Memorandum submitted by Marconi plc
(1) THE 1993
There have been substantial and global changes
in the business environment during the implementation period of
the 1993 White Paper. Perhaps the most important of these changes
is the revolution in Information Technology including the impact
of the Internet, e-business, and the emergence of a new knowledge-based
economy. Consequently it is challenging for industry to identify
the specific business-related impact of the White Paper other
than through particular initiatives such as the Foresight Programme.
The White Paper triggered welcome changes in
the management and organisation of the science base. People in
industry who have worked with the managers of the UK science base
for many years have seen a significant and beneficial change of
process and culture. For example there is greater dialogue, openness,
and desire to have a shared vision of the longer-term objectives
for industry and the science base. Specific Research Council initiatives
such as the User Panel and Technology Opportunities Panel of EPSRC
are to be commended. Research Council publications, "Forward
Look" and "Landscape" documents are now excellent
guides that allow industry to understand and interact with research
programmes. Industry welcomes the increasing number of interdisciplinary
programmes, and will encourage further inter-Council programmes.
Government expenditure through the Research
Councils and Funding Councils on the national base of science,
engineering and technology (SET), at an annual level of approximately
£2 billion in total, is of course substantial. It must be
justified, transparent and well managed. After the publication
of the 1993 White Paper there were many concerns in the research
community that by emphasising "relevance" as well as
"excellence", the funding would be moved into near-term
business related activities and justified by financial return-on-investment.
Fortunately there is no evidence that this dangerous attitude
has prevailed. What business and the UK economy needs, and what
the 1993 White Paper has influenced, is a national SET community
with world-class competencies and an ability to relate to businesses,
the economy and the business environment.
From Marconi plc's viewpoint, the primary measure
of performance of the national SET base is the quantity, quality
and competencies of graduates and postgraduates from universities;
and of course the underpinning competencies of lecturers, researchers
and research facilities within universities and the national research
base. The national SET base should always be capable of creating
the next generation of concepts, rigorous science and innovators.
It is above all else, a source of knowledge and a source of expertise.
Marconi plc believes it is desirable to have
within the national science base a more informed understanding
of the business environment. Scientific and technological excellence
is important, but is just one of the many factors leading to business
and economic success. To be successful in today's business world,
a company must have in-depth knowledge of its markets and must
be able to competitively provide high levels of value and service
to its customers. However these markets, customers and competitors
are increasingly global and are being transformed by the electronic
business revolution. The structure, pace and process of business
is radically changing. Businesses and business strategies have
become more agile. Global business alliances form and reform rapidly.
Shareholder expectations and the financial market demand new levels
of business performance.
Against this backdrop of business revolution,
the technology development process is also changing. Businesses
like Marconi employ world-class technologists, but the scope and
complexity of new product development requires collaboration with
world-class research partners. Marconi expects these partners
to contribute technological excellence, but they must also have
the ability to network and work in teams, often internationally,
and understand the business and commercial factors that influence
technology selection. The challenge of integrating technological
development with business development is fundamental to company
Marconi needs to work with world-class research
groups and recruit world-class technologists. Where possible,
the groups and individuals should possess team-working skills,
business understanding and the other attributes referred to above.
Consequently Marconi maintains a good relationship with many university
researchers and lecturers to discuss the broader business skills
and other desirable attributes. This dialogue is crucial to mutual
success, and has greatly improved since the 1993 White Paper.
One of the more influential forums for discussion is the Foresight
In 1994, this programme commenced with the title
"Technology Foresight" and consequently many participants
from industry were senior engineers, technologists and scientists.
These people generally were familiar with the national science
base and the Research Councils. Participants were well chosen
to analyse technological matters and the interrelationship between
industry's technology needs, opportunities and the science base.
However, as discussed above, business success requires a global
presence, in-depth market knowledge, in-depth competitor knowledge,
insight to investor expectations and insight to employee motivations
These broader business, economic and social
factors form an essential bridge between technological success,
business success and wealth creation. In retrospect, it seems
that although these broader business issues were addressed, many
people in industry saw Foresight as a solely technological exercise.
It is possible that the Programme would have gained from greater
involvement of those in business with skills in marketing, finance,
commercial law and personnel for example. Similarly a greater
range of academic and science-base disciplines could have been
drawn into the studies. Despite these limitations, the first Foresight
Programme was a great success in developing dialogue and a shared
vision between industry and academe.
The current Foresight Programme has learned
from the first exercise and has a wider range of participants.
It is important to stress that from Marconi's viewpoint the Programme
must have long-term vision, be global in outlook, and involve
a wide community to examine the many drivers of change. Foresight
should inform scenario studies and should inform broad areas of
policy; it is not about "picking winners".
A key measure of the impact of the 1993 White
Paper is associated with communication and dialogue. This includes
the communication between people in the national SET base and
people in business. It appears that communication between technologists,
in their specialist disciplines, has substantially increased;
through the Foresight Programme for example. It is less clear
whether the much-needed interdisciplinary communication has increased.
The Science and Technology Committee refer to
the Government's recent consultation on Science and Innovation
Strategy. The outline of plans is good, but the plans should recognise
the following issues:
Innovation and competitiveness result from the
flow of knowledge and knowledgeable people between the SET base
and industry. Knowledgeable people are the most valuable national
asset and business asset. Science and Innovation Strategies must
therefore relate to the motivation, culture and reward of individuals.
The public perception of science, engineering and technology is
poor and the number of entrants to a career in SET is declining.
Publicity campaigns, for example some excellent individual projects
by the British Association for the Advancement of Science or by
the professional institutions, are generally too small and inadequately
co-ordinated. There is a vital need for a large-scale SET publicity
programme to demonstrate nationally, and ideally internationally,
the UK's achievements and exciting prospects for a rewarding career.
The world is rapidly being transformed by the
"e-revolution". The SET base needs a strategy to use
these new technologies to improve research effectiveness; for
example by increasing the efficiency of scientific information
processing. The science base must also use these technologies
to improve their outreach and partnerships with business. Internet
and Grid information systems should be exploited in "virtual
networks" for interdisciplinary or inter-institution SET
research programmes. These networks should at first be developed
locally, as huge, cohesive but distributed "knowledge nodes"
equal to, or better than, the largest research institutions in
the world. When developed, the powerful national knowledge nodes
should be extended internationally.
UK SET strengths and strategies must be benchmarked
against the best international sources. However, it is not enough
to compare the contents of one laboratory bench with the contents
of another, or to compare the publications and citations of individuals
or teams. To assess the economic and social value it is necessary
to compare technology exploitation routes and processes. This
is a challenging task, and requires a wide range of skills.
Where possible, higher and further education
courses for science, engineering and technology should include
a business context or a review of the many factors that bridge
technological innovation and economic or social success. Industry
needs skilled scientists and engineers, but to be effective in
wealth creation they must have additional competencies.