Posts Tagged establishment board

Some worrying disquiet around Callaghan Innovation Peter Kerr Dec 06


From what I gather, it is not only me who has a degree of disquiet about the lengthy and somewhat secretive gestation taking place around Callaghan Innovation (the new moniker for the Advanced Technology Institute).

Because part of the unease is it appears responsibility for establishing C.I. has been abrogated to its Establishment Board, and especially its chair Sue Suckling. Allowing it to run fast and loose with a relatively undefined mandate is not in our best interests.

Therefore, when we have no idea what or how the C.I. is going to look, advertisements for its new CEO have only just been placed and the word is that the outgoing chief executive of Industrial Research (Shaun Coffey) offered to act in a ‘caretaker cum help the new person in’ role – but was turned down – is it any wonder I’m nervous for our science and innovation system.

Some captains of industry, academia and research have expressed opinions around “I hope the minister [Joyce] understands what he’s doing here.”

Now, maybe the Minister’s hands-off approach to C.I’s establishment is legitimate, maybe he is retaining the ability to cut its Feb. 1 recommendations loose if there’s too much political, science and industry grief over its proposals, maybe it is a sign of his fatigue around science and innovation and more closely aligned to thoughts of “what do we do now.” (In that regard too the utter revamping of what was FoRST and MoRST, into the Ministry of Science & Innovation, and now into MBIE, and the subsequent loss of some really capable brains hasn’t helped).

Perhaps too it is the government retaining the ability to appoint an advisory board over and above whatever the C.I. establishment board comes up with.

But as industry opinion increases that they’ll simply be carrying out business as usual (with whoever is their current science and R&D provider), and that C.I. doesn’t appear to be solving the main challenge for NZ Inc – which is that really messy, ugly, difficult part between the idea and the market – such disquiet is better addressed now than later.

Or perhaps I’m just being pessimistic.

Perhaps the Sue Suckling-led C.I. establishment board is going to deliver a proposal that gets all the R&D ducks and drakes, the capital, routes to market, partnership and ‘innovation’ pieces of the puzzle aligned, and cranking.

Because, as the numerous statements and documents around C.I. say, NZ Inc’s science is relatively OK.

It is that iterative, two-way conversation between the market and science that we need to improve.

As already stated in a previous blog, something concrete for us to consider on that front would be really appreciated.

P.S. Riffing on a theme ……one of the deep ironies of the C.I. development (in the loosest sense of the word), is that the A.T.I was originally I.R.L’s brainchild. Its mutation into heaven knows what has all the potential to be a kiwi tragicomedy.

I hope I’m wrong.

Let’s accept now that the ATI will find it very difficult to kick off by February next year Peter Kerr Oct 25

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By the look of things, maybe we should accept, now, that the Advanced Technology Institute won’t be up and running by 1 Feb 2012.

This was a two-month postponement from the original 1 November 2012 date – but the way things appear to be slowly happening, pushing out the date again would be a sensible outcome on a complex issue that the ATI’s establishment board and the overall project are attempting to solve.

It reflects some or all of the challenges of setting up a body with the original purpose to boost NZ’s high value manufacturing, with food and forestry also thrown in for good measure.

One point to note is, compared to the extensive consultation and discussion that preceded the reformation of the then DSIR and MAFTech into the Crown Research Institutes 20 years ago, the ATI Establishment Board and Establishment Unit (the fulltime ‘doers’) are virtually operating in stealth mode.

There are a number of issues the ATI EB and EU are grappling with.

  • What business model should it put in place, what should its role be?
  • How should it collaborate with existing capability sets – R&D, commercialisation, consultancy? (This point was one made by a number of submissions to the recent select committee considering legislation to establish the ATI, see here) (which in itself leads to the next point)
  • How does it avoid cannibalising existing relationships in the science and innovation sector?
  • How does it define what success looks like?
  • (A few of these questions were generically posed in the ATI EB’s terms of reference – see here – which again goes to show it is easier to state a challenge than propose an answer)

The Sue Suckling chaired ATI establishment board has these and many other challenges to address – and, with all due respect to the people in the ATI establishment unit, it could be considered slightly underdone on that side of things.

A major issue there is that none of the people in this establishment unit have experience at running their own businesses, or having their own money on the line in a business venture.

When talking to captains of industry, business owners and science and commercialisation practitioners, this represents a severe credibility gap.

This is even more so when you consider that the big boys of NZ industry, think Fonterra, Fisher & Paykel, Norske, already know where the science and R&D expertise exists for their industries, and/or already have it in-house.

What role should the ATI have for these sorts of people?

