Collaborative Innovation And ICTs Could Give Economy Back Its Colours

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Innovation and technology will be key to emergence from the global economic crisis, according to speakers at a recent United Nations conference on innovation-based competitiveness. However, innovation should be collaborative and involve resources inside and outside companies and institutions.

The “International Conference on Technological Readiness for Innovation-based Competitiveness” was organised by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on 29-30 June.

ICTs are a platform for innovation, said Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The ICT sector has managed so far to retain some growth as it benefited from the fiscal stimulus packages that OECD countries have implemented. Those fiscal measures fostered demand on ICTs and countries invested in ICT infrastructure in areas such as schools, the public sector and health.

This channelling of investment of ICTs in the OECD countries leads to a first order effect and a second order effect, said Wunsch-Vincent. The first effect creates jobs and wages “when people dig holes to put in fibres,” while the second effect creates demand for new ICT new products, which then creates a platform for innovation in other sectors.

The OECD issued a report calling for an innovation-driven response to the economic crisis in June (IPW, Information and Communications Technology, 16 June 2009).

“We need innovation in ICT as well as we continue to need ICT infrastructure, hardware, software and people working in ICT, if we want to have innovation in other fields,” said Jean-Claude Badoux, moderator of the conference and chairman of the UNECE team of specialists on intellectual property.

ICTs are considered as a tool to build up a modern information society, according to Evelin Krõlov from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Estonia has invested a lot in ICTs in recent years and is working on about 270 different information technology projects ranging from e-tax office, e-statistics, to e-business and e-health.

The Estonian government, which has received help from various partners, intends on increasing the e-literacy of the population and ensuring internet access to everyone, Krõlov said.

According to her, since 2006, the Estonian government has been working on an information society development plan, stretching to 2013, and has objectives such as the availability of internet access in all Estonian schools. The government has projects in different sectors engaging public and private sectors.

“Competition is no longer the only driving force behind development and innovation,” she said. “Cooperation is important.”

For Martin Curley, director of Intel Labs Europe, “society is shifting” from a resource-based society to a knowledge-based society. According to him and others, ICTs increase energy efficiency, as for example video conference solutions mean that you can cut transportation needs, but also enable new capabilities and bring more efficient commerce and collaboration. However, he said, “the real value of innovation comes from diffusion.”

Collaborated Innovation

Intel, the National University of Ireland, Microsoft, and other companies are pooling their collective knowledge to build a “maturity model.” They intend to produce assessment tools so that any company or country could assess how mature they are in applying ICTs in creating a more sustainable business eco-system.

This collaborative effort is in the same trend that Paula Wasowska, director for Central and Eastern Europe market development for Cisco Systems, described as “connected innovation.”

Connected innovation is a new concept fuelled by collaboration, she said. “The world has changed,” and “we need a new paradigm.” Innovation is not a destination, it is a process, and the human network is a critical element of competitiveness for companies, but not only for companies, she said.

“Innovation is moving from the in-house to the connected global market place, from the isolated individuals to collaborative environment…from proprietary control to open source, from single specialties to multidisciplinary perspective,” she said, and customers have become a critical force of competitive data as they are an invaluable force of information.

A number of myths about innovation need to be dispelled, according to Wasowska. For instance, innovation is not only about good ideas, is not a spontaneous occurrence, and is not in need of more and more new ideas. Innovation is about collaboration-driven innovation tapping into collective intelligence, and providing the right structure for new ideas.

Connected innovation requires cultural change to collaborative sharing of information, skills and perspectives within organisations and between them, the customers and the partners. “Innovation happens when people work together,” she said.

Joachim Von Heimburg, director for corporate research and development at Procter & Gamble, also said it was important to build external innovation networks.

However, innovation needs to be brought to market. “If we want innovations to go on the market and if we want innovation to create jobs, we need entrepreneurs,” said Badoux.

The need to broaden the search for innovators was underlined by several speakers such as George Lagardère, director for NineSigma Europe. “The question is to know who knows,” he said.

According to Claran McGinley, controller at the European Patent Office, the patent system is not working, as the need to file a patent application in different patent offices in the world has brought a global workload problem. One factor slowing the patenting process in ICT areas is that patent pending owners are “sitting on their patents so that they can adjust the language of their intellectual property after the standard bodies have taken their decision,” he said.

The important thing about open innovation is that “it is a team effort and crosses boundaries,” McGinley said.

Innovation does not come particularly from university and PhD research, said Badoux. He gave the example of Switzerland where a lot of innovation is happening and where part of the educational system is based on apprenticeship.

“When we look for innovation, it would be wrong to base it only on PhD research,” he said. “We need people who are ready to have dirty hands,”

UN Works on Standards for e-Documents

Meanwhile, there is a UN body focussed on standards relating to documents. Mike Doran, vice chairperson for the UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), said the centre develops trade facilitation recommendations and e-business standards. It also searches for ways to identify and eliminate regulatory and procedural barriers to trade with the aim of reducing delays within and between countries.

UN/CEFACT provides standard and templates for aligning international trade documents, like quotations, orders, invoices, transport documents and customs documents as well as e-business standards development such as business process models, business requirements specifications, and technical specifications, Doran said, adding that the standards issued by UN/CEFACT were open, interoperable and free, available both in paper and electronic format.

Catherine Saez may be reached at

Creative Commons License"Collaborative Innovation And ICTs Could Give Economy Back Its Colours" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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