This project underpins and enables the AWRI’s research, development, extension, and commercial activities through the leadership and essential services provided by the Corporate Services group. The group works closely with the AWRI Board to provide an appropriate mix of strategic, commercial, and scientific leadership, guidance and support to all AWRI staff.
Project personnel are highly experienced and possess a strong track record of delivery within their respective functions. This is demonstrated by factors including the steady growth in the scope of the AWRI’s activities, the enduring high level of support for the AWRI among its stakeholders, and a positive internal culture. A focus for many years on achieving operating efficiencies, reducing the organisational cost base (including achieving concessional status where available), and prudent financial management, has positioned the AWRI as a low-cost and efficient service provider on a sound financial footing. Future Corporate Services activities will continue to pursue such objectives.
Through the continued adoption and application of ‘best practice’ principles as they apply to the scope of the AWRI’s management and administration activities, essential support services will be efficiently and effectively delivered on an ongoing basis. These encompass leadership and administration, business development, contract management, finance and accounting, human resources, information technology, operations management and risk management (including work health and safety).
Core activities included financial management; budgeting; and reporting to the AWRI’s management and Board, funding organisations (particularly Wine Australia) and various arms of government. Back office support was also provided to entities such as the Australian Wine Industry Technical Conference, Interwinery Analysis Group and the Wine Innovation Cluster. Other notable activities included managing the impacts of COVID-19 on the AWRI’s asset base, cashflow and liquidity; assisting in the negotiation of favourable terms on a comprehensive suite of capital investments; and ensuring compliance with a raft of newly effective accounting standards relating to revenue, investments and leases.
This capability maintains responsibility for a broad range of functions including recruitment, employment contract management, visas, payroll and compliance activities. In 2019/2020 the AWRI’s ability to attract and retain world-class talent was enhanced through establishing the business case for, and then implementing, the migration of a majority of employees from fixed-term to permanent contracts of employment. This process included a comprehensive update to standard employment contract templates, assisted by external counsel. AWRI employees undertook a range of professional development activities during the year, a number of which were funded through many AWRI directors nominating for their directorship fees to be made available for such purposes, for which their support is gratefully acknowledged. The annual staff survey once again highlighted the AWRI’s positive working environment, with 95% of respondents confirming that ‘all things considered, the AWRI is a great place to work’. Themes which consistently contribute to this outcome include the diversity of work, the collaborative, productive and passionate workplace culture, close engagement with industry, as well as the AWRI’s location and comprehensive modern facilities.
Many of the AWRI’s operational challenges during the year related to COVID-19 and ensuring that the AWRI remained a safe and productive working environment for staff and others. These challenges were addressed through convening an internal COVID-19 response team made up of the senior management group and other key operational staff. To date, this team has identified, considered and addressed almost 100 discrete issues relating to COVID-19. In addition, cost-effective custom-designed and manufactured engineering solutions continued to be provided to support a range of AWRI projects, with recent examples including gas-dosing equipment for pilot-scale fermentations, specialised equipment for packaging trials, and installation of supporting infrastructure for new instrumentation – particularly relating to complex new analytical equipment within the Metabolomics node. Broader activities involved coordination of internal repainting of the majority of the AWRI’s premises, installation of a comprehensive active exhaust system for key laboratory environments, and the development of further solutions to space constraints faced across the AWRI’s laboratory, office and storage areas, including the fit-out of new laboratory space expected to become occupied in 2020/2021. This year saw the employment of the AWRI’s long-serving Operations Manager, Mark Braybrook, drawing to a close as he prepared to enter retirement in July 2020. Mark’s unique skillset, positive attitude and commitment to AWRI values saw him make a substantial contribution to the AWRI throughout his tenure as a highly valued employee, and he is warmly thanked for his service. Mark provided a thorough handover over the latter part of the year to the current AWRI Research Laboratory Manager, Angus Forgan, who will take on an expanded role incorporating operations management activities following Mark’s retirement.
Corporate governance and legal support
This capability assists the effective functioning of the AWRI Board while providing legal support to all teams within the organisation and ensuring that the AWRI continues to meet its legal obligations. A key activity this year included amendments to the AWRI’s Constitution to remove the involvement of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment from the AWRI Board election process, following a recent change in practice within that Department. Other activities included the conduct of an external review of the Board and its processes, maintaining and updating the organisation’s strategic and operational risk registers, general policy review and contract management.
Throughout the year, delivery continued against a range of strategic initiatives contained in the AWRI’s IT Strategic Plan 2019-2021, with key achievements including upgraded core network infrastructure, servers, desktops and the implementation of multi-factor authentication. Such enhancements continue to add considerable value to almost every aspect of the AWRI’s operations. This plan, much like the previous iteration, is on track to be completed on time and on budget. Significant effort was also invested in responding to the challenges of COVID-19, primarily in assisting the majority of staff in migrating to remote working arrangements through testing and configuring remote access capabilities, procuring and deploying additional user hardware, and delivering a high level of user support to assist in adapting to this new paradigm. Responding to cybersecurity threats continues to increase in prominence, and proactively developing resilience towards such threats through ‘hardening’ the AWRI’s IT systems and network represents a core strategic priority for future periods.