Saturday, March 14, 2009

Don’t waste this recession!!

For sure today is not the time for buying houses or cars … but I bet is the time for netbooks, kindles, ebooks, flat rate internet access or movie streaming services … and of course for all software that will make all that work.

Now more than ever, ebooks and movie streaming services have a chance (and please stop this stupid localized restrictions that don’t allow Spaniards or everybody else subscribe to Netflix or buy “legally” a kindle!! – they don’t make a sense in a globalize economy!!!) .

You cannot underestimate the potential of these two new lines for changing and shaping in many different ways not only the cultural goods market but in many ways our lives and its impact in the way we learn, teach and communicate.

A new ecosystem and business model is awaiting to be build around them. So, lots of opportunity out there!!   


Friday, March 13, 2009

User Driven Innovation & Public Policy

There is plenty of expertise in promoting technology transfer. Many best practices can be easily found and evaluated, from Science Parks to Collaborative projects or empowering collaboration between universities or research centers and companies …

If what we want to deal is entrepreneurship, then we will encounter a similar scenario.

However, if what you aim is to promote User Driven Innovation you will be confronted with almost nothing but tapping into the unused potential of groups or individuals and trying to capture their creativity.

Why this happens?

I think there are two main reasons for that.

First, UDI (User Driven Innovation) is quite a recent phenomenon that has mostly worked by itself in the form of Open Source or lead users. In fact, the general availability of technology to users is a recent fact. For most of the time technology has been under the walls of Universities or Research Centers.

Secondly, policy has been mostly directed to growth, and there the approach has been to build capacity instruments and hope that the system will make good use of them. Society and users have been completely ignored in that schema.

So much so, that Information Society policy have been a synonym of promoting access to Internet, and in the best of cases of training on the elemental use of the most basic computer skills. That can probably produce good consumers but really poor innovators!  

So, where can we turn our heads for guidance in this desert of Best Practices? Going for analogies, there is one scenario that looks somewhat similar. This is the one of promoting innovation in well established companies. There we do have a lot of experiences from where to learn.

However, as you go deeper in this line, you find that almost everything is linked to cultural change, without cultural change, there is no change in practices and nops … no in innovation capacity. And cultural change is linked to incentives, incentives that in this well established companies are normally situated in the short term, efficiency part of the equation and … yes discourage taking risks associated to uncertainty … so there goes innovation …

Then, if the analogy is true, we also need cultural change at societal level and that is not going to happen without changing incentives … Surprisingly after all these turns we end up at the same point as we will end if we were talking about entrepreneurship … and probably the set of incentives needed for fostering that is … yes … you guess right … the same!

(a very good discussion on these incentives for entrepreneurship can be found in the work of Jerome S. Engel – just google it)

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Educación universitaria en TIC: un alto para reflexionar

(Esta es una publicación conjunta con mi amigo Ramón Sanguesa, coordinador del evento, que reproduce la de su blog )    

En mi universidad hay debate hacia donde ir en esto de la formación. Ya no se trata sólo de Bolonia sino de discutir cómo encajan la exigencia y la calidad con los nuevos tiempos, las nuevas formas de educación y las nuevas exigencias sociales.

¿Nos quedamos en una Informática para la empresa actual? ¿Para la empresa innovadora?¿Encerrada en su torre de marfil?¿Formando académicos con muchas citas en "papers" de investigación?¿Creando investigadores-emprendedores?

Lo mejor es hablarlo y así lo ha decidido mi departamento, el de Lenguajes y Sistemas Informáticos.

El próximo dia 17 de Marzo en la UPC, Aula màster organiza un debate con invitados de nivel. Si alguien se anima a venir, basta con enviar la confirmación de asistencia al mail del grupo de comunicación del departamento:

Más info del evento aquí.

The future of quality university education in Informatics 

Keynote Lecture

Computer Science Education in Europe, strategic considerations

by Professor Andreu Mas-Colell

Full professor of the Pompeu Fabra University

President of the  Barcelona Graduate School of Economics

General Secretary of the European Research Council

and former Minister for University Research and Information Society of the Catalan Autonomous Government

Date: March 17th, 2009, 9:15 am

Venue: Aula Master, Campus Nord, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya

Open Panel Discussion

“Which type of computer scientist do we need for the future?”

Moderator: Prof. Manuel Hermenegildo 

Prince of Asturias Endowed, Chair in Information Science and Technology, University of New Mexico. Full professor at Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and Director IMDEA (Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies in Software Development Technologies)


Prof. Josep Casanovas 

Vice rector, for University Policies, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya and former Dean of the Barcelona School of Informatics.

Prof. Ricardo Baeza-Yates 

Vicepresident of Yahoo! Research for Europe and Latin America and Director Yahoo! Research Labs Barcelona and Santiago de Chile. ICREA professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. 

Dr. Carlos Domingo 

Director of Internet and Multimedia at Telefonica I+D, Barcelona.

Prof. Jan Van Leeuwen 

Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Department of Infomration and Computer Sciene, Utrecht University and Vicepresident of Informattics the European Association of Computer Science Schools.

Prof. José Rolim

Director, Centre Universitaire d’Informatique (CUI), Geneva University 

(for a more extense personal profile of each participant, please click on their names to get more information)

Contact for further information

Friday, March 06, 2009

El primer CIO de los Estados Unidos

Hoy hemos conocido el nombramiento y las primeras declaraciones de Vivek Kundra, el primer CIO de Estados Unidos. Vivek Kundra tiene 34 años, nació en Delhi, sus padres emigraron a Tanzani y el Swahili es su primera lengua. Pero más allá de estos datos de por si reveladores, es interesante lo que nos cuenta y lo que ha hecho. En sus primeras declaraciones nos habla de la Admnistración debe dejar de pensar que es algo especial y que necesita una tecnologia especial y comprar off-the-shelf como todo hijo de vecino. Nos habla también de incorporar IT en la administración y dejar a un lado esa situación extrana que tienen algunos funcionarios cuando en sus casas hay más y mejor tecnologia que en su lugar de trabajo. En definitiva su discurso es un discurso de adopción de la tecnologia en las empresas y en la administración, y de adopción de tecnologias comunes. Pero Kundra habla de más cosas, habla de estandares abiertos, es un firme partidario de cloud computing y entiende la IT como una herramienta de innovación. En este sentido debemos destacar algunas cosas como su concurso de innovación Apps for Democracy, un concurso de mush-ups destinado a promover la innovación en los usuarios (aquí aún en algunos despachos "Sociedad de la Información"="Acceso a Internet + Enseñar a Navegar + Investigación de Telecos" ... una pena). ... como con bastantes de las decisiones de la nueva administración americana ... pues ... sana envidia!!!

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Clusters, Innovation and ICT - Reinventing Clusters

(This is a summary of my presentation in Urban Clusters)

Innovation today with global economies immersed in a deep recession and more traditional competitive advantages such as location or availability of technological knowledge rapidly disappearing, is certainly more relevant than ever. 

This is specially true in Spain and Catalonia. A quick look at the most common indicators, easily reveals a position that few will envy. In fact, the last European Innovation Scoreboard positions Spain in the lower middle, considering Spain a moderator innovator, with the worrisome situation of increasingly lagging behind in terms of innovation growth and therefore with a tendency of enlarging rather than shortening its distance from the leading pack.

In order to assess the position of Catalonia we need to revert to the Regional Innovation Index, and there again, the news are not precisely great. Catalonia occupies position 82 (4th in Spain), behind Madrid, the first Spanish region to appear, in position 31, Basque country in position 55 and Navarra the third Spanish region, holding position 76.

However, when dealing with the geographic nature of Innovation, or put in other terms, with its spatial concentration as clusters, we easily confront the paradox of globalization.

Maybe nobody has expressed better this paradox than Thomas L. Friedman, who in 2005 published a book entitled “The World is Flat: A brief History of the Twenty-first Century”. Because if in fact the world is flat, and location doesn’t matter anymore, aiming at creating conditions for gaining competitive advantage on a territorial basis is a wasted effort that should be better diverted into entrepreneurship and connecting industries and innovation agents.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence that the world is not as flat as Friedman portrays in his book. Just for the shake of the example, only a 4% of high growth American startups get more than 30% of their revenue from outside USA. Or if the reader prefers a more intuitive insight, a quick look at any Internet connectivity graph will reveal lots of empty space and few agglomerations, not necessarily related to population.

It seems therefore, that location does matter. But it location still matters, what has been the impact of globalization and how can we take advantage of it? Answering these questions implies that we take a closer look at what has happened to innovation, ICT and clusters.

And, for understanding innovation, we need also to understand knowledge flows. A simple classification could consist of dividing know-how in three levels. High level will be occupied by basic science (e.g. solid state physics). At mid-level we will find the type of artifacts produced with science (e.g. circuit designs) and at grown level, the know-how that enables capturing and successfully applying the former two (e.g. the management of an specific fabrication plant).

Further on, we can also classify the resulting products and services in three levels: high level (e.g. microprocessors), mid-level (e.g. motherboards) and ground level (e.g. laptop computers).

