‘Huge impact!’ Itree’s CEO urges SMEs to apply for BRII


CEO of Itree, Ben Hobby talks to AusBiz TV about the benefits of participating in the Australian Government’s Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII), and urges eligible businesses to apply for the current BRII round before 10 September 2020.

How easy is it to translate a speciality technology in regulation, compliance, enforcement and safety for regulated industries into creating a solution to help vulnerable Australian families? This is the question that Ben Hobby, CEO of Itree asked himself when he saw the Australian Department of Social Services’ Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) challenge of ’sharing information nationally to ensure child safety’.

Ben realised early on that it was ‘technically possible’. He saw a potential synergy between the RegTech security technology that Itree had already developed for government and this BRII challenge that was worth exploring.

"You’d think transport, maritime or primary industries’ technology solutions are not related to child safety, but when we looked at it logically, we were already helping our existing customers share vital information important to community safety that had to remain completely secure. The same foundational principles were common.

“Although we had to build the product from the ground up, the critical thinking already existed within the business in spades, we just had to apply it to a different domain,” says Ben.

The result was REACH, a software interface that connects data from every Australian state and territory child protection system, and allows authorised agency members to search, identify and match information across disparate databases. This interface dramatically improves the accuracy and speed of agency staff decision-making.

"We brought the technical expertise and the critical thinking, while the department brought the experience of “This is how you would approach x, y z in this domain'.

"In the end, it’s people who keep people safe, not systems. The experience, the intelligence, the willpower and diligence of the experts within our child protection departments across the nation was sensational; they are the real heroes.

They gave us the guidance we needed, and took time to explain the reasons why something would or would not work. They offered deeper insights to help us design and create technology that is truly going to offer a substantial solution to positively impacting lives.

CEO of Itree, Ben Hobby

CEO of Itree, Ben Hobby

CEO of Itree, Ben Hobby (right).

Wollongong-based Itree has been working with government for over two decades, and already had the systems and processes in place to hit the ground running during the feasibility stage of BRII.

As a result, the business successfully made it through the first round of the program to then receive close to $1 million to create a prototype.

"After 22 years of delivering for government and having never lost a client we knew we already had the right level of professionalism, attitude, protocols and procedures in place.

"The difference this time was we didn’t just treat it as a prototype in a lab. Sometimes, when you prototype something that doesn’t work, you can just write it off as time or resources you invested.

“With this, there was something critical at the end of the line. Our thinking was, ‘If we make this a success, we could truly make a difference to children’s lives in this country’.”

Ben is excited by the current round of BRII challenges, and the fact that they are asking businesses to find solutions to environmental issues that will help make Australia a better place to live.

He urges businesses to give it a go. “I see this year’s BRII challenges, and think of the difference you could make if you had the vision and were willing to put the work in. I’m thrilled that the government is continuing to put effort and resources behind BRII.”

He believes that startups and SMEs will gain much from entering BRII, which provides the kind of structure for working with government that is not always available.

"With BRII, the framework for working with government is so well structured. During the proof-of-concept you get much more insight into a department and how it fulfils its purpose than you would normally get if you were just responding to a market tender. You really get to draw on others’ deep expertise.

"An agency would normally take the position of, ‘We have identified a requirement, we have put certain criteria or information around it, and you can tell us how you would solve that requirement’.

“But, with BRII, as soon as you’re into the proof of concept, you’ve got almost and year and a half. There are many meetings that happen week-to-week. Once the prototype is complete, there is a series of presentations where you gather all the feedback and then move into the next stages of integrating changes and presenting back.”

“In our challenge there were two grant recipients; it wasn’t just Itree. That’s part of the challenge: there’s always someone else working in parallel to keep it competitive.”

A few months after BRII wound up, the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (now the NSW Department of Communities and Justice) issued a request for proposal to the marketplace. Itree presented the REACH prototype and was awarded the contract. REACH is currently being rolled-out across Australia.

"We developed REACH with the confidence that the outcome would be the best for Australia’s kids, that it would be commercialised and that we would be able to make a difference to those most vulnerable in our country.

"We also designed it to be extendible beyond child safety alone. We could see it working for healthcare, law enforcement, education, and even national security. The possibilities are very exciting to align secure information sharing with our expertise in so many regulated sectors.

“Protecting vulnerable children is everyone’s business. We are so glad that through BRII we have now made that a core part of our business,” says Ben.

Learn more about the Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII).