29 April 2013

ACCC announces new president

The ACCC last week announced that Denise Amyot will be the new President and CEO of the Association as of 4 June 2013. Read the full press release here. This is great news for Canada's colleges, who are realizing a signal opportunity in our collective capacity to spur industry innovation and productivity.

18 April 2013

Franchising college applied research, and other notes from the ACCC Applied Research Symposium 2013

The ACCC Applied Research Symposium 2013 convened these past two days and featured some great presentations and discussion about the evolution of college applied research. The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, opened the conference by observing that this is an important time for colleges. Our applied research, conducted in concert with industry, is part of a rebalancing of the entire spectrum of research, from basic to applied, that Canada must undertake to be competitive in the global economy. The federal government has allocated funds to support business innovation - including the announcement of CFI funding, of which GBC Research is a recipient. Minister Goodyear noted that we are first in the G7 and fourth in the OECD for HERD, but 16th for BERD; Canada's colleges are key to increasing business R&D; "Canada can do better," he said. Coordination with the provinces is key, the minister added, as his department works to implement recommendations from the Jenkins Panel, including the NRC-IRAP Concierge service.

The concierge service will be an important new element in the Canadian innovation system. It will feature warm handoffs between IRAP field agents and approved service providers. Along with the new "credit note" innovation voucher system announced in Budget 2013, it will provide key, industry facing tools for increasing innovation in the country.

Seneca College president David Agnew addressed the audience and reminded us to look beyond the immediate and to forge a future in collaboration with other actors in the post secondary systems in which we work. This was a good start to two days of discussions around how best to continue the evolution of a leading applied research ecosystem present throughout the country. There was good movement at the symposium on creating a more cohesive national network of college applied research, which will fit well within the new emergent structures designed to get industry increasing their R&D. For the other facet of a warm handoff is a soft landing into new markets across the country. Many presenters focused on outcomes and measurement, as these are key challenges for the system as we continue to build a network of professional client service organisations specializing in linking industry to innovation supports while giving students crucial innovation literacy skills.

Bert van den Berg of NSERC and I closed the conference with a presentation on "Developments for Performance measurement in applied research and technology development," picking up on themes raised regarding outcomes and measurement. I've copied some notes from our presentation deck below (full deck to be available on the ACCC site soon). Our discussion focused on promoting a college applied research franchise that encourages and measures capacity: the capability of the institution and its units to work with clients on applied research and technology development; and contribution: the performance of applied research and technology development with clients and the downstream effect on social and economic productivity.  Key context here is the CCA Expert Panel Report on the State of S&T, 2012, of which I was a member, which found that while there is much activity going on in colleges conducting applied research, there is a need for a more coordinated approach to outcomes measurement of this activity:
Most of these other sources of data on applied R&D activity in Canada’s higher education sector and public research organizations are not broken down by the field or type of research. As well, in many cases, data are available only for specific institutions, sectors, or regions, and are not available consistently across the country. As a result, while general statistics of this kind may illuminate certain facts about Canada’s applied R&D strengths in specific institutional settings, their piecemeal nature precludes a systematic identification of Canada’s research and technology strengths. The Panel thus concludes that there remains a need for more systematic and detailed data collection of metrics related to applied research and technology development activity in Canada. (p 114-5)
Achieving and so measuring capacity and consistency via the definition of a college applied research "franchise" or "certification" would give (prospective) clients confidence with regard to perceived issues about working with colleges, such as:
  • access to foreground IP 
  • protection of company background IP 
  • who works with institution staff to ensure projects are executed 
  • the processes, protocols and parameters for AR&TD performance 
  • training of students with regards to IP, good lab practice ...
Franchising parts of college applied research and technology development will help us to define dimensions along which to measure capability at the institutional and intra-institutional level, define how this can be measured in a credible fashion (i.e., avoid self measurement), and may involve looking to ISO standards (or some such system) for measures that align with process capability for R&D.

