A $120 million technology research centre was launched today to investigate ways to make the Internet smarter and more user-friendly.
The Smart Internet Technology Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) in Sydney will operate in conjunction with 17 partner corporations and universities across Australia, CRC chief executive, Dr Jeffrey Tobias, said.
The funding would be spread out over seven years with the NSW and ACT Governments contributing $22 million.
Corporate partners include Hewlett-Packard, communications research group Motorola Labs and Telstra.
Trevor Barr, director of convergent communications at Swinburne University in Victoria, said there is a commercial focus on research at the centre to bring a high return to Australia.
Barr said the CRC will examine the requirements of Internet users with a view to re-moulding the online marketplace around user demand.
He said many Internet-based operations had failed because they had supplied services before examining customer demand. The centre will examine a broad range of business model, he said.
"Suppliers needed to include users throughout the production process, and not to assume they would eventually adjust to complex new technology products," he said.
The CRC would study a series of user groups representing different levels of Internet adoption and would also examine issues of privacy and security.
"Australians are still hesitant to conduct transactions over the Web because of irrational security concerns; we have got to try and unpack some of that," he said.
Barr said around 10 per cent of financial transactions in Australia were currently conducted over the Internet, while almost half the population had access to the Web.
Meanwhile, increasing interest in the use of electronic bill payment systems is evident in the development of BPay in Australia, in which the Internet was used to pay six million bills in October worth $3 billion. BPay is on track for the January launch of a service that lets customers to receive, view and pay bills over the Internet, he said.
Some 19 major billers had indicated their intention to participate in the service, officials said, adding the service could help billers streamline billing and payment processes, and create smoother credit cycles.
Customer communications group Salmat would be the first company to deliver necessary infrastructure to billers connected to the new service. Other customers include the credit card divisions of the ANZ bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac, retailer David Jones, telco Primus Telecom, and utilities groups Country Energy, Ergon Energy, South East Water and Yarra Valley Water.