Europe's future prosperity and well being partially depend on how well we succeed in closing the gap between ICT R&D and actual innovation. EIF hosted a debate on 28 September in the context of the 2011-2012 financial programme (Euro 2.8 billion) of the European Union for funding research and innovation in ICT. Speakers from the European Commission, Telefónica, and Bell Labs gave their views on the theme.
ICT is becoming increasingly dominant in products, and at the same time indistinguishable from the original product. This will have a direct impact on policy making: if health products become ICT products then health policy becomes ICT policy. This will create a clash of cultures in policy making. It also has interesting implications for research from the angle of pre-commercial procurement because it means that the health ministry will invest more money into ICT research.
We need to keep in mind though that R&D does not equal innovation. Sometimes it does but most often innovation is not a direct output of R&D. It is not a linear process and therefore one cannot equate research with research policy, nor innovation with innovation policy. This kind of challenge means we need to look both at the technical side as well as the application side of things in research policy and not only at societal innovation. The current FP7 ICT part is quite well balanced in looking at both sides.
Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are another key ingredient in closing the gap between research and innovation. The European Commission has recently launched a PPP on the Future Internet, with the aim of making Europe's systems smart and efficient. To place Europe in a comfortable position to do this we need to have open standards. Internet application development today is moving to fragmentation (and closed standards) among different platforms and ecosystems. Incumbents try to capture the whole community by having their own separate application stores. Although this fragmentation is a problem, it is also an opportunity for Europe to help application developers to create applications that run on any type of device.
The second necessary PPP element is stimulating open innovation. Nobody can predict the best applications for the future, that is why we need to setup a playing field based on technologies that would help people innovate. Cross selling is an important element to create such an open innovation eco-system. If for instance we can foresee a scenario where a giant like SAP integrates and combines its applications with those from small companies then both companies could sell more. From that perspective, we should also support crowd sourcing. The end user can really become a driver in creating innovation in the area of content and in a next phase also in the area of creating smarter applications.
Last but not least we need the ability to exploit all that information within the Internet of things. This is why creating innovative interfaces to the Internet of things should be high on our agenda. The current speed of ICT developments is moving at such a high pace that we can only predict that the future of innovation will be marked by disruption which by definition means that you cannot predict it. We can safely predict however that we are still at the beginning of the many innovations to come. How to accomplish them nobody knows but we know they are possible.