It’s the end of an era as NICTA merges with the CSIRO’s digital productivity group to form a new research organisation called Data61.

The official merger announcement caps a year of speculation that the two research organisations would be forced to merge after both suffered large funding cuts at the hands of the Abbott Government.

While CSIRO lost $115 million in funding over four years, NICTA would have been completely defunded from July 2016.

NICTA was reluctant to merge with CSIRO and had been trying to secure alternate funding to avoid that outcome – a push being led by its chief executive Hugh Durrant-Whyte up until his shock resignation late last year.

The newly-created Data61 will consist of 350 staff and 180 “affiliates” – such as PhD students – from CSIRO, and NICTA’s 350 staff and 300 PhD students, a CSIRO spokesman told Information Age.

However, there is likely to be some overlap in these roles.

It has been speculated up to 200 positions that now sit under Data61 could be axed. CSIRO said today that some people may be offered redeployment to other areas of CSIRO.

A CSIRO spokesman said NICTA and CSIRO would remain legal entities until July 2016.

The parts of CSIRO outside its digital productivity division will remain unchanged and will stay branded as CSIRO. This accounts for about 4750 of its 5100 staff.

Data61’s start-up culture

Data61 will officially sit under CSIRO’s gaze and will be managed by technology entrepreneur Adrian Turner, who returns to Australia after 18 years in Silicon Valley.

Turner is also the author of the book Blue Sky Mining: Building Australia’s Next Billion Dollar Industries.

Turner said in a statement his vision for Data61 was "to harness the start-up culture of NICTA and multidisciplinary strength of CSIRO to deliver maximum benefit to Australia.”

“So much of our understanding and interaction with the world is underpinned by digital technology and data,” he said.

“It is a fast moving and big growth area for Australia and Australian industry, and Data61 will be well-positioned to play a leading role in defining the new economic structures and opportunities that are emerging globally.”

Science Minister Ian Macfarlane thanked “the NICTA members and the board for embracing this opportunity to supercharge Australia's digital research".

“Having a single national organisation will enable Data61 to produce focussed research that will deliver strong economic returns and ensure that Australia remains at the forefront of digital innovation,” Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull added.