centre’s Hunter economic breakfast on 26 May. Blake is one of a number of local businesses collaborating to create a community cycle workshop at Lynch’s Hub on Wharf Road.

    His concept for Rickshaw Revolution is to develop cycle-based micro businesses with a core focus on short-run transport options and amusement hire alternatives.

    “I love Newcastle, I love living here, the history, the community, everything about it,” Blake told the 300-strong breakfast audience. “We’ve built a unique system allowing us to drive multiple slaved electric-assist systems to create a little cycle-train for rides at festivals and events.”

    Locals or visitors could take a pedicab tour and take a virtual reality look through a window into colonial Newcastle or follow dreamtime creatures through the landscape. The content could be adapted for gaming, with prospective markets for school excursions and sponsored festival installations.

    “The potential is enormous and repeatable in other locations,” Blake explained. “We are already set up with the bikes and it uses off-the-shelf equipment. With the right collaborators and investors we could have tours up and running in time for the Supercars event and the Christmas school holidays.”

    Blake hopes to work with local planners and businesses to contribute to a vibrant and cosmopolitan street-scape in Newcastle.

    “We want to develop a point of difference that is valued and regarded as distinctly Novocastrian by visitors and locals alike,” he said. “Imagine coffee, barbeque and gelato rickshaw trailers for events, and safe and fun transport options to help enliven the night-time economy.”

    To get involved or find out more, visit

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