The development of a common look and feel, commensurate with developing the brand of college industry applied research, is required in order to balance the needs of individual colleges to have a singular identity with showcasing the brand of college applied research. In this sense, look can be thought of as local, and feel as federal. A college's unique visual identity is matched to the ways in which an applied research franchise feels, or operates, in terms of policies, procedures, etc.

This is the signal opportunity that the Symposium has articulated, with the many good discussions on outcomes, metrics, and networks. The conference benefited greatly from the participation of the Quebec CCTT's, who operate now as a kind of franchise, and who collect good metrics (and have for the last decade or so) on outcomes and effectiveness.

The symposium closed with a keynote address by the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson, who extolled the virtues of the college system as key vocational education and training institutions that contribute greatly to Canada;s productivity. He warned the audience against trying to be something we are not, namely universities who conduct basic research. Referring to Germany as an example of a country with a long and proud history of celebrating vocational and skills education that coincides with basic research and university excellence (German, incidentally, has the lowest university attainment rate of the EU, yet the most productive economy and with lots of basic research excellence). This was a good reminder for the colleges, institutes and polytechnics to focus in our strengths and to work with universities in a collaborative and cohesive fashion.

The 2013 Applied Research Symposium marks another key milestone in the evolution of college applied research in Canada. I am heartened by the collaborative spirit fostered by the ACCC at the symposium as we work to co-create a national applied research and innovation system that promotes industry innovation linked tightly to producing graduates who will increase Canada's productivity and innovation.

GBC Research helps industry transform ideas to invoices.

15 April 2013

Scorecard 2013 from the Board of Trade: Focus on skills for the innovation economy

The Toronto Region Board of Trade has launched their Scorecard 2013, reporting on the region's capacity for productivity and innovation. The focus this year is on human capital performance. There is good news in this year's report, including Toronto ranking fourth in North America for having the labour pool needed to increase our productivity, and sixth for overall performance.

"Beyond capital investment and investment in R&D, productivity performance and economic success of a region is also dependent upon the quality of its human capital" (p 60), the report notes. This is the three-legged stool of innovation, and the skills and talent part of this equation is arguably the most important as it is a driver of and result of improved R&D and technology investment.

The timing if the report coincides with the release of the Board of Trade's cluster strategy and Budget 2013's focus on these three essential elements for improving economic health. The report picks up on recent discussion trends on education, in particular the inference that an undergraduate degree is the key to economic success. There is a strong focus on the role that colleges and polytechnics play, both in offering undergraduate degrees and other credentials relevant to the labour market. This underscores an inherent problem with reporting on educational statistics, in that there is little room for nuance in understanding the effect of those who take a university degree followed by a college program to obtain job-relevant skills. Statistics Canada reports on the highest level of educational attainment only, and so will lose this point entirely. This came up in a recent panel discussion I participated in on The Agenda, which airs this evening. The Future of Higher Education is grappling with issues pertinent to skills and the innovation economy, and the need for a greater focus on outcomes at all levels of education coupled with a linking of education to labour market outcomes. Of course not all education need be instrumental  but we should nonetheless provide students (and so graduates) with the keys to future success via an articulation of what skills a particular program teaches.

James Bradshaw, writing in Saturday's Globe and Mail, makes this point well in Toronto’s recipe for prosperity: More graduates – and more paths to good jobs. There is a good example of how GBC graduate Noe Galeana is now working with Clear Blue Technologies, a company GBC Research is supporting. The point here is that when education - and in this case applied research - is linked directly to the needs of industry  everyone wins: the company who is innovating and who accesses skilled talent, the graduate who deploys these talents, and the economy generally. It is companies that commercialize products and services, and the people inside them who innovate.

Scorecard 2013 offers many good points for industry to heed, and presents a positive picture overall of the region's capacity to innovate. It notes areas for improvement, including getting more females in management occupations, increasing female labour market participation overall, and doing a better job of linking highly skilled immigrants to industry.

The Board of Trade is providing the kind of leadership we need in Canada: non-partisan analysis on how our world leading education system can work together to provide the required inputs for the labour market.


11 April 2013

"The root of productivity is product"

The 12th Annual RE$EARCH MONEY Conference - Budget 2013: Checking the Pulse of Canada's Innovation Policies - convened these past two days in Ottawa. The conference is Canada's premier innovation policy forum, and featured many good speakers and discussion on Budget 2013 outcomes.

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State, Science & Technology and the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario opened the conference with a positive message about the state of innovation and where the country is headed. Reinforcing the results of the CCA Expert Panel Review of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012, Minister Goodyear outlined how we are fourth in the world in absolute ranking for basic research output. Budget 2013 builds on this bench strength to get more basic research commercialized and to encourage greater industry investment. It is imperative for us to step our our efforts to increase IP protection and commercialization of the basic research inventions done in our world leading university labs. As Minister Goodyear said, "Invention without IP protection is philanthropy."

Many speakers outlined how Budget 2013 is good for business, as it puts the tools of innovation in the hands of industry and encourages industry to increase investment in R&D partnerships with colleges, polytechnics and universities, as well as increased industry skills training and investment in new equipment. The new IRAP voucher program is one of these tools, and industry leaders are looking to IRAP to show leadership in how this can best spur companies to increase their R&D by tapping into public+private R&D partnerships. IRAP has had its overall budget increased in the last two federal Budgets as the NRC makes the transition into a more industry-facing organization. This is a very positive evolution, and one many are watching closely, ready to provide support.

A positive output of the conference was the focus on product and what customers want. That is, what matters for commercialization and innovation is strong customer demand. Tom Jenkins put it well when he said that "Committing R&D to solving problems creates recursive value" in the community. Brokering "the difference between knowledge and know-how" is the role of innovation intermediaries, which was the focus of a panel discussion that outlined how colleges, polytechnics, universities and granting agencies are using innovation tools articulated in Budget 2013 to increase industry partnerships. Ted Hewitt of SSHRC addressed a common theme of the conference in leading a discussion about metrics and outcomes measurement, talking about SSHRC's focus on "Achievement Reporting" as one way to get the measure of how innovation intermediaries are increasingly encouraging investment in creating social and economic value by bridging labs to the world. Niagara College president Dan Patterson spoke about how college students gain innovation literacy skills while working with industry on applied research projects  reflecting the need for the entire work force to be focused on innovation and productivity.

William Harney, Executive Director of Research & Development, Magna Exteriors & Interiors, articulated the theme of productivity and productization by stating that "the root of productivity is product." It was refreshing to be part of a conversation that acknowledged the value of creating value from research, of encouraging researchers and industry to work together to create products and services, made in Canada, for both Canadian and international markets. This is the future of the R&D enterprise. Kudos to Re$earch Money for another excellent conversation.

05 April 2013

Ground breaking: the Green Building Centre

George Brown College was very pleased to host the Honourable Peter van Loan to beak ground on the new building that will be a core part of the Green Building Centre. Minister van Loan spoke on behalf of the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology and Minister of the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Donation (FEDDEV). The Green Building Centre is funded in part through a $6.6M contribution from FEDDEV.

The Green Building Centre will offer industry access to talented and skilled students and faculty, state of the art facilities, and market and networks, all geared to helping industry to innovate and get new products and services to market. As noted earlier, we will conduct applied research in partnership with local businesses while training students in advanced construction systems, green energy and computer-enabled, efficient buildings. In particular, this centre will focus on construction practices that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

The Green Building Centre exemplifies the value of Budget 2013 measures to foster industry applied research with colleges and polytechnics, invest in skills training, and promote investment in new technology.

This is an exciting day for the college, our industry partners, and faculty and students. While the new building will open in one year, the Green Building Centre is open for business innovation.

04 April 2013

On zombies, and the continuing horror story of Canadian innovation

It reads like a post-apocalyptic horror story, only this isn't a B movie, it's a D. As in the Conference Board has once again given Canada a D rating for innovation. The only good news in this story is that last year we were 14th, and this year we are 13th in the world. If this story was released on a Friday it would fit the B movie plot perfectly.

As reported in the Globe and Mail today, R&D, innovation should be ‘on A list,’ Conference Board urges. The issue here is the long standing lag in business R&D performance. Even though we get an A for education, our ability to innovate - and to capitalize on the fact that we have the most educated work force on the planet - is seriously hampered by the trifecta of low business investment in R&D, skills training and investment in new technology.

Outgoing University of Toronto president David Naylor recently gave an Empire Club speech in which he decried the zombies of Canadian research. Saying we need more unfettered research, Naylor says that the "zombie idea" that "won't die" and is "hard to kill" is the focus on applied research. The idea, he says, "has infected some decision-makers," who presumably are now out eating the brains of scientists desperate to escape the slow stumble into research ruin. Professorial pundits lament the end to unfettered research funding, saying the rise of applied research in Canadian colleges and polytechnics represents an apocalyptic war that pits the forces of good (basic research) against the forces of evil (applied research, and dare I say, commerce). The reality show in all this is that Canada just does not have the GDP to support unfettered research into everything.

The atavistic yearning for a past research state that never really was represents a dangerous degeneration of Canadian innovation capacity and productivity. When we do not socialize our students - undergraduate and graduate alike from across the entire educational spectrum, college, polytechnic and university - we short change our future capacity to innovate. By disengaging the academic R&D enterprise from industry, our students are socialized away from industry application. The odd person that actually commercializes research is the lone hero walking the post-apocalyptic world left in ruin, a world in which ivory towers are overgrown with vines, waiting for a hero to cut through to unearth the glory of a past civilization.

But the moral here is that we should celebrate the many successes of applied research in our colleges, polytechnics and universities. Enlightened programs such as NSERC's College and Community Innovation Program, Engage, and MITACS are all finding ways to link industry with the academic sector. These are good for Canada's future productivity.

For the real research zombie in this tale are the ideas emerging from our basic research that we ship off the land to be commercialized by another country, only to stumble back across the border as they are sold back to us. They haunt us still, and find company in the lagging industry R&D spending. To those who fear the future of trying to exercise the potential of the entire educational spectrum, realize that these are not the ruins of the past, but rather the runes of the future: the ability to resurrect our moribund record on R&D commercialization, and to breathe new life into our capacity as a country to innovate. As any good literary scholar will tell us, the apocalypse is not an ending; it is a new beginning.

02 April 2013

Board of Trade cluster strategy launched

Last week I had the good fortune to attend the launch of the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) cluster strategy. Over two days, two clusters were launched - one on the food and beverage industry and the other on life sciences.

The TRBOT's cluster strategy was kicked off last year when Michael Porter came to speak about the value of clusters. The focus of clusters is to collaborate to compete as a region  and the two events brought together leaders from business, academia and government to really put some shape around what actions and next steps are necessary in order to move the region's cluster development forward.

Both the food and beverage and the life sciences clusters are large economic development engines in the region, and we have the elements to make these even more successful in terms of industry, academic/skills training, and support from a range of state and nonstate actors. The Toronto Region Board of Trade's leadership in formulating cluster strategies and action plans to move the region forward is significant, and well timed. A more proactive linking of business R&D, skills training and education and new technology adoption in industry are the key drivers of productivity and innovation  By getting all the players together to work together, the TRBOT has opened up a conversation that dovetails with the focus on the recent federal budget - to encourage more public-private R&D partnerships, a better linkage of skills training with industry, and the value of new technology to drive innovation and productivity.  I am looking forward to learning more - and participating - in growing the region's clusters, and I encourage all to contact the TRBOT to learn how you can get involved in this exciting and worthwhile initiative.