In this scenario, probably the largest amount of change can be found in high-level knowledge. It is well known that science has become increasingly global and thanks to Internet also increasingly accessible. Diffusion of knowledge at this level is fostered by a powerful incentive that we often characterize as “publish or perish”.

However, it is also true that there is tendency towards democratizing high level knowledge. Open source, the Internet, etc ... has made this type of know-how increasingly public.         

Summarizing, important changes occurred and high level knowledge has become increasingly specialized, easily available and mostly public.

Nonetheless, an important issue is where value can be captured more efficiently. A way to answer this question is by taking a look at the most common practices of venture capital firms, and there, the evidence is clear and overwhelming. VC firms seeks for commercial successes in the 5-7 years range and try to avoid excessive uncertainty ruling out high level products and looking for economies of scale where business can grow fast. In short, they tend to concentrate in the mid-level + mid know-how part of the matrix.

A more intuitive, but equally valid, way or reaching a similar conclusion is to look at the products who manage to capture people’s imagination and attained public success. There, we will find a high percentage of these mid-level innovation, just to name some, the ipod/iphone, netbooks, etc...

However, in order to relate this process to clusters, we need to look at the mechanism that drives it, and the mechanism seems to be characterized as iterative versus incremental, evolutionary versus creationist, with close interactions with users and very rapid with small changes at a time, that at the end convey a large transformation.

This process, can also be portrayed as startup experimentation. Experimentation there doesn’t aim to falsify a theory but to answer questions about user acceptance, business model or to collect insights that could enhance the product, process or service.

However, what is the role of ICT in this process? ICT is a general purpose technology, resulting in being applied not only to almost every product, but also to every process or service. Therefore, their benefits cannot be reduced to direct saving in processes or added functionalities in services.

For the shake of the example lets examine web 2.0 sites, such as wikipedia, flickr, etc... What is happening there is that the coordination mechanism that once were in the hands of a managerial structure, is being transfered to the platform, to software. In fact, this process is not characteristic of web 2.0 sites, but common in all sort of industries and heavily influencing the way companies are managed and how they relate to each other. In addition to that, the link between connectivity, exposure to different people and environments and innovation is very well known, being innovation itself often described as a re-combinatory process.

Following this path, we can argue that is not ICT itself, but the capacity that a certain company or society has to effectively apply ICT what makes the difference. Obviously we are excluding innovation in the ICT sector itself, where the link is completely direct. There is plenty of evidence of this indirect connection between capacity of applying ICT and capacity to innovate. Just a glimpse to any ranking of the most innovative countries comparing an innovation indicator with the share of IT related investment easily points in this direction.

Cluster is the second most popular framework of Michael Porter (being the five forces the first one). A cluster is defined as “ a geographically proximate group of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by commonalities and complementarities”. In this definition we already find the two aspects that constitute a cluster: a) geographical proximity and b) intra-institution/company linkages. The validity of the model can be easily appreciated by looking at its most successful examples, Silicon Valley to name just one, and this validity seems to be as actual as ever.

However, clusters too are changing and probably some good insights on the nature of that change can be found looking at the mechanisms that successful companies use to devise and foster innovation.

Among these mechanisms, the one that is more characteristic of this time and emphasizes more recent changes is Open Innovation. Open Innovation shows how companies increasingly rely not only in their internal R&D capacity but actively seek external partners to incorporate their ideas and know-how. Open Innovation also tells us that the driving factor in this process is the business model and not the target product or service.

This provides us with two clear insights. On one side, we can see how the boundaries of clusters are dissolving, the same way that the boundaries of companies dissolved. But we also see the raising importance of the business model as a driver, in detriment of the product or technology. All that again points to this middle innovation area that we encountered in the beginning of the article.

Clusters nowadays are therefore better portrayed as hubs in a network rather than just local concentrations.

In summary, we are witnessing an innovation process focused in mid-level type of knowledge and mid level innovation that solves the conflict between global and local by benefiting from global, public and widely available know how while taking advantage of local knowledge on how to manage, what to apply and for tapping the imagination of sophisticated users.

This innovation is built on continuous and collaborative experimentation and sustained by the willingness of users and companies alike to buy and try new innovative, although many times imperfect products.

All these factors, point to the raising importance of the demand side in innovation, and therefore of users, intermediaries and an initial demand that enables the experimentation process.

The central problems that an innovation policy has to address have tilted from enhancing capacity, most notably technological transfer to demand, to the ability to tap in mid-level know-how, the capacity to experiment with users in real life scenarios (Living Labs) and the ability to generate an initial demand that can fuel and sustain the process.