In the lead up to National Cyber Week, we are working with Austcyber Canberra Cyber Security Innovation Node and UNSW Canberra on Launch in featuring some of Canberra’s leading cyber companies.

We spoke to Charles Winsor, Director of Cognitive Advantage. Learn about what they do, what they are proud of and why Canberra is the best place to do business.

Tell us about your company, when and why was it founded?

Cognitive Advantage is a digital technology started founded in late 2017 with a vision to harness emerging technologies in the Internet of Things, 5G telecommunications and artificial intelligence for the defence and security of Australia. We foresaw the geopolitical tensions in our region that are now all over the news and decided to get a head-start on solving some big challenges for the Australian Defence Force.

What products and services do you provide?

We have two main lines of business: consulting and rapid prototyping. In the simplest terms, our consulting business is talking about problems, and our prototyping business is solving them! We spend a lot of time talking to leaders in the Australian Defence Force and Department of Defence to help them understand the risks and opportunities that rapidly emerging digital technologies represent to the way they do business. For example, the same 5G technologies that will let us all stream videos to our phones much faster can also improve radar surveillance of Australian skies as part of next-generation defence against aircraft and missile attacks. But if you want to take advantage of these new technologies built for everyday consumer use, then you need to invest in hardening them against serious cyber threats before you rely on them for the defence of our nation! Our rapid prototyping services aim to show people how new technologies can solve their problems – no imagination required – so they can make better decisions about technology investment. After all, no one wants to waste time and money cyber hardening a new technology unless they know it will actually solve their problems!

Tell us about the skillset and dynamic of the team?

Our team is currently very small but we are planning to grow very soon – watch this space! A blend of engineering and IT skills is necessary for what we do, but equally important is understanding the unique operational needs and challenges of our main customer, the Australian Defence Force. But even more important than technical skills and military operational understanding is the ability and willingness to think differently; we are all about unconventional solutions, so we depend on outside-the-box thinking.

Tell us about the current cyber landscape in Australia?

It is definitely a growth area receiving a lot of positive attention and support from government right now. It is not well defined and understood – even within the industry – and there are a lot of very diverse ‘cyber businesses’ in Australia that provide a very wide range of products and services to a very wide range of customers. We are passionate about the narrow niche of the industry that we work in, but there is definitely a lot of opportunity in the broader consumer market. But we have to acknowledge the risk that governments change, and the level of support our industry is enjoying right now may not last forever, so now is the time to build a solid foundation. Export opportunities also vary widely depending on where your business fits in to the broad cyber landscape; and there will always be a need for some businesses to provide solutions exclusively to the Australian government, especially in the defence and national security context.

What advice do you have for startups and business around cyber security?

Think carefully about exactly where you want to sit in the broad cyber landscape – do not hesitate to pursue other opportunities along your growth journey – but never lose sight of your target. The breadth of the cyber industry is both a blessing and a curse, since a startup can go after any problem it likes but not all of them will have an immediate customer who can provide return on your investment. The practical reality is that you may need to do a lot of ‘side jobs’ along the way to ‘keep the lights on’ for your business. This is normal! Also try not to be discouraged if your prospective clients and investors do not understand why what you are offering is so awesome, since if they already recognised its value they probably would be doing it already.

What are you most proud of so far?

The number of other businesses that are coming to us with problems they need solved – that means they know who we are and what we can do, but it also means we are seen as a great collaboration partner.

What quote or philosophy do you stand by?

If it was easy, then someone else would have already done it!

Why do you think Canberra is a great place to do business?

Firstly, Canberra is a great place to live, which means you can find some great talent in this town. But most of all, the ‘small town’ vibe of Canberra seems to encourage industry collaboration too – probably since we are all working in close proximity and bump into each other getting coffee! Specifically for us, proximity to government customers is really valuable and cuts down the need for travel, which is particularly important these days.