Of course, the ATI could act as a gateway for the small medium enterprise business owners looking to ratchet up a degree or two – but what role should it have in that case? It could be a kind of one-stop-shop, act as a type of research translator, reform possible individual research projects into wider project. But again, the cannibalisation issue.

There’s a political risk too, that in order to be seen to be successful, the ATI does set itself up in in competition to existing CRI’s, research associations and universities.

This wouldn’t help NZ business development in any form whatsoever, but might briefly make the ATI look good; have its place in the sun, but with no gain for the country.

Apparently too the wheels have been put in motion to search for an ATI chief executive. You’d have to be nervous putting your name forward for the role well before it has any definition of what it is meant to do!

Again, we come back to what is the ATI’s business model meant to be?

Which is perhaps why (yet another) NZ delegation made up of some establishment board and unit members is going to tootle off to Denmark, and have another look at the Danish Technology Institute.

This is in spite of the many reports and talks and discussions which have taken place with and about the DTI. It should be noted too that the DTI itself realises it needs to change from what was more of a consultancy model, into one that carries out fundamental and applied R&D.

All in all, the suspicion is that the ATI ‘birth’ may’ve been better brought to life by evolving the IRL proposal – which kicked off much of the improving innovation/commercialisation debate in the first place.

Which, of course, is all too late now.

But, given that it is a complex issue, with Christmas and summer holidays just around the corner, let’s remove February 1, 2013 from our minds as the date the ATI will kick into life.

After all, we’re talking about spending $166 million over four years on improving innovation.

Better late and logical, than sooner and suspect

ATI Establishment Board role far bigger than most people realise Peter Kerr Sep 27

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For something that has the extremely important job of kicking along (on an NZ Inc basis) the never simple endeavour of turning of an idea into income, the Advanced Technology Institute’s Establishment Board has so far operated very below the radar.

What the ATI EB is being asked to do, extremely quickly, is much more than the body tasked with creating the Crown Research Institute structure(s) over 20 years ago from what was then the DSIR and MAF Tech.

Perhaps part of its challenge is that some people think it is going to be about a new building or two – and that hasn’t been helped with the announcement that the institute will be named after the late Sir Paul Callaghan. That strikes me as being ‘institute’ as a noun.

But, if you have a look at the ATI EB’s Terms of Reference it is clear its seven person team has an extremely wide mandate. This is ‘institute’ as a verb.

This is seen in the ToR’s Purpose:

The purpose of the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) is to support firms in the manufacturing and services sectors to improve competitiveness and growth through science and technology-based innovation and its commercialisation.
It will achieve this through being:

  • an intermediary to improve connectivity and capability in the innovation system; and
  • a service provider working closely with business clients and collaboratively with other service providers and research organisations

It is no wonder that the date for establishing the ATI has been put back two months (at this stage) to Feb 1 2013 – and even that is an extremely ambitious timeframe considering what is being asked of it.

Indeed, reading between the lines, what the ATI EB is being asked to come back with are suggestions around broader issues such as routes to market, funding/capital options and partnering.

As well as the morphing of Industrial Research Ltd into a new Crown Agency structure (being developed/consulted on as we speak), The ATI EB is being asked to work closely with the NZ Food Innovation Network, and NZTE and MBIE and ….. well everyone really. This includes figuring out how to work with and alongside the CRI and university technology transfer offices and commercialisation units – most of which are biologically-oriented.

That makes sense – one aspect of our economy that could really do with improving is adding value to the raw materials our country produces. Think milk, meat, trees, horticultural produce, fish. And not only adding value, retaining the value for NZ Inc as we get much closer to the market.

There’s some excellent science around these areas, as reasonably favourably commented on in a ‘Supply Side Report’ in some of the background policy work on the ATI in June this year.  

But, turning what are good ideas, processes and products into sustainable new businesses (or new areas within older businesses) is something we’ve found hard to do.

There’s a suspicion that super minister Steven Joyce recognises that as a country we need a circuit-breaking change/adaptation/boot-up-the-rear in the innovation area.

Asking the ATI EB to propose what this institute (as a verb) should be is either:

  • a recognition he’s not quite sure what to do
  • a hope it comes up with some more than useful suggestions, or, and more likely
  • a bit of both

Now all this is a roundabout way of saying, all power to the ATI EB seven charged with the task setting the strategic direction of the new entity (whatever it looks like).

The discussions it is having, and path it is plotting will be uniquely New Zealand in its structure – no one else has our mix of biology, skills, distance to market and investment-adverse capital markets.

Rumour has it that (original ATI proposer) IRL is fully onboard in its desire to move and act as the foundation of the new Crown Agency – which makes a damn good start.

Now, if the EB’s super seven can ‘simply’ come up with some clever solutions for those route to market questions….we’ll be singing their praises for a long time to come.

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