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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Research and Innovation in ICT: Time for radical change?
Open Forum Europe
Brussels, 25 September 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our world is changing fast. Twenty years ago few had heard of the Internet. Today, it's used by 2 to 3 billion worldwide; it's a trillion-euro marketplace; it's the platform for innovation transforming every sector from healthcare to transport.
These days, it's hard to predict how the world will look in a few months, let alone years: there's so much potential in the path ahead.
Those changes are thanks to research and innovation; in new technologies, new products, new business models.
But those changes also enable a new kind of research and innovation: open, agile and collaborative. Innovation using new forums like online collective platforms; new resources like open data; new techniques like data-mining.
The EU has long supported research and innovation. And rightly so: it's the best way to invest in future growth. And it delivers better when we do it together: when we pool our resources for economies of scale, and let the benefits spill over across borders.
Our investment has already delivered great things. And that support will continue: for the 7 years of Horizon 2020, from 2014 to 2020, we have proposed 80 billion euros of investment, of which around one fifth for ICT. Across the spectrum, from pure research to pure innovation, and all the bits in between.
That support should continue. But it also needs to change.
Because the tools that supported ICT in yesterday's world won't work in tomorrow's. The pace of change, the capacity for new disruptive ideas, is simply too great.
We must update our policies and practices for the digital world.
Better innovation needs new ideas, more agile support, and a culture where it's OK to take risks. If you're an entrepreneur, and you don't take a risk, you don't innovate; it's that simple. It's time that this philosophy also spread more to the public bodies who support innovation.
There are a number of things we need to do. Already we've set out how we will make Horizon 2020 easier to use: with a simpler architecture, more streamlined funding schemes and the lowest possible administrative burden.
But we need to go further. We need to give our research and innovation the three C's: more challenging; more coherent; and better at boosting competitiveness.
First, remember that great innovation isn't about keeping the status quo: it's about challenging it.
It's radical, disruptive, and sometimes non-linear – especially for emerging technologies. So let's make space for that in Horizon 2020.
Here's what I want to do.
I want to try out support for truly open, disruptive innovation in ICT. Allocating perhaps 5% of funds to create an open, agile, responsive funding instrument. Starting an experiment to support creativity and innovation.
I also want to inspire innovators: with inducement prizes for solutions to major technical and societal challenges; however disruptive.
I want to show procurement agencies across Europe the benefits of buying innovative technologies, even before they hit the market. Show them how they can save taxpayers' money – and stimulate a new generation of technology leaders at the same time.
And most of all, I want us to be more challenging and responsive in how we manage projects. There's nothing wrong with taking a risk. But if a project turns out not to work as intended, funders should be able to stop it, and free up innovators for other challenges.
Equally, if a project exceeds expectations, if it works, great! Then we should prioritise it, for example supporting private fundraising for it, and exploiting its results faster.
Second, innovation needs to be coherent.
At the moment, we work within our own safe little boxes, researching in separate subject silos, or funding from separate pots of money. We still too often see policy issues as distinct islands; 'societal' challenges as unrelated to 'industrial' or 'academic' ones.
And many actors, as beneficiaries, are quite happy staying in their silo, too comfortable to risk breaking out of them.
But this isn't right. The areas we are working in aren't distinct and separate: they are inherently linked, different parts of the same puzzle.
A particular research field doesn't "belong" to just one objective: often, it serves many. Take an area like smart cities: they can help climate change, transport, energy, social inclusion: and give European industry a global boost. Or take robotics: with applications from healthcare, to industry, to emerging technology.
Too often these days, we'll look at a proposal that meets several objectives; but we have to turn it down, because we can't figure out which box to fit it into.
So let's break down these artificial walls: let's have more "open calls" and schemes cutting across challenges. This can build on existing work, like the Embedded Systems platform from Artemis, or the Europ Robotics platform.
And let's bring down other barriers, too. Look at areas like micro and nano-electronics. If we want to succeed there, we need to pull down the walls between our innovation policy and our industrial policy. Bringing together public and private funds for large, strategic projects to develop this Key Enabling Technology. But also supporting pilots to help industry cross the gap between successful research and actual markets; the so-called "valley of death". Only then could we make Europe an innovation powerhouse, and create something like an "Airbus of chips".
And we'll look beyond that, to the coherence of our policy framework. It's no use supporting innovation with one hand if we strangle it with the other. For example current copyright restrictions often prevent innovations like data and text-mining; let's look at that.
And let's also look at other areas where we can find and exploit synergies between research and policy. From cloud computing to radio spectrum, from "rich media" to network security. And, in fact, later this week I'll be presenting our strategy on cloud computing to ensure Europe captures the benefits.
And to show we are being absolutely coherent, let's show how different projects are contributing to consistent goals. Like how they are benefiting the general public, our economy, our society.
For that, we need clear indicators for ICT research and innovation; and a more evidence-based approach to setting priorities and allocating budgets.
I want to propose metrics for this – and I want your views on them. So we'll put them out for comment by stakeholders, before the end of the year.
And let's have a forum for new open communication between researchers and those they serve. An open and interactive process where innovators can stay in touch with society. Two-way communication: so scientists can show how they are contributing to society – and so they can make their research more coherent, responsible and relevant to society's needs.
How to do this? Well, we are completely rethinking our approach towards advisory groups. We are strengthening dialogue with a range of actors, from researchers to users, from industry to civil society. We are getting stakeholders to help us on corporate social responsibility. And I'll be working with my own young advisers, and our new cohort of national digital champions, on this.
Overall, I want us to systematically seek feedback on our initiatives. With peer review, right from early on in the process. "Co-designing" lets us check we have the right elements in place and will give us a more solid strategy.
And that fits in alongside our work on open science: with open access to the scientific results from all EU-funded research, and progressively opening access to the data, too.
The third thing we need is research and innovation focused on competitiveness.
Remember the time we're in. All of us see slow economic growth. Our young people face worrying job prospects. And our international partners are racing ahead.
Boosting competitiveness needs to be at the heart of everything we do. Including, especially, our innovation agenda. For every part of the ICT ecosystem, let's map out how to achieve global competitive success; and then, let's tailor our research to fit that.
Here's some ideas in detail.
Good research and innovation should, eventually, translate into real products, real services, and real jobs. But it's not the Commission who will actually take that final step: it’s the private sector.
So let's get the private sector more involved, right from the start. Let's have more of a relationship between those researching and those who might invest in their ideas. More private sector financing involved. More business and investment experts involved in selecting and monitoring the projects closer to market. And more industrial players from across the value chain taking part.
And one more thing. Remember: who's the real engine of innovation in our economy? Who is it who uses innovation to create jobs? Well, it's not the Commission. And it's often not the big, established companies, the ones used to participating in EU programmes.
In fact, it's small businesses and start-ups who innovate best. So let's help them!
For example, I'm looking at whether we can ringfence maybe one fifth of the ICT budget for high-tech small and medium businesses. And cut the red tape for them to access it.
Let's give small businesses the best advice about how ICT can boost their bottom line.
And let's help them cluster, and jointly access the technology that they can't afford alone. Technology that helps them innovate.
Our partnership for advanced computing, PRACE, already makes supercomputer capacity available, for industry and academics to simulate and design. Why not make access to those platforms systematic, pervasive, available to every high-tech small company?
Ladies and gentlemen,
The world has transformed, thanks to ICT innovation. Now we also need to transform how we support that innovation. By being more challenging, more coherent, and more focused on competitiveness.
Will it work? Well, as a good researcher will tell you, you don't know for certain what will work until you've done the experiment.
So we need to try out the most promising ideas. And that's exactly what I intend to do.
We need to see a vision here. See beyond the risks towards the opportunities. North America and the Far East are setting a fearsome pace: Europe needs to keep up.
So I want to try out these ideas in Horizon 2020, for at least two to three years. Not changing incrementally, not staying in our comfort zone, but a jump forward, an experiment at critical mass.
It's called Horizon 2020, by the way, not because this is something to look at in eight years' time. On the contrary: this can't wait. To secure better lives for 2020, we have to act now.
So I've already started that change. Already I've relaunched my department to match my ambition. We just held an "ICT Competitiveness Week" to look at these issues with the ICT community. And the change will continue, as we prepare Horizon 2020 and its first, 2014, work programme.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I know from previous visits here at Open Forum Europe that you share my passion for openness online.
I hope you can also see my passion for open, transformed ICT research and innovation.
I hope you share that passion. And I hope you can support it.
If we invest better, we will innovate better, and we will build a better future. The world is changing: the way we innovate needs to change too. Starting